Inmates help ecologist fight deforestation

By Scott Carlson

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, an instructor from Evergreen State College (TESC) and ecologist for National Geographic, spoke to BCC science students last Tuesday on some of the unorthodox techniques she has been using to learn more about forest canopies and how she is introducing others to her work.

During her standing-room-only, two-hour presentation, Nadkarni presented her use of prisoners to learn more about the ecological conditions high above the forest floor.

In 2005, Nadkarni started a program called the Moss-in-Prison project. She enlisted the help of 12 inmates from the Cedar Creek Correctional Center in Littlerock, Wash.

The program was initiated to help combat the destructive practice of wild-moss collection on the Olympic Peninsula for the floral trade. This practice has become a $200 million a year industry, said Nadkarni.

She said she needed help from people with time to watch and observe the growth of moss, room to lay out flats of moss in soil, and fresh minds to put forward innovative solutions.

“In prisoners, I found people with nothing but time,” she said.

However, Nadkarni’s motives for introducing prisoners to forest ecology were two-fold.

“To me, the worst thing about being a prisoner would be the lack of nature,” she told BCC students. Not only was she able