Service Partners Named “Recovery Champions” for Butterfly Conservation
The Sustainability in Prisons Project and Mary Linders of WDFW have been recognized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for their contributions to conservation of the Taylor's checkerspot butterfly

Due to their efforts to save an endangered butterfly in Washington, a group of incarcerated people and a biologist who has devoted decades to conservation have both been named among recipients of the prestigious Recovery Champion awards from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), an innovative partnership between biologists, incarcerated people, the Evergreen State College, Washington State Department of Corrections, and other agencies, has been crucial to the survival and recovery of Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, an endangered species endemic to the Pacific Northwest.

SPP’s tireless efforts to rear over 48,000 Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars, grow more than two million plant plugs, and grow and harvest prairie plant seeds for prairie habitat restoration have made a real  difference for conservation. Captive rearing efforts in correctional facilities by incarcerated technicians have likely prevented the extirpation of Taylor’s checkerspot from the center of its range in the south Puget Sound prairies and led to the establishment of reintroduced populations of the butterflies. The group has also supported recovery efforts of Oregon spotted frog, northwestern pond turtle, and other species since 2011.

In addition to benefiting recovery of species, the SPP also helps transform the lives of incarcerated people. Liz Louie, formerly a butterfly technician incarcerated at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, said that, “the butterfly symbolizes re-birth, new life and beginnings…women come in and out of prison. They may not have gotten what they needed from prison the first time, or they lack outside support to help them be successful. But for me personally, at my age, it’s good to know that the final stage is a butterfly. It means the most beautiful stage of my life is yet to come.”  

The work of the SPP is closely intertwined with the efforts of Mary Linders, a Prairie and Oak Species Recovery Biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. For almost 20 years, Linders has been essential in the effort to recover Taylor’s checkerspot.

Linders has provided a bridge between wild Taylor’s checkerspot populations and the captive rearing program in correctional facilities, leading to successful reintroductions and important conservation outcomes. Her innovations in monitoring species survival, analysis of habitat for reintroduction, and input for restoration planning, have anchored recovery efforts in the realities of on-the-ground conditions.

“Washington has been lucky to have such a dedicated conservation advocate in Mary Linders and the Service is grateful for her partnership over the many years,” said Brad Thompson, State Supervisor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

See a full list of 2023 Recovery Champions from across the country

See photos of Taylor's checkerspot butterfly

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