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Salmon Habitat Restoration

August 7, 2019

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

Woman pulling weeds

Misty Reddoch pulls some weeds from a parcel of land in unincorporated Kitsap County. Reddoch is part of a work crew from Mission Creek Corrections Center that does stream restoration projects to improve salmon habitat. (Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications)

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POULSBO – Women from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women are helping salmon make a comeback—one blackberry bush at a time.

Each root they pull, every invasive weed they dig up-- helps make local streams ideal places for Pacific Northwest salmon to spawn.

As part of a partnership between the Department of Corrections and Kitsap Conservation District, an incarcerated work crew from Mission Creek removes invasive plants like Himalayan blackberry from privately-owned land around streams to improve the salmon habitat.

“It’s really made me more conscious about getting out into the environment and how much help the environment really needs,” said incarcerated crew member Misty Reddoch, as she thrust a shovel into the ground next to one of the berry bushes at a site in late June. “I didn’t really know that it (salmon) had problems like this.”

The problems are caused by non-native species and their impact on the environment. The type of blackberry Reddoch and other crew members are removing grows voraciously—up to 20 feet in a year. Its roots are so large it can erode shorelines and river banks, which in turn, chokes out native plants where salmon spawn.

“Salmon aren’t just dependent on what’s in the water, but they’re also dependent on the habitat around the water,” says Kitsap Conservation District Planner Jesse Adams, who works with private landowners to restore habitat on their property.

After crews remove the invasive plants, they put in new native plants to help rebuild the compromised habitat. In April, inmates had planted around 400 native plants on the 2.85-acre site that cuts through a stream bed, Adams said. By the end of the summer, the incarcerated crew will plant another 1,300 plants. Adams says in addition to restoring spawning grounds for salmon, the new plants will help clean the water by absorbing any fertilizers or other man-made pollutants that can get washed into the stream.

The conservation district offers services that help Kitsap County residents who live in unincorporated areas and preserve watersheds on their property. It’s done through a Backyard Habitat Grant Program, which is funded by county storm water fees, Adams said. The program (pdf) helps restore streams to their natural conditions, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and improve fish passage. Kitsap Conservation District staff help create a plan, provide technical assistance, assist landowners with permitting, and help with project implementation.

“We can improve the environment on private property, which is typically very difficult to achieve for other agencies who cannot work on private land,” Adams said.

Inmate labor is paid with funds from Clean Water Kitsap.

Safety and Eligibility

The Department of Corrections and Kitsap Conservation District ensures everyone at the work site as well as surrounding communities are safe.

A correctional officer supervises the work crews at all times. Crew members must meet a strict set of requirements. Crew members must have a minimum-security custody level. They can’t have any serious infractions for six months, nor any drug-related infractions for at least a year. Crew members can’t have ties to family members, victims or gangs in the community in which they’ll be working.

The crew also receives occupational safety training on working outdoors and how to properly use yard tools. Conservation district staff inventory tools after each shift and secure them when not in use.

Additionally, correctional staff provide conservation staff who work with the inmates an orientation course and continuous safety training.

Mission Creek Correctional Officer Pulley supervises the work crew. She says the work can have a positive impact on the incarcerated women.

“I see the women come out here, many of them don’t have a lot of work experience. Some of them didn’t even know how to mow a lawn before. I see them gain confidence and learn they are capable of stuff.”

Pulley says it’s common for incarcerated individuals to be nervous about reentering society after being removed from it for an extended amount of time. They can have difficulty managing their own schedules when many aspects of their day-to-day lives had adhered to a facility schedule. Being on a work crew can help them get used to the idea of reentering their home communities once they complete their prison sentences.

“It (work crew) introduces them back into society a little bit,” Pulley said. “They’re not back in it just yet, but they can see it and it calms their nerves and anxiety. They start getting excited about getting released.”

The Kitsap Conservation District has been restoring backyard habitat for approximately nine years, Adams said. District staff often return to sites work crews have helped restore to take photos and video to document the impact of the work.

“We’ll find hundreds and hundreds of these little salmon fingerlings,” Adams said. “Landowners are always so shocked. They’ll say ‘I didn’t even know they were there.’”

Reddoch says she’s proud of the work she’s done and it’s helped her get her life on track. She’ll be releasing from prison in 2022, after serving a 72-month sentence on residential burglary charges.

She’s not sure yet what type of work she’ll want to do after she releases, but says learning about environmental issues though the work crew has unlocked a desire of learning. She has just completed her GED and is taking some introductory college courses. She’s considering pursuing an environmental science degree—something she says never would have crossed her mind before her incarceration.

“This opportunity is so amazing,” Reddoch said. “I’ve never had the chance to do anything like this in my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do before. Now I know I want to do something different and make my life better. I just didn’t know how before. Getting involved in projects like this shows a new way of how to live your life and make it fulfilling.”