by Dale Chappell
The Nevada Department of Corrections has cut the Sagebrush in Prisons program, citing overtime costs and lack of staff oversight, after the federal government withheld funding for the program.
This means the 300,000 sagebrush plants that fire districts were expecting this year will come from other sources, likely private companies — at a much greater cost.
When asked why the Bureau of Land Management has not released the $250,000 for the program, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's office said “the program is under review.”
This also means that the cost of sagebrush plants will double. Plants from the prison program averaged $1.30 each, whereas private sources would cost an average of $2.25 per plug, the Nevada Department of Forestry said.
So far, private donations would allow two Oregon prisons and a Wyoming prison to do what they can. But it would be just a fraction of the 10 prisons that were in the program last year.
“We don't have anyone to run the program,” DOC Spokeswoman Brooke Santina said. “For now, with the overtime issues we have been facing, we can't dedicate an officer to a program unless it is evidence-based and promoting the mission of the department, which has to do with preparing inmates for successful re-entry.”
Program director Stacy Moore, from the Institute for Applied Ecology, which ran the prison program, said she is hoping Coeur Mining will contract with the program to restore sagebrush around its Nevada sites.
This could return the program to Nevada prisons, which gives prisoners hands-on cultivation experience and education on ecology and conservation. In 2017, Nevada prisoners cultivated 210,000 plants.
“It's just a win-win-win for communities and inmates,” Moore said. “I would like to see the funds released so we can continue to help with these wildfires, help prevent erosion and get the eco-system growing.”
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