Fires, Heat, Wildlife, and You
Eight Things You Can Do To Help Wildlife TodayPosted on: August 27th, 2020
Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #20
A Lindsay volunteer sits in the wildlife hospital’s outdoor intake area two days a week, under the meager shade of a pop up tent, using a small swamp cooler to stave off the worst of the heatwave. The temperature hovers around 90 degrees in the shade (it went up to 104 last week). In the sun, it is truly unbearable. She talks to the people bringing injured or orphaned animals, typing the patient’s information into the laptop computer, and obtaining contact information from the rescuer. Peter, our hospital manager, peeks out and offers her a break from the heat and a chance to do the intakes inside. With a hand gesture, she gently dismisses the offer. She’ll stay where she is for now.
Inside the hospital, the AC is running continuously, keeping people and patients from being exposed to the heat and smoke. Regardless, the activity is frantic and continuous, a never-ending stream of intakes, 20, 30, up to 50 patients a day, each receiving the attention of our vets, technicians, and volunteers.
Lindsay volunteers and on-site staff are braving the heat and smoke to continue to register and log in patients at our wildlife hospital, worrying that the heatwave and the fires may increase the number of patients even more. Our words cannot express the level of gratitude for their support and sacrifice. They are our heroes helping wildlife and people in times of stress.
The flurry of lightning-sparked wildfires last week has left a historic scale of destruction across California. Lives have been tragically lost, hundreds of homes and other structures reduced to ashes, and tens of thousands of people have been evacuated and displaced. All of this is happening amid the relentless grip of a pandemic that we seem unable to get under control and a heatwave that continues to stretch our resources and exhaust our stamina. The solace people could obtain by going outdoors and spending time in nature has been curtailed by unhealthy — and at times quite dangerous — air quality conditions brought on by the lingering blanket of smoke. Unfortunately, the need for people to stay indoors is aggravating the already stressful COVID-19-induced isolation.
Those of us that work on wildlife issues know that the heat, fires, and smoke also affect wildlife. As massive swaths of redwood forests, oak groves, and gallery forests along dried-up streams and waterways succumb to the flames, wildlife that can escape them is displaced, and some animals have nowhere to go but to the suburbs and neighborhoods that have been spared by the fires.. Pet and farm animal rescue efforts are underway in many areas. The network of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers, some of which are affected by the fires and evacuations, are closely in touch with each other to provide support by hosting animal ambassadors and patients. But, what can you do to assist wildlife that is displaced or injured by the wildfires?
One thing to take into account is that most wild animals can escape the frenzy of the fires. Birds can fly away from the conflagrations and seek safety in unburned areas. Small animals hide in underground burrows and under logs and rocks to escape intense heat and flames. Large animals flee the blazes and then circle back to burned areas or drift towards unburned patches. Even insects and other invertebrates know to move away from flames in miniature silent stampedes across the forest floor. California habitats have evolved with fires for hundreds of thousands of years. Within days of a wildfire, grasses begin to regrow, seeds often dormant for decades germinate, and root systems sprout new growth through the scorched branches, providing food for the returning browsers. Beetles that feed on burnt wood provide food for woodpeckers, and slowly the food webs get re-established. But some of the animals that can’t fly or burrow and wander off to come into contact with humans in urbanized areas.
Here are some tips for how to cope with and help wild animals that come to your property.
- First of all, please keep your pets inside, especially at night. The smoke and the potential encounters with passing displaced wildlife puts both at risk. Do not leave pet food outside for your pets or roaming neighborhood domestic animals. It will also attract wildlife.
- You can leave shallow bowls of water outdoors for displaced wildlife that are passing through. Wild animals may wander into your yards and property, looking for safe places to shelter or rest. Providing water can help them cope with the heat and exhaustion. Place sticks and stones on one side of shallow water bowls to give small animals an escape route if they become trapped. Do not leave food out, though.
- If there is a swimming pool in your backyard or residential complex, make sure there is something that animals can use to climb out if they fall in when seeking water. A heavy rope, a board, or a sturdy branch can help a stranded animal crawl out and wander off to safety.
- If an injured animal wanders into your yard, call the nearest rescue center or animal services operator in your area, or call the Lindsay Hotline (925) 659-8156 for more information on what to do.
- If you decide it is safe to rescue the animal, be very careful with certain species, particularly carnivore mammals (raccoons, weasels, foxes, coyotes), bats, opossums, and other animals that may bite. A bite from a carnivore may endanger you and the animal because of the remote possibility of rabies. If you’re not sure how to handle the animal, don’t. Call the Hotline for advice.
- Similarly, handling raptors (owls, hawks, eagles, and others) can be dangerous because of their sharp claws and beaks. Call your local Animal Services department or the Lindsay Hotline for advice. Venomous snakes like rattlesnakes should only be handled by trained people.
- Animals showing evidence of burns, severe injuries, or bleeding need immediate veterinary attention. Please do not attempt to feed them. Wrap them in a cotton sheet or soft towel, place the animal in a cardboard box, and transport it to the nearest veterinary facility or rescue center for treatment.
- Help support wildlife rescue centers by donating. Lindsay’s hospital is wholly supported by the generosity and empathy of our community that cares for wildlife.
Wildfires are a natural feature of California ecosystems, which have evolved to recover from them. When these runaway fires impact our lives, homes, infrastructure, and activities, they become the significant tragedies and catastrophes we’re currently suffering. It is crucial to support sound development policies and practices that consider the needs of wildlife in open spaces. With every new development project, we should request wildlife corridors and the design of best available methods for fire suppression and buffer zones that help keep our wilderness areas intact and well managed. When we follow the science and the knowledge we have about wildlife and their habitats, we can find beneficial and more harmonious ways to coexist.
Dr. Carlos L. de la Rosa