How the Wildlife Disaster Network is Helping Injured Animals From Wildfires

by Megan Molseed

From scorched paws to starving cubs, the Wildlife Disaster Network is working tirelessly to help the thousands of animals who have been injured and displaced by this season’s massive wildfires.

When firefighters battling the blazing fires in the Sierra Nevada they spotted a bear cub walking along the road just out of the mountains. The bear appeared to be starving and his paws were clearly injured by the scorching flames. The firefighters had few resources to help the young cub. However, they knew exactly who they could call that would have plenty of resources to help: the Wildlife Disaster Network.

The group consists of volunteer veterinarians with expertise in disaster conditions. They have stepped in to help and treat the many animals affected by the disaster. Those that have been injured by this summer’s devastating fires out west. As the fires keep raging on at a devastating pace, so do the duties of these tireless vets.

“The cub was underweight and looked malnourished,” noted Dr. Eric Johnson one of the Wildlife Disaster Network volunteer veterinarians who responded to the call about the cub.

“He had evidence of burn wounds on all four paws,” Johnson continued during a recent interview with The Guardian. “We put out a trap and he came right down.”

The Wildlife Disaster Network Does So Much More Than Just Treat the Injury

The veterinarian noted that the volunteers washed and cleaned the little cub’s burns. They soon determined that he was a good candidate for rehabilitation at the Wildlife Disaster Network.

“We washed and cleansed his burns and determined he had a good chance for survival with rehabilitation and medical care,” Johnson explained.

The network has been working in conjunction with both the UC Davis Veterinary school and the California department of fish and wildlife since its development.

Because many of the calls the organization receives are from within restricted fire zones, the volunteers are first tasked with gaining authorization to the areas after they receive a call for help. Once volunteers can locate and transport the injured animal, they are sometimes treated for months as they recover from their injuries.

“Some of these days involve hiking 10 to 15 hours through waist-deep ash into the red zone,” Johnson explained of the challenging task of retrieving the injured wildlife from within the fire zones.

“Sometimes we can spend a whole day looking for an animal and not find them,” he added.

For the Wildlife Disaster Network, finding the animals gives them a collective feeling of relief.

“The community and the first responders – they really latch on to these animals,” said Johnson. “The wildlife is part of the community.”

A Devestating Summer of Fires

So far, California has battled over 6,600 fires this season. The wildfires have burned over one and a half million acres, which is about 2,300 square miles of land. The Wildlife Disaster Network volunteers are working tirelessly to help whenever they can. And they know that these devastating tragedies have left an untold number of animals injured.

“We put our sadness aside and focus on what we can do to help that animal,” Sallysue Stein, the Wildlife Disaster Network’s founder and executive director.

“It’s a challenge,” Stein continued, adding that it’s difficult to see the animals in pain. However, it’s rewarding to the volunteers when they see them recover and have the opportunity to return to the wild.

“It’s a privilege to be up close to the animals,” said Stein. “The time and the care put into these animals to get them back into the wild is amazing to see.”