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Mistakes put them in jail; butterflies get them out

Inmate work crew clears invasive plants at Hagg Lake to allow species to repopulate

COURTESY PHOTO - An inmate work crew supervised by the Washington County Sheriffs Office provided some much-needed, no-cost labor for the butterfly preservation project at Hagg Lake last week. Why did the Washington County Sheriff’s deputy give an inmate a chainsaw?

So he could protect butterflies, of course.

Last summer, a population of endangered Fender’s blue butterflies was inadvertently mowed down at Hagg Lake in western Washington County. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wildlife biologist Mikki Collins didn’t want to see that happen again so she enlisted the help of Deputy Jerry Shamoon, an inmate work coordinator for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Last week, on April 11 and 12, Shamoon and an inmate work crew joined staff from Washington County Parks & Recreation, Clean Water Services, the Bureau of Reclamation and Collins to remove cytisus scoparious, more commonly known as Scotch broom, an invasive nonnative plant, from 4.5 acres around the reservoir.

The Scotch broom, some of which had grown 8 feet tall, was overtaking the butterfly’s habitat. By removing it, the butterfly’s native prairie vegetation can be re-established, said USFWS spokeswoman Elizabeth Materna.

“Fender’s blue butterfly is a federally endangered species found only in the Willamette Valley,” Materna said, “and the Hagg Lake population was just discovered five years ago.”

But why work crew inmates? Why not goats or landscapers?

“Goats are great for clearing brush, but the butterflies don’t do well in grazed areas,” Collins said. And landscapers cost money.

Also, it’s good for the inmates to build good relationships in local communities, Shamoon said.

“Some are a little rough around the edges, but you can see a change as they put others before themselves,” he said. “It’s definitely a good thing for them.” COURTESY PHOTO - Last summer, a population of endangered Fenders blue butterflies was inadvertently mowed down at Hagg Lake. U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff are now trying to do a better job of protecting the rare species.

According to Shamoon, the inmates selected for the work crews are carefully screened. No violent or sexual offenders are allowed. Only low-escape-risk, model inmates can apply.

“I won’t take out anyone with a bad attitude or who doesn’t want to be there,” Shamoon said. “A lot of them are excited to be out there doing something productive ... a few said it’s awesome to be out on a lake instead of sitting in a jail cell.”

“The inmate crew was phenomenal,” Collins said. “They got the project kickstarted in a way we couldn’t have done without them, and it was awesome to see all the other partners come together to help out and lend their strengths.”