New program gives Cal City inmates chance to restore Mojave Desert plants for declining tortoise population

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Courtesy of Mojave Desert Wildflower Adventures

CALIFORNIA CITY, Calif. (KGET) — A group of inmates at the California City Correctional Facility will be participating in a new program aimed at seeding the Mojave Desert to provide plants that feed and shelter endangered wild tortoises. 

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said 10 inmates are participating in the Mojave Desert Seed Project, which starts on March 12. The inmates will grow a small collection of seeds from desert plants inside the prison nursery, collect a larger amount of seeds from those plants and provide those to the Bureau of Land Management for planting.

Lt. Sharman Parker with the California City Correctional Facility said the inmates will be responsible for watering the plants, thinning them, weeding containers and collecting data on their growth.

“They need to make sure the plants are thriving,” she said. 

In addition, inmates will learn horticulture techniques and attend lectures from natural resource volunteers. 

“The vital experience in the CAC nursery and team-building experience with staff and volunteers champions CDCR’s mission of preparing the incarcerated population to reenter the community,” the CDCR said in a news release. 

The desert tortoise population in the Mojave has been on a significant decline in recent years and is protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to BLM. The goal of the project is to bring up the numbers of tortoises in the area. 

Parker said this the first program of its kind in the CDCR system. The Bureau of Land Management approached the CDCR about having inmates help seed the desert.

The program is expected to last through October. While only starting with a few inmates, Parker said she thinks that — just like with the plants — there’s room to grow. 

“We’re starting small, but we think this can grow into something larger over time,” she said. 

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