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Oregon spotted frog
KOMO News, May 1, 2011

Prisoners help threatened species make a comeback

LITTLEROCK, Wash. - A special group of workers in Washington state is saving a threatened species.

Their efforts have stunned researchers. And what's even more surprising to some is the unusual lab where the effort is taking place.

Harry Greer is one of those workers. He works hands-on with 100 tadpoles, providing them with constant care so that they'll grow into adult Oregon spotted frogs - a dwindling species that is a candidate for the endangered list.

Greer is helping to bring the frogs' numbers back up - but he's no biologist.

"I used to sell drugs and run hookers in motels," he says matter-of-factly.

Greer is an inmate behind the fence and barbed wire at Cedar Creek Correctional Center. He's now senior caretaker of the prison's endangered frog program.

"It's given me a whole different outlook on life," he says. "I know there's more to life than the streets."

The same is true for Taylor Davis, who was locked up four years ago for car theft.

"It gives me something to be good about every day," he says. "You know, I wouldn't want to lose this."

Cedar Creek is a model for sustainability, already into organic gardening and composting - and that's why The Evergreen State College and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife chose it to raise frogs.

The amphibians will eventually find a home in the Joint Base Lewis McChord wetlands - a fragile ecosystem that is being rebuilt.

Zoos also raise the frogs for release - but it's the ones from Cedar Creek prison that are flourishing.

"There's so many programs that can be done by inmates, it's really infinite," says Marko Anderson, director of the program.

Anderson says the prison frogs are healthier and have higher survivability rates because the inmates give them constant care - with regular feeding and fresh water.

Researchers now come to them for advice.

Greer gets out of prison in December, and he hopes to continue his work at a zoo. Helping frogs find their own freedom has changed his life.

"I think, 'What part of the chain of life is this animal in?' - you know what I mean? Now everything to me is the chain of life," he says.

The frogs should be fully grown by November or December - and that's when they'll be released into the wetlands.

Copyright © 2011 Fisher Communications, Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton