Nevada prison-raised sagebrush seedlings ready to be planted

CARSON CITY (AP) — Inmates at Warm Springs Prison in Carson City are spending the week loading up 70,000 sagebrush plants they spent the last six months sprouting and tending.

The sagebrush will be planted in burned out areas near Susanville and Winnemucca, according to Scott Miller, one of the crew that worked on the project this year.

He said the Bureau of Land Management already has spots picked out to put the plants after they clear out the cheat grass. He said that will not only restore native vegetation to the fire damaged rangeland, it will restore habitat for the sage grouse.

Miller said not only that but the program gives inmates like himself a job: "It gives you a work ethic, being responsible again. It gives you a sense of purpose."

Shannon Swim, the natural resource management expert who manages the program, said Warm Springs is one of three Nevada prisons growing sagebrush to replant burn areas. The same program is also operating at Northern Nevada Correctional Center and at Lovelock prison. With each growing 70,000 plants, that gives BLM 210,000 sagebrush seedlings to plant all across Nevada and eastern California.

She said the seedlings are much more effective than just scattering seeds in burn zones which didn't work well at all.

Swim said the only problem is Congress has held back funding for the program this year.

"We're not even sure we're going to get all the plants out this year," she said. "So the whole program could disappear."

Swim said this is the third year for the program and "we sure would like to keep it around."

She said it's excellent for the inmates who participate, teaching them about the plants and Great Basin ecology and helping them give back to the community while restoring native vegetation in burned areas.

"There's nothing negative about it," she said.