These past few months have been a whirlwind in many ways, but especially in terms of a record shattering wildfire season here in California. Unfortunately, as shown in the graph below, we have seen five of the top six largest wildfires consume our landscapes this year alone. The aftermath has included loss of life, destruction of property, charred terrain and the unsettling recognition that our annual wildfire seasons are getting worse.
While the reality may feel grim at times, I find encouragement in the hope inspiring moments that surprise us amidst the chaos. Often it is human kindness in the form of shelters, donations, and lending a helping hand to those who have become climate refugees. But another shining light has emerged this year in the form of a new program developed to directly assist wildlife affected by natural disasters, the Wildlife Disaster Network.
To learn more about this new Network, modeled after the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, check out the following articles:
The concept of mobilizing existing wildlife organizations to aid one another and wildlife during disasters has come up in the past, including during our 2018 OWCN Planning Summit where a Mutual Aid Working Group was formed to brainstorm effective mutual aid strategies amongst our OWCN Member Organizations. But more recently, efforts were further organized through the hard work of Dr. Jamie Peyton (UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine), Dr. Michael Ziccardi (UC Davis Wildlife Health Center), CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and the CDFW Wildlife Investigations Lab. Plus an amazing amount of support from Gold Country Wildlife Rescue, who along with CDFW WIL, has hosted the care of many of the patients.
“Through OWCN, we’ve seen how effective a mobilized and coordinated response can be to help aid wildlife, and I’m excited to see how the Wildlife Disaster Network can bring that same level of care to wildlife affected by wildfire,” said Michael Ziccardi, director of OWCN and the One Health Institute at UC Davis
Upon receiving approval to respond to a few of the recent fires, our very own OWCN veterinarians, Dr. Lorraine Barbosa and Dr. Duane Tom, have been able to provide some direct assistance to this program. They have been utilized in both clinic roles caring for patients with foot pad burns, as well as out in the field providing reconnaissance in search of any additional affected wildlife. Patients have included coyotes, bobcats, bears, foxes and mountain lions.
“It’s been amazing to see people coming together to help wildlife affected by the wildfires and incredible to see how well they can heal when they have this dedicated effort.” – Dr. Lorraine Barbosa
“This is the first concerted effort towards helping California’s wildlife affected by wildfires in a timely manner that should allow them to be rescued and treated earlier on, lessening suffering and improving their chances for rehabilitation.” – Dr. Duane Tom
Even though the program is in its early stages, the work has been very exciting and impactful. The hope is as the program expands, additional partners will join the efforts, and there may even be volunteer opportunities in the future.
Lastly, we want to send a huge Thank You to all the California wildlife rehabilitation groups who have received and assisted in transferring wildfire patients to care. And last but not least, a definitive shout out to UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT, and their student chapter, sVERT), who have long been providing emergency response during wildfires, but with a specific focus on domestic animals and livestock aid.