By Susanne Norgard
MENDOCINO, CA–Each person finds their own way to “give back” by doing something that is most meaningful to them.
Ronnie James found her calling when she received a phone call from veterinarian Jan Dietrich. Dr. Dietrich knew Ronnie had volunteered at the Raptor Center in Davis, CA and wanted to know if she could provide a home for a Great Horned Owl that he had saved.
Giving shelter to wildlife is not as easy as it would seem. An ordinary citizen is not allowed to keep wildlife unless he or she has federal and state licenses. And the only way to keep wildlife that cannot be returned to the wild is to have additional federal and state licenses as a wildlife educator. Ronnie pursued all of these licenses, and Woodlands Wildlife was born.
Ronnie and three other volunteers do most of the work at Woodlands Wildlife. “Everybody wants to volunteer until they discover that it means scrubbing poop out of cages every day, and there is little contact with the animals,” Ronnie explains. “For animals to heal, they need a stress free environment, and that means as little human contact as possible.” Ronnie admits that she has only had two vacations in the last 15 years, but does not complain. Instead she finds working with animals to be a “special privilege.”
The work is clearly the reward. Ronnie remembers a Spotted Owl that was brought to her after being hit by a car on Highway 20. “The owl was unconscious for two weeks,” she relates. “And then it took three months to heal the bird. We ultimately released him where he was found and both his territory and mate were waiting for him.” Ronnie explains that she worked with Mendocino Redwood Company foresters to call for other owls in the area to make sure that a new male had not claimed the territory while the injured owl was recuperating.
Ninety percent of the animals cared for are orphaned. But Ronnie warns against one of the most common mistakes. “People pick up fawns not realizing the mother leaves the fawn alone while she forages. It is normal for a baby to be alone. If we can return it within 72 hours, the mother will take the baby back.” She also warns against placing an unconscious animal in the car, describing how one man put an unconscious bobcat in his back seat after he had hit the animal in the road. Imagine the man’s fright when the unconscious animal awoke and was suddenly in the front seat of the car, snarling.
Although wildlife rehabilitation is an important part of her work, equally important is education. Ronnie leads over 24 educational programs each year. This year, with a grant from the Community Foundation, she is presenting a Mountain Lion safety program in school classrooms and to the general public. She is careful not to scare children, but to help them understand how humans and mountain lions can co-exist. The adult program covers legal issues, protecting pets and livestock, and safe behavior for adults and children.
The Community Foundation also funded the Owl Box Project, a Woodlands Wildlife project a few years ago that involved educating children about owls and building owl boxes for rodent control around schools in the Mendocino School District. Although only about half of the boxes have attracted owls, Ronnie says that they continue to be very successful as educational tools.
Woodlands Wildlife is a part of an animal rehabilitation referral network that is used by veterinarians and people who work in the woods. The Willits Wildlife Team serves the Willits and Ukiah area. Animals are also sent to the Marine Mammal Center, Santa Rosa Bird Rescue, Sonoma Wildlife, and Clearlake Fawn Rescue.
Some of these organizations have paid staff. Others, like Woodlands Wildlife, are supported entirely by volunteer efforts. In the case of Woodlands Wildlife, one of the primary expenses is food, which must be USDA approved (wild rodents might carry disease). It is purchased, dead and frozen, from a zoo supplier. — Mendocino Beacon