Salt Lake County jail inmates are getting involved in an effort to repopulate a threatened species in Utah. The County Corrections Bureau held a grand opening Friday for a new pond next to the jail, releasing 5,000 native Utah least chub into the water.
The least chub is a small minnow threatened because of habitat degradation and the introduction of non-native fish. But on this day, buckets of least chub are being released into a protected refuge right next to the Salt Lake County jail. Sheriff Jim Winder says the metaphor is not lost on him.
“That species has been in our state for eons, and it was threatened and it needs guidance and love and a little bit of husbandry to get it back in and get it blossoming. So too do the human beings that our in our care,” Winder says. “This is a holistic program. We don’t run a jail to house people. We run a jail to change lives.”
The University of Utah and the Division of Wildlife Resources are partners in this effort to re-introduce the least chub into Utah’s waterways, while providing science education and job training for inmates. Biology Professor Nalini Nadkarni is director of the Utah science in prisons program. She says there are 20 prisons in 9 states participating in these kinds of sustainability programs.
“One of the most powerful features of these programs, is not necessarily the science education, not necessarily the job training, but rather providing the inmates with an opportunity to contribute something that’s bigger than themselves, bigger than their families, bigger than just the jail where they are, but really as big as the planet earth,” Nadkarni says.
Jail inmate Jeffrey Johnson says he jumped at the opportunity to help with the least chub project.
“I know that the path that I had gone down with my drug addiction, I knew I was better than that,” Johnson says. He will be helping to care for the fish and landscaping the surrounding area. He says he loves nature and would like to work as a forest ranger after he’s released. “This is the type of career that actually I was hoping to go into, so I’m completely humbled and grateful to be here, and I think it’s going to change a lot of inmates’ lives.”
Just like Johnson, some of these least chub will eventually be set free to fend for themselves.