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News / Life / Clark County Life

Clark County residents urged to take hands-off approach to baby animals encountered in the wild

Experts at Squirrel Refuge in Vancouver, county’s only licensed rehabilitation center, can offer advice, assistance

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 11, 2024, 6:06am
9 Photos
A pair of weeks-old baby squirrels rest on a blanket Wednesday at Squirrel Refuge in Vancouver. The organization rescues baby squirrels, opossums, mice, rabbits and other critters.
A pair of weeks-old baby squirrels rest on a blanket Wednesday at Squirrel Refuge in Vancouver. The organization rescues baby squirrels, opossums, mice, rabbits and other critters. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

You’re out for a walk, enjoying a sunny spring day, when you suddenly spot a baby squirrel out of its nest or maybe a tiny bunny hiding under a clump of grass. What should you do? Do you take the animal home and care for it yourself or leave it where it is and let nature take its course?

April may be best known for its rainy days (April showers bring May flowers and all that), but it’s also when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife starts fielding more calls about injured or abandoned wildlife. Department spokeswoman Jennifer Becar said people often want to help but that help often does more harm than good.

“Just because baby animals are alone does not mean they need help,” Becar said. “Many wildlife species may leave their young unattended, even for long periods at a time, while the adult searches for food, or to keep their own presence from attracting unwanted attention to their offspring.”

She said her department’s best advice for the public is to never intervene in a wild animal’s life, unless that animal is obviously sick or injured.

“In those cases, the public should seek the advice and assistance of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator,” she said.

Because the care and treatment of sick or injured wildlife varies by species, Becar said it is important to leave it to the professionals with the necessary tools, training and resources.

Clark County’s only licensed rehabilitation center is the Squirrel Refuge in Vancouver, which has been run by Sharon and Michael Bacon since 2016. Like other wildlife rehab specialists, the Bacons have completed hundreds of hours of training.

Michael Bacon said the refuge gets an average of 200 calls a year, mostly for squirrels and mostly in the fall and spring. He said if you find a baby squirrel out of its nest, there’s a good chance it needs help.

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“Typically, what happens is mom gets hit by a car or carried off by a predator, something like that. The babies are sitting in the nest, and the starvation pangs will start hitting them. They’ll bail out of the nest looking for help,” Michael Bacon said.

Where other baby animals will avoid human contact, he said orphaned squirrels will follow people around or even try to climb up a leg or arm to seek help.

The refuge takes in all kinds of squirrels — including Eastern gray, fox, ground, American red and Western gray squirrels. But those aren’t the only wildlife the refuge cares for. The refuge also takes in rabbits, opossums and other small animals. The Bacons said they rely on other rescue staff more knowledgeable about those species to provide their care.

Once the rescued animals are nursed back to health and grow and mature enough to be on their own, around 12 weeks for squirrels, they are released back into the wild. Michael Bacon said the refuge’s success rate for squirrels is 98 percent.

“We do not want to make pets out of them because squirrels do not make good pets,” he said.

Under many circumstances, removing wildlife from the wild is illegal per state law. More information, including how to submit a report about sick or injured wildlife, is available at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/living/injured-wildlife.

In the event of an immediate public safety issue, such as an injured or dangerous animal, call the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement office at 360-902-2936, email enforcement-web@dfw.wa.gov or call 911.

If you find a baby animal and it’s clear the animal is sick or injured, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. To contact the Squirrel Refuge, call 360-836-0955 or visit www.squirrelrefuge.org.

For birds, call the Bird Alliance of Oregon care center at 503-292-0304 or email wildlife@birdallianceoregon.org.

For deer or raccoons, contact the PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood at 425-412-4040. A trained staff member can help determine if the animal needs help and guide callers through the next steps.

For other wildlife rehabilitation specialists and information, go to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/living/injured-wildlife/rehabilitation.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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