As humans encroach on wild habitats, one group of tireless advocates serves the animals that have become displaced.
WE’VE ALL HEARD the term Not In My Back Yard. Nimby. As in, it’s easy to ignore a controversial issue if it’s happening somewhere else, where you don’t feel the impact in your day-to-day life.
Yet there are certain issues that have begun to creep into all of our backyards in one way or another, due to the mind-blowing growth in Northern Colorado.
One of these is the wildlife that is displaced.
Take, for example, new construction. Perhaps, while clearing the site, several trees come down, and one contains a nest of baby squirrels that ends up plunked on the ground near your foot. Or there’s that mallard family you often see crossing your street, which is much busier these days, and one morning a car strikes the female, stranding her ducklings on the curb. Maybe you recently installed a fence around your house and now an American crow has tangled its foot in the wire and is trapped.
Suddenly the consequences of all of this growth have become your issue, front and center—in the form of a helpless baby bird your kid finds, or the naked little squirrel kit on the sidewalk—and you feel compelled to act. But what do you do? The world may not need a few more squirrels, but it’s hard to be rational when fuzzy little orphans are looking up at you with hungry eyes.
Enter Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (GWRC), a nonprofit with more than 35 years of experience and a bustling team of licensed animal rehabilitators, operational staff, interns and volunteers. Located on a scenic stretch of highway outside Longmont, they are one of a kind, serving the entire region from north of Pueblo to the Wyoming border, with the mission of rehabilitating sick and injured birds, waterfowl and mammals and educating the public about humane solutions to human-wildlife interactions.
Which, according to executive director Linda Tyler, “is no small feat.” The center is open 365 days of the year, and during its peak season from March to September, the center fields more than 100 calls each day and care for around 400 animals on site at all times. Team members are busy feeding and treating the patients from dawn until late at night. In 2016, they rehabilitated more than 3,400 animals ranging from songbirds and Canada geese to coyotes and foxes.
“We get the baby squirrels first, in late February and March,” says Tyler. “Raccoons start in April. And then birds and waterfowl, like mallards, mergansers and wood ducks, start in May.” Nearly 80 percent of their patients are orphaned, while the others are injured or sick. And although many times the team doesn’t know an animal’s history, often, with a combination of pain medication, antibiotics and cage rest, they do better and can be moved to an outdoor enclosure before being released back into nature.
This is not only a relief for wildlife, but for people. Tyler says that “a lot of what we provide is a human service. If you’re the one who finds a baby that’s lost its mom, you want a place to take it. It feels like a crisis because you think it’s gonna die if it doesn’t get to a rehab center.”
And that’s true. Wild babies are fragile, and their best bet for survival is with their parents. A stranded baby animal isn’t necessarily orphaned, something GWRC emphasizes on its website and when they do school and community presentations. The goal is always to reunite the baby with its mom, if possible. For example, if a baby bird falls out of a nest, you can make a pseudo nest down farther in the tree and, when Mom hears it crying, she will come down and feed it until it can fly. Or if you cut down a tree and baby squirrels fall out, the mother, who probably has a backup nest, will move them if you put them in a place where she feels safe coming to get them. These strategies are important in keeping wild babies where they belong—and leaving space open at the center for emergencies.
Moving forward, Tyler admits that the need for Greenwood’s services are only going to increase. But she remains optimistic, as her team continually trains new wildlife rehabilitators, teaches people how to be environmentally responsible and proposes creative options for interested advocates, like how to get set up and get approved for in-home rehab. “My goal is to foster the love for wildlife rehabilitation, always building up the rehab community,” she says.
Visit Greenwood at greenwood.org or call 303-823-8455.