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Summit’s neighbors are wild

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
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Gail Marshall loves wildlife.

She also loves people, learning and keeping the community safe by educating them about living in close proximity to animals.

“I want to remind people how to live in harmony with wildlife,” said the woman who’s been volunteering for the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Bear Aware team for 13 years. Her first year, she was just hanging signs. Now, she knocks on doors, hosts informational booths at festivals, heads volunteer groups, travels to places like Alaska to learn more about the creatures she teaches about, and more.

For folks who love wildlife, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is holding a Summit County training for its Bear Aware and Wildlife Transport teams Sunday.

There’s a fable, Marshall said, about a hummingbird who took beakfuls of water to dump on a raging wildfire instead of fleeing with the other animals. When the incredulous animals finally asked why the bird would do something as hopeless as carrying just a few drops of water into the blaze instead of recognizing its futility, the hummingbird replied, “I’m doing what I can.”

“Every little bit counts,” Marshall said.

She’s had infants to grandparents helping her spread the word about how Summit County backs up to wildland on all sides, and how living here often means remembering that animals are our neighbors.

“One gal started in her carriage as her mother went around telling people about putting away trash and cleaning grills,” she said, adding that now, the youngster is a middle school-aged volunteer.

Other youths start in middle or high school and still call to volunteer on their breaks. She mentioned a young man who’s going to college for wildlife biology partly because of his exposure through Bear Aware.

“The people… are a large part of why I do it,” she said.

To volunteer for the teams, individuals should register for the course, which is slated for noon to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Buffalo Mountain Room in the Summit County Commons.

The Wildlife Transport team helps the county’s two district wildlife managers by responding when the division receives reports of injured or orphaned wildlife. Sometimes Sean Shepherd and Shannon Schwab aren’t nearby or are out of cell service, so the volunteers are often first on scene. If necessary, they are responsible for transporting animals to rehabilitators, veterinarians or to the division office.

The transport team assists the division to handle calls about baby ducks or injured raptors so wildlife manager can “be out handling the more dangerous calls,” Leanne Gentry said. “The things volunteers can’t really do.”

Training for the transport team includes an introduction to capture equipment, handling wildlife transport calls, how to develop knowledge and answering common questions.

Bear Aware, one of the division’s most successful volunteer programs, provides residents and visitors with information about bear behavior, proper trash handling and eliminating other bear and wildlife attractants.

“Bear conflicts continue to be a problem for many residents of Colorado, and Bear Aware volunteers are very important in our attempts to help people learn to live with wildlife,” Shepherd said. “We need volunteers and hope to see a good turnout.”

Marshall said now is the time she needs volunteers, as she’s currently a one-woman show. Bears have been out since early April, first the males, then the females without cubs, then sows who have young. They’re looking for food, and there’s still lots of snow on the ground.

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