(Photo | Courtesy of Think Wild Central Oregon)
In Central Oregon, the Air Quality Index has been rated “Hazardous” for almost a week. While fires continue to spread throughout our state, stealing lives and property, Oregonians have come together to provide shelter and supplies for affected humans, pets and livestock. But for Think Wild, a wildlife hospital and conservation center in Bend, the major questions have been, how is Oregon’s wildlife affected and how can we help?
Fortunately, Oregon’s native species are adapted to reacting to fires. That doesn’t mean that many won’t suffer or lose their lives. The fires will cause immediate habitat loss and potential die-offs, and they will change ecosystem structure for years to come. Some species that depend on mature forests — tree cavity-nesting owls, for example — may experience population reductions, while those that thrive in young forests — like songbirds and burrowing mammals — may increase.
In the short term, with the severity and scale of the current wildfires, wildlife may be more likely to enter urban areas and exhibit unusual behavior while fleeing the smoke and fire over the next few weeks. They will also be in search of food resources, which will be significantly depleted in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Long term, Think Wild expects an increase in orphaned, injured and, especially, starving wildlife.
“Wildlife are going to be terrified and may be traveling through your property fleeing fire and looking for food and water,” said Pauline Baker, director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at Think Wild. “Do not panic or approach these animals, but monitor at a safe distance. If you are concerned about an injury, please contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center.”
While wildlife hospitals across Oregon are not currently being inundated with wildfire-specific calls — we expect cases to significantly increase as ecosystem changes take effect and as people enter back into affected areas and are more likely to come across wildlife in need of help.
Here are tangible ways that you can help native wildlife and your local wildlife hospitals:
- Do not leave food out or feed wildlife. If you have a bird feeder, clean it often. You can leave water out away from your house as long as you change it often.
- Keep dogs and cats indoors as much as possible during times of hazardous air quality. This will protect them and also prevent cat- and dog-caught-related injuries to small animals and babies that may be moving about or seeking refuge.
- Make sure water features on your property, such as irrigation ponds, provide an exit strategy for wildlife to climb out. Rocks, rope and logs are helpful additions to prevent wildlife from drowning.
- Do not approach wildlife. Call your local wildlife hospital if you find injured or orphaned wildlife or if you see wildlife behaving strangely and are uncertain of how to proceed.
- If you find an animal that has been burnt and are waiting to get in contact with a wildlife hospital or vet, do not feed it. Wrap it loosely in 100 percent cotton and place it in a well-ventilated box in a dark and quiet place.
- Your local wildlife hospital could always use more donations and supplies. Most wildlife hospitals (including Think Wild) receive little to no government funding and rely on individual in-kind and cash donations. Hosting a fundraiser for your local wildlife hospital at your business, through social media or in your network is a great way to show support.
- Support organizations doing important habitat and water conservation restoration work. Examples in Central Oregon include Oregon Wildlife Foundation, Deschutes River Conservancy, watershed councils, Coalition for the Deschutes, Oregon Natural Desert Association and many more.
- Be conscious of your water usage. Try to minimize water use, especially during droughts, the hot, dry summer months and during wildfire season.
- Pay attention to burning restrictions, especially when traveling to another location. Stay educated on potential fire hazards — small, contained fires can become disastrous very quickly.
This list is non-exhaustive, but we hope that you find it helpful. If you ever have any questions, Think Wild’s wildlife hotline, 541-241-8680, is available seven days a week from 8am-5pm. Think Wild is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and tax-deductible donations can be made at thinkwildco.org/donate or mailed to PO Box 5093, Bend, OR 97708.