Reward worth the challenge
SUMMIT COUNTY – Kelly Baldwin of Frisco is an accountant by day. She follows her true passion – wildlife – as a wildlife rescue volunteer for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW).
CDOW has wildlife rescue teams across the state. Each team is made up of volunteers trained to respond to a variety of wildlife calls.
Baldwin has been a volunteer for Summit County’s rescue team for the last year. This is the program’s third year in the county and the number of volunteers has grown from five to ten.
As Summit County grows, the incidence of human and wildlife encounters increases. But there are only two wildlife officials in the area, Kehm said, and calls are often more than officials can handle.
Enter the wildlife rescue team.
Before the advent of the rescue teams, Kehm said, animals sometimes had to wait days for an officer to respond – if the officer was able to respond at all.
Rescue team volunteers help CDOW respond to injured and orphaned wildlife calls from the public. They help educate callers and provide solutions for various situations – a squirrel stuck in the rain gutter, for example. Volunteers might also transport injured wildlife to veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators – increasing the animal’s chance of survival or perhaps lessening their suffering.
Kehm said injured wildlife often include waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds and fawns.
“Sometimes someone finds an eagle sitting out in the middle of a field,” she said. “They think it’s sick, but what is actually the case is it’s overeaten and can’t fly. We get calls on that every year.”
Another common call is for small songbirds injured by house cats.
Last year, Baldwin got a call from a girl in Wildernest who said she had a fawn in her living room. The girl had been hiking, Baldwin said, and found the fawn alone. It was probably only 1 or 2 days old.
According to Kehm, there is a period – usually the first few weeks after a fawn is born – when it is not mobile and the doe hides it from predators when she is gone. But this is also a very vulnerable time for the fawn. Often, hikers – like the girl in Wildernest – find the fawn alone, assume it is orphaned, and take it with them.
“She had her heart in the right place,” Baldwin said of the girl. “She had been told the old wives tale that once you touch a baby animal, its mother won’t come back to take care of it because it’s got human scent on it. In almost all cases that’s not true.”
When a fawn is mistakenly “rescued” from the wild, it’s imperative to return it to the place it was found as soon as possible so it will be reunited with its mother, Kehm said. The mother typically stays in the area for approximately 24 hours, looking for its fawn. If the fawn is returned soon enough, there is a good chance the mother will find them. If not, the fawn must be transported to a wildlife rehabilitator, where it is raised until old enough to be released back into the wild.
Baldwin said she hiked to the place she and the girl left the fawn and there was no sight of the fawn, which usually indicates it has been reunited with its mother.
“It’s very rewarding to deal with the public and educate people that didn’t know beforehand and make them aware,” Baldwin said of her role as a rescue team volunteer. “I feel like this way I’m making a difference.”
Denise Gregory, another volunteer and former resident of Silverthorne, said her greatest rescue story involved Cooper hawks. A construction crew in Breckenridge had chopped down a tree without first checking for signs of raptors. There was a nest with three baby hawks, and though two of them were killed, one survived. Gregory helped the CDOW official build a stand in another nearby tree and the baby was reunited with its parents.
“It was very satisfying to be able to do that,” Gregory said.
Kehm said not all injured wildlife need to be rescued. Volunteers are trained to assess the situation and respond accordingly. Being captured can be very stressful to an animal.
“We want to minimize that,” Kehm said. “Some animals just don’t need to be rescued – it’s just a matter of healing.”
Others might not heal. And telling the public an animal can’t be saved, Baldwin said, is the most difficult part of the job.
“Our job is to rehab injured animals that can be returned to the wild – except for raptors,” Baldwin said. “Unfortunately, many of the animals which are rescued have to be euthanized. It’s very hard to be a rescuer when a number of the animals we rescue have to be put down. But we also know that it’s for the best.”
Whether it’s educating the public, saving wildlife or ending their suffering, Gregory said she loves the job.
“It’s just so fulfilling when you are able to help out injured animals,” she said.
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