Washington wildlife rehabilitators keep Washington wild

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Baby fawn in the grass | Photo by: Laura Rogers

“We are a community resource,” said Suzanne West, executive director at Sarvey Wildlife Center in Arlington. “People see animals that are injured, sick, and debilitated, and they don’t know where to take them. That’s why we are here.”

We rely on our wildlife rehabilitators to help us release physically and psychologically healthy wildlife back into their natural habitat. These rehabilitators donate thousands of hours of their time, typically without pay, to care for animals in distress.

It’s laudable work, but to do it right, individuals greatly benefit from spending time with experienced rehabilitators like West to show them the way. To get a rehabilitator license, plan to log six months or 1,000 volunteer hours with a licensed rehabilitator.

Last year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife assembled a Wildlife Rehabilitation Advisory Committee (WRAC) to help revise the rules for wildlife rehabilitators. The committee was tasked with writing rules that fit the amount of knowledge and training people need to be effective wildlife rehabilitators.

“To understand how to rehabilitate and do it well, you need at least 1,000 hours during baby season,” explained West. “Baby season has it all, and each species has different needs. The 1,000-hour rule helps prepare wildlife rehabilitators to start small and build their understanding of the differences between varying animal species.”

Through the rule process, we addressed many issues that the wildlife rehabilitation community faces. Yet, for Sarvey Wildlife Center, the number one challenge is always funding.

“We’ve gotten grants from WDFW for projects. One project that we are working on is an eagle aviary,” said West. “WDFW grants cannot cover all expenses, so we rely on donations through the nonprofit to run our center.”

Donations — labor, materials, and money — are key to supporting the 35 licensed rehabilitation facilities in Washington. While our agency is able to provide some funding for facility improvements and operating expenses, it’s public support that truly enables this important work. And our state needs more high-quality rehabilitators working to heal and return injured animals to the wild.

Currently, there are more animals that need rehabilitation than there are people to help them.

“I get calls daily from all over the state and sometimes from Oregon,” West explained. “We are already at 25 percent higher volumes than 2018. There just aren’t enough places for people to bring animals.”

Our state particularly struggles with this challenge in eastern Washington, where wildlife rehabilitators are few. Because there are so few licensed rehabilitators, it is difficult for people who want to be rehabilitators to find places to get their volunteer hours.

“In order to volunteer and get hours, you need to be at a facility more than four hours a week,” said West. “That’s a real struggle for people on the east side.”

When the WRAC, a diverse group of rehabilitators and animal care experts, took on the challenge of revising the rules, they knew it would be a difficult and controversial process. Yet, their efforts proved successful and are anticipated to produce better overall outcomes for Washington wildlife in the future.

Impressed by the success, WDFW’s director, Kelly Susewind, is now creating an ongoing Wildlife Rehabilitation Advisory Group. The group will help form best practices for wildlife rehabilitation and work through continuing and emerging issues — including how few rehabilitators are available east of the Cascades.

“We want to ensure that animals get appropriate care from dedicated individuals who may have the space, time, and resources. We hope this new advisory group can help us find solutions to this problem,” said Kelly Susewind, director.

You can find more information on applying to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Advisory Group by the June 1 deadline here.

Our agency relies on wildlife rehabilitators to take in wildlife that is sick, injured, and truly orphaned because it is illegal for members of the general public to take in wildlife if they are not a licensed rehabilitator.

“You wouldn’t hit someone with your car, and then take them into your home to care for them,” said West. “The same should be true for animals. Get them to a licensed rehabilitator immediately.”

Anyone who finds an injured animal can find a list of wildlife rehabilitators on our website.

As more babies are born this spring, keep in mind that the vast majority do not need to be rescued.

WDFW is the state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish, wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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