Uncertain future for program that has inmates helping to restore sage grouse habitat

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (KOLO) - This week, inmates at Warm Springs Correctional Center are packing up the sage brush they planted and nurtured this year. On Friday, the 75,000 plants will be sent off to Winnemucca and Susanville.

"We are basically going to try to ship these plants out to the Bureau of Land Management so they can try to restore sage grouse habitats," says Shannon Swim with the Institute for Applied Ecology.

There are about 15 inmates at the prison who are taking part in the Sagebrush In Prisons Project. One of the inmates, Scott Miller, says it has given him an appreciation of the state's flower and its impact on the sage grouse that depend on it.

"They completely rely on this plant. They only eat off this plant, They eat the insects off this plant and they use it for shelter and breeding," says Miller.

He knows the sage grouse habitat is threatened because of all the big wildfires we've had. The hope is to get all the sagebrush they have planted out to fire damaged areas so it can get a head start on the cheat grass.

This is the second year the program has been going on at three Nevada prisons: Warm Springs Correctional Center, Northern Nevada Correctional Center, and Lovelock Correctional Center. But it is uncertain if the program will be able to continue next year.

"We are funded through Washington, D.C. through the Department of the Interior and that funding is in question right now," says Swim. "It's being held up in Congress."

Swim says the grant that funds the Sagebrush In Prisons Project ended last month. Right now, it is under review as all sage grouse conservation efforts are. There is a possibility the program could receive funding by the time planting season arrives in April, but Swim says the thought of it going away for good scares her.

"It would really be a huge loss for the state of Nevada if the program is defunded," says Swim.

And for the inmates at Warm Springs Correctional Center who say the project has become more than just an excuse to get out of their cells. For Miller, it has become one of his passions and a way for him to grow as a person. He says it's feels good to be a part of something like this.

"And help out with society again," says Miller. "Instead of just worrying about yourself."