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Grass Valley group offers animals a way back to habitat
To volunteer or to have a volunteer pick up a wild injured or orphaned animal, call 530-432-5522.
To help an animal, keep it in a warm, dark, quiet place and call WR&R as soon as possible to make arrangements to transfer the animal to experienced rehabilitators.
They've got a swing to play on, several cozy sleeping spots, and someone to bring them their species' favorite foods: Eggs, grapes, clams, crawdads.
But for now, four young raccoons brought to Jim Crummett's property are still hiding in the back of a dog crate, afraid to investigate their new surroundings.
They were found orphaned in the insulation of a house after their mother was trapped and removed as a nuisance.
Now, under the guardianship of Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release, they have been vaccinated for distemper, and will be raised in this specialized 6-by-22-foot enclosure in Browns Valley until they are ready to fend for themselves in the wild. "Every animal we've had has been left behind as a result of some human contact or interference," Crummett says.
His property, which has a number of varied enclosures for small mammals, is one of about 30 sites in and around the Sierra foothills where trained WR&R rehabilitation volunteers help care for injured or orphaned wildlife. The nonprofit group is based in Grass Valley.
It was featured recently in an episode of "Wild Justice," a National Geographic production. The segment concerned a fawn whose mother had been killed by a poacher. The scofflaw was attempting to keep the fawn as a pet, which also is against the law.
Taking in any wild animal is illegal. Calling WR&R, whose volunteers are licensed by California Department of Fish & Game and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is a better choice, Crummett says. The group took in 1,232 orphaned or injured animals last year and eventually returned them to the wild.
Man and beast
Crummett, a retiree from Silicon Valley, says his own introduction to wild animal care came just three years ago when he heard a baby squirrel screaming across the street from his house. Unbeknownst to Crummett, the animal's mother had been struck by a car and killed, and the still-nursing orphan had eventually become distressed and jumped from its nest.
A phone call to WR&R brought a volunteer to Crummett's property, where it looked over the animal and took it away for examination and treatment. But the following day, two more baby squirrels jumped out of the nest and were screaming to be fed.
Crummett decided to accept an offer for training so he could care for the litter himself.
He is one of only two WR&R rehabilitators in Yuba County.
Jackie Moore of Loma Rica, also a small mammal specialist, takes in mostly orphaned rabbits. But her last spring bunnies have already been returned to the wild, and on Tuesday, she was helping Crummett get his new charges settled in.
"You never know quite what you're going to be dealing with on any given day," she says. Like Crummett, she has been called to help rescue all kinds of native animals, and to transport them for intake and veterinary care.
Private donations and grants pay for vaccinations and other veterinary treatment. Volunteers are not reimbursed for transporting the animals, but they are supplied with materials and training to build enclosures, and are reimbursed for the cost of providing food.
Last year, the group received a $25,000 multi-year grant from Pepsi and a $5,000 grant from Home Depot, according to Crummett. In addition, counties that rely on the nonprofit's services — including Yuba County — usually grant a small sum to help offset WR&R's costs.
Though the group's territory includes Yuba and Sutter counties, volunteers in the Mid-Valley have been especially difficult to find and keep.
Currently, there are none in Sutter County, and Moore said volunteers there, and in Yuba County, are badly needed.
"People can see that it's fun, but once they understand how much work is involved, a lot of them drop out," Crummett says.
WR&R trains volunteers to handle and care for songbirds, raptors, fawns, bats, and other local animals in addition to small mammals like those Crummett cares for.
He has learned to repair the shells of turtles that he has found on or near his property after they have been struck by cars, and has assisted with deer calls and other wildlife emergencies.
He went along recently on an attempted eagle rescue near Paradise. The bird had a wing injury that was badly infected. It eventually had to be euthanized.
Last year, he took in a litter of mink from Lake Tahoe. They had apparently been born inside of a boat, and the mother jumped off and was killed while the boat was being lifted and placed into dry dock.
Crummett helped teach the babies to fish by introducing them to transparent plastic trays full of minnows.
Moore says watching a wild animal's instinct emerge at such moments is fascinating.
"They suddenly perk up, and their behavior changes," she says.
Back to the wild
Not far from Crummett's raccoon enclosure, seven juvenile skunk orphans wrestle and play with one another in their own makeshift habitat, which includes a stretch of vinyl tubing — a favorite place for the skunks to run.
Crummett has had the animals here since mid-May when they were about 10 days old. Some had not yet opened their eyes, he says.
Once weaned, care must be taken to minimize contact with any animals in rehab — including bottle-fed skunks — so they do not become habituated with people.
"Skunks will get attached very easily," Crummett says. "They are sweet little creatures."
Ultimately, the goal is to return the animals to a habitat much like the one they came from, and to trust that they can function in the wild on their own.
For the scared raccoons on Crummett's property, that day is expected to be sometime in late September or early October.
In the meantime, the animals will be kept safe from predators, and introduced to a range of foods for which they will learn to forage or scavenge.
"They can still dig, but they can't get out," says Crummet of the concrete slab beneath the dirt floor, and fencing that extends below that. The juveniles will remove some of the dirt and throw it into their drinking water, he says. "You'd have to be a raccoon to understand why."
Soon, he'll receive crawdads from his rice farmer friends and set them loose with the raccoons.
For the playful, masked mammals, it will be a lesson in food acquisition. But for Crummett, the trial-and-error session will be among the more entertaining stages in preparing them for release.
"Returning animals back to the life they were supposed to have really does feel good," says Moore, of that final stage in the volunteer process.
"You've rescued something and taken care of it," Crummett says "and that's very satisfying."