WESPEN Online Order Form print this page
US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

What's Your Land Ethic? Using Sand County Almanac to Engage Inmates in Wisconsin

Region 3, December 14, 2012
Sand County Almanac and Wildlife Phenology calendar provided grist for discussion with inmates.
Sand County Almanac and Wildlife Phenology calendar provided grist for discussion with inmates. - Photo Credit: n/a
Inmate essay on public involement and Land Ethic
Inmate essay on public involement and Land Ethic - Photo Credit: n/a
Inmate essay concerning potential effect of climate change on phenology.
Inmate essay concerning potential effect of climate change on phenology. - Photo Credit: n/a
Inmate essay recalling Prairie Lane where prairie no longer exists.
Inmate essay recalling Prairie Lane where prairie no longer exists. - Photo Credit: n/a
Inmate essay wildlife and nature can inspire.
Inmate essay wildlife and nature can inspire. - Photo Credit: n/a

Rich King, a past biologist for Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, saw an opportunity back in 2007 to bring conservation biology into two local prisons and this unique educational program continues today.

What began as a small prairie plant propagation project has grown into classroom discussions of phenology, landscape ecology and broader discussions of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. The initial project aimed at giving prisoners horticultural experience through growing native prairie plants. The refuge benefited too, obtaining sets and seeds for restoration efforts.

Although the project is too small to supply needed quantities for even a small restoration, the project is large enough to offer intellectual stimulation and a sense of accomplishment for the prisoners involved. 

When King transferred from Necedah Refuge, I had the opportunity to fill in as the Refuge’s liaison with the New Lisbon Correctional Institution. I worked with Horticultural instructor, Lou Ann ‘Louise’ Beever to develop a presentation for the prairie plant project inmates. We chose to use the Wisconsin Wildlife Phenology calendar, published by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, and Sand County Almanac as the basis for this talk. 

The inmates were attentive and engaged. We discussed how climate change might adversely affect phenologic timing between species. Inmates learned the basics of Leopold’s contributions to wildlife management and habitat restoration. From there, discussions turned to Leopold’s land ethic and the idea of community.

We talked of Marshland Elegy, tying it to land-use changes such as the extensive ditching on the lands that later became Necedah Refuge. We contemplated ways in which the extinction of passenger pigeons may have altered ecological processes. As participants are working with prairie plants through this educational project, we discussed Prairie Birthday and the resilience of Silphiums.

Lastly, we explored the idea that conservation cannot just be relegated to government land, but must also take place on private ground. 

So what is next? That depends in part on inmate interest. Maybe they’ll use Sand County Almanac as a text in their classroom discussions or perhaps they will try their hand at more challenging species. Time will tell.

 

Contact Info: Mark Pfost, (608) 565-4418, mark_pfost@fws.gov