The American West is rapidly drying out this spring, thanks to drought conditions and high heat. Already, wildfires are spreading across parts of California, with the rest of the West soon to follow, and wildlife are feeling the pressure.
While fires can actually be good for wildlife in the long term, because they renew grasses, shrubs and other sources of nutrition, in the short term, they can be extremely dangerous. That danger has been heightened by human management of forested areas and shrublands, which has historically focused on fire prevention, creating piles of tinder that feed white-hot fires.
How can you help wildlife in your community during wildfire season? The Humane Society of the United States offers some tips. As always when dealing with wildlife, please be aware that injured, sick or frightened animals may behave unpredictably, and you should not approach an animal without adequate protection. If an animal is clearly too dangerous to approach, call local wildlife officials or a rescue organization for help — don’t risk your safety to help an animal, or else two of you might be in trouble!
If you spot fallen nests or baby birds, a potential issue in wildfire season thanks to high winds, scoop them up in boxes lined with soft material and take them to a wildlife rescue center — but call first to make sure it’s the appropriate procedure, which may depend on the species and the circumstances. Parent birds may not return to the nest or could reject young who have been handled, so don’t simply put nestlings back. In the case of juvenile birds, be aware that human intervention may make a bird panicky, and it can be a good idea to drape your carrying container with breathable fabric so they get plenty of air, but can’t see out.
If you spot an injured larger animal, take pictures of the animal, the injuries and the setting, and call a local rescue organization. The pictures will help a representative guide you through a rescue. You may be asked to stay with the animal until help can arrive, unless it becomes unsafe to do so, or you can be walked through the process of preparing the animal for transport and travel so you can bring it into a veterinary clinic or wildlife shelter.
Do not handle animals that appear to be abandoned, as some animals will hide their young while searching for safety. Remain at a safe distance and ask for guidance from a rescue organization, which can make the call when it comes to deciding whether the animal should be left, monitored, or brought in for care. If an animal appears otherwise healthy and there are no immediate threats in the area, the best thing to do may be to leave the area so the animal’s mother can return.
Do not feed displaced wildlife, as this can create dependence and attract an animal population that is too large to sustain itself. Wildlife are adept at finding their own sources of food, but if you disturb their community cycles and rhythms, you could disrupt the larger ecosystem.
Many wildlife shelters are also overburdened with rescue animals right now, and they can use your help as a volunteer. You can help feed and care for injured and orphaned wildlife, participate in rescues, and provide guidance to members of the public looking to help animals.
Typically you will need to attend a short orientation program and commit to a set period of volunteering to compensate the organization for its investment in training.
Photo credit: jans canon.