It was a howler of a good time at Sierra Wildlife Rescue’s Toast to Wildlife Champagne Brunch at the Cameron Park Country Club on Sunday, April 28.
Supporters interacted with rescued wildlife, heard a fascinating presentation on wolves, enjoyed a sumptuous brunch and took their chances on silent auction items and raffles. The most popular part of the day, other than the endless glasses of free champagne, seemed to be the opportunity to get up close to rescued birds of prey. Accompanied by their handlers, each bird came with a different story of injury and survival.
According to Nan Powers, public relations and publicity chair for SWR, the all-volunteer organization annually rescues some 1,200 to 1,500 animals, with most released back to the wild. Some that can’t be released are given permanent care and a place in the organization’s outreach and educational efforts.
Present at the fundraiser was a California Spotted Owl called Sierra, along with her handler Betty Ondricek of Somerset. Sierra lost an eye after being hit by a car. No longer able to hunt because of her loss of depth perception, she now works as an education bird, going out to 20 to 25 places a year as part of the organization’s outreach efforts.
Marty Owen, another volunteer, had three birds to show off. One of her favorites was a Harris’ Hawk called Zag. A bird with an unfortunate history, it had one toe bit off by a squirrel it was trying to capture. Owen said Zag is used as an example of why people shouldn’t try to hand feed squirrels. Zag’s other injury was to a wing when it chased a jack rabbit over a fence and was attacked by a guard dog. It had to have its wing amputated as a result and now is permanently grounded. Owen also brought with her Herbert, an American Kestrel found at Herbert C. Green Middle School, and a Northern Pygmy Owl called Dusty.
Other birds on display were Big Spender, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, who was with her handler Judy Monestier, and a Great Horned Owl named Lionel, who was discovered on some railroad tracks. He was with his handler April Nichol.
The brunch also featured a presentation on the return of the wolf to California by Lauren Richie and Kevin Schmelzlen. Both work for the California Wolf Center headquartered in Julian. Founded in 1977, the organization covers wolf education, conservation and research as well as wolf breeding programs.
The speakers noted that the gray wolf occupied most of North America until a hundred years ago when an extermination campaign almost wiped them out. Since then there’s been a shift in thinking and , in 1995, the federal government sponsored the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. They have since spread to Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington. One of the Oregon wolves actually entered California recently, but apparently didn’t like it and left. The team said they hope California eventually has its own wolf pack along with a model program for wolf recovery.
The duo ended their presentation by showing video clips of wolves at play and howling.
Powers said all the money raised at the event will go toward rescuing, rehabilitating and caring for wildlife. SWR takes care of every type of mammal and bird with the exception of bears and mountain lions. Those animals too injured to fend for themselves, like the birds at the event, are put into protective care and used to educate children and the public about wildlife preservation.
Licensed since 1992 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish & Game, SWR has a core group of 35 to 40 volunteers divided into groups that specialize in the care of certain animals. These volunteers house, feed and provide medical care to injured or orphaned wildlife. Overseeing the medical care and welfare of all their education birds, as well as the special veterinary needs of their wildlife charges, is Dr. Jeanne Smith, one of the foremost avian veterinarians in California. The organization also works closely with local veterinarians, El Dorado County Animal Services and other groups.
Powers said the group’s mission is to rescue orphaned and injured wildlife, preserve them and return them to the wild and to educate the public. A member of the group for 12 years, Powers said she joined because she always loved working with animals. As a little girl she said she lived in an apartment and couldn’t have a pet. But she said there was a squirrel with a broken leg that would come to their window and they would feed it nuts. She said that squirrel was the only pet she had until her parents moved.
“I was animal deprived until I was 11 and got a dog,” she said, laughing.
Powers said Sierra Wildlife Rescue volunteers all have something in common.
“We have a nurturing disposition and want to return something to the environment,” she explained. “We love this county, love the wilderness and want to be surrounded by wildlife and give something back.
“The habitat for wildlife is decreasing,” she continued, “and we need to share our property with our wild neighbors.”
Powers said people need to pay attention when removing brush and cutting down the limbs of trees because they are often homes for wildlife, especially baby animals. She also emphasized that if someone finds baby animals don’t assume they are abandoned. The mother may simply be off hunting. Instead they should contact SWR to discuss the most appropriate action.
For those who find an injured or orphaned animal or who want to volunteer or donate to the organization, Sierra Wildlife Rescue can be reached at (530) 621-4661. Memberships can be had for $10 and up. People can also choose to adopt an animal for only $25 per adoption. All donations are tax-deductible. For more information about the organization visit sierrawildliferescue.org.