Wildlife rehabilitation in the mid-Willamette Valley is in a state of crisis.
The center in Eugene closed in 2017. One in South Salem is temporarily closed. Except for a raptor center in Eugene all wildlife rehab issues are being funneled to the Chintimini Wildlife Center north of Corvallis.
The funnel, however, is completely clogged, forcing Chintimini to stop admitting new patients for the first time in its 30-year history.
“What we hope the public understands is that this has been a difficult situation for everyone,” said Sarah Spangler, Chintimini’s executive director. “We know how frustrating and agonizing it feels to not be able to help an animal in need. It feels that way to us, too. What’s important to remember is that we’re legally and ethically required to maintain a humane standard of care and we aren’t able to do that if we choose to work beyond our capacity.
“We sincerely hope that members of our community, including those in Salem and Eugene, will work with us to develop and implement solutions to this problem, both in the short and long term.”
As recently as 2011 Chintimini had never hit the 1,000- annual patient mark. Now, it is approaching 2,500. COVID-19 hasn’t helped. The virus has drastically limited the center’s ability to attract volunteers — they have gone from 130 volunteers to 40 and have been forced to add some paid staff, which is putting strain on its annual budget of just less than $400,000.
And it’s a budget that depends solely on donations and grants.
“We’re desperate and frustrated,” Spangler said. “I wish we had more options. The obvious question is where do the patients go?”
Wildlife dos and donts
Erika Seirup, the center’s operations and outreach coordinator, notes that there are a wide range of ways wildlife can wind up needing attention.
“It’s kind of all of the above,” she said. “You can see something driving on your way to work. Your cat can catch a bird or a rabbit. You can be mowing the lawn and come across a nest of rabbits. You can find a family of foxes under the deck. And nobody knows that they need us until they need us.”
Trying to administer aid to wildlife without the proper training can have disastrous consequences.
“It’s really easy to feed wildlife the wrong food,” Seirup said. “And things just get worse if they are.”
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials offer similar advice.
“Most wildlife give birth in the spring, so Oregon is flush with young critters running around,” said Greg Reed, a wildlife biologist with the department’s Corvallis office. “At the same time, everyone is venturing outside to enjoy the sunshine, do yard work, and recreate in the outdoors. This results in a predicted increase in human-wildlife encounters.
“To help out the wildlife rehabilitators, and ultimately wildlife in general, people should leave the animals where they find them and give them space. They can also take steps to limit harmful interactions with wildlife. Keep cats indoors, dogs on a leash, don’t feed pets outside, and don’t feed wildlife. Postpone yard work, like trimming trees, until the nesting season is over.
“And don’t assume baby animals are abandoned. The parents are almost always nearby and waiting for the perceived threat (i.e. the person) to pass, so they can reunite with their young.”
Rehab centers such as Chintimini are required to have permits from the ODFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“There is a fairly stringent process for becoming a wildlife rehabber,” Reed said, noting an application, a letter from a veterinarian, reference checks, and an examination.
“All of these regulations are in place to protect and ensure a high standard of care for Oregon’s wildlife," he said.
Oh, and you also have to have a facility.
Chintimini officials classify themselves as a “scrappy” group because of their ability to make do with the aging buildings on their 9.5 acres near Lewisburg. The good news is that they own the facility.
The bad news is that so many phone calls come in that their system cannot handle all of them and the center doesn’t have the staff to return the calls anyway. They don’t have any more places to plug in incubators … if they could afford more incubators.
And the incubators they have are in constant use. Their volunteer and staff figures are so high because, as Steirup notes, “some nestlings have to be fed every 15 minutes” for up to 18 hours per day.
Staff and volunteers keep things straight with massive use of wipe boards that note the feeding schedule for all the residents.
If the center allowed more animals to be admitted, Spangler said, “the only thing that we could offer would be humane euthanasia. But people don’t like that option and it really takes a toll on staff.
“We’re essentially saying (to those with animals being turned away) is that no one can help in the Willamette Valley. But it’s really important that we offer this service. Other people just don’t have the skills.”
Solutions and options are tough to come up with right now, Chintimini officials said.
“Short term, with some additional funds we can make it work,” Spangler said. “Long term? That’s a question for all the community, What is the best solution? We shouldn’t serve the entire area. Three smaller centers are a better idea.”
One rehab center for the entire valley? There would be obvious access and transportation issues for some folks. Also, if one center costs $400,000 … that means you are tilting toward seven figures just to restore to the region what it had in terms of capacity as recently as four years ago.
Spangler remains optimistic.
“Everything bad can be the beginning of something positive,” she said.