IWRC + NWRA Statement on Wildlife Rehabilitation During COVID-19

June 8, 2020        

JOINT STATEMENT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE      

[Eugene, Oregon]

The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) and The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) find that taxa-specific protocols, based on scientific evidence and region-specific risk assessments, should serve as the basis for an informed approach to managing the risk of disease spread and for formulating any restrictions on wildlife rehabilitation. 

“Wildlife rehabilitation plays an important role in managing human-wildlife interactions. This management, which includes appropriate human and animal health monitoring, becomes more important during a global pandemic like COVID-19” states IWRC executive director Kai Williams.

The IWRC and NWRA are international not-for-profit organizations based in the United States, with memberships extending to Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India. Our 2,000+ members include wildlife veterinarians and rehabilitators, wildlife biologists, animal behaviorists, government officials, and academicians from institutions across the world. Our members provide expertise in wildlife conservation and welfare, often at the forefront of where humans and wild animals interact.

 

POSITION STATEMENT

COVID-19 Considerations for Wildlife Rehabilitation

 

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Media Contacts:

Kai Williams, Executive Director, The IWRC Office:  (866) 871-1869 x1 Email:  director@theiwrc.org 

Lisa Smith, President, NWRA Email: president@nwrawildlife.org

The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council

The IWRC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through training and resources on wildlife rehabilitation. The organization’s mission statement “We provide evidence-based education and resources on wildlife rehabilitation to move the field of wildlife rehabilitation forward; to promote wildlife conservation and welfare; and to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts worldwide, through better understanding of wild animal ecology, behavior, and welfare.” Wildlife rehabilitation is the act of providing temporary care for injured, sick or orphaned wildlife with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. By providing unique insights into issues affecting wildlife populations, species, and habitats, wildlife rehabilitation contributes to wildlife conservation and welfare worldwide.

 

National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association

The NWRA was born in 1982 at the first National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Symposium in Naperville, Illinois. The rich diversity of expertise and interest represented at the symposium provided a firm foundation for a national organization designed to meet the needs of wildlife rehabilitators. As the mission statement says , NWRA is “dedicated to improving and promoting the profession of wildlife rehabilitation and its contributions to preserving natural ecosystems.”

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month?

We here at the IWRC have recently put forth a few resources promoting mental health in wildlife rehabilitation, such as our blog post on Self-Caring During COVID-19 and our Going Home Checklist. As we can all imagine, due to the emotion, long hours, and stress placed on us (especially during the intense spring and summer hours), the importance of mental health cannot be overstated…. but what is mental health? How does our work impact our mental health? What can we do about this?

What is mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

mentalhealth.gov

1 in 5 adults experiences mental health issues1. Even if they don’t affect you personally, they likely affect someone you know!

Myth: I can’t help someone else get over their mental health issues. Busted: One’s social networks are perhaps the most valuable in helping them get through a difficult time. Friends and colleagues can not only show their support for those impacted but also help them find the help that they need.

Myth: Mental health issues cannot be prevented. Busted: As we rehabbers know with our own patients, prevention is far easier than treatment (though in our case, both are feasible!). Knowing one’s risks and limits can help manage our mental wellbeing.

Mental wellbeing impacts from our work

Traumatic events. We see a lot during our work as rehabilitators. Whether the animal was hit by a car, torn apart by a cat, or shot, it can be traumatic – both for the patient and for us. On a near-daily basis, we witness suffering and animals in duress.

Stressful life situations (financials, loved one’s death, divorce, ongoing medical conditions). As most of our work comes out of pocket – or relying solely on donations (surviving donation-by-donation), it can be very stressful to wonder if we can afford our next batch of mealworms.

Dealing with stressed, angered, or scared members of the public.

In addition…  

Advanced level of multitasking and triage (answering phone calls, feeding wildlife, etc)

Balancing relationships. Spring and Summer hours are long and seemingly never-ending… this can make personal relationships difficult to find and maintain.

Maintain positive mental health

1. Seek professional help. There should be no shame in asking for help. As we rehabbers know, we can’t do it all! It is more than OK to ask for help.

2. Connect with your social network. This doesn’t just mean Facebook. Reach out to your friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues. In fact, studies show that those who engage in regular social interactions with others are less likely to be depressed2. We’re in this together and you are not alone.

3. Help others. Well…. we probably have this pretty well covered in our daily work as rehabilitators but this is a great reminder ;)….

4. Sleep. What is sleep? We know those baby hummers need feeding every 20 minutes, but luckily we know that their parents do indeed get sleep – so we can too! The National Sleep Foundation’s recent studies show that most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night3. Though it may not always be possible, it is a good goal to aim for! Don’t forget, we also make fewer mistakes when well-rested4.

5. Develop coping skills. We all go through rough, really rough days… It is OK to feel emotion about what we do, and it is OK to take a second to step outside, go for a run, or find a useful technique to deal with a difficult or stressful event5.

6. Get or stay active. Physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. Staying physically active can help you maintain your mental wellbeing

Most importantly, please remember how awesome you are and the significant difference you make on wildlife’s lives each and every day. Stay healthy. Stay well!

Resources

International Hotline List

Crisis Text Line (US): Text HELLO to 741741

Suicide Hotline: +1-800-273-8255 (US)

National Alliance on Mental Health (US)

References

  1. Mental Health Myths and Facts. Washington DC: US Dept of Health & Human Services; 2017 [accessed 2020 May 26]. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/mental-health-myths-facts
  2. Steger MF, Kashdan TB. Depression and Everyday Social Activity, Belonging, and Well-Being. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2009;56(2):289-300. doi: 10.1037/a0015416
  3. How much sleep do we really need? Arlington (United States): SleepFoundation.org; 2020 [accessed 2020 May 26]. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
  4. Gingerich S. Wake-up call: sleep deprivation can lead to workplace mistakes. Yardley (United States):Staywell; 2019 [accessed 2020 May 26] https://www.staywell.com/insights/sleep-deprivation-workplace-mistakes
  5. What is mental health. Washington DC: US Dept of Health & Human Services; 2019 [accessed 2020 May 26]. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health

A New Generation of IWRC Online Classes Coming Soon

Online learning is increasingly viewed as a valuable platform that offers tools not available in a traditional classroom setting. The IWRC strives to make our courses as accessible as possible, while constantly improving their quality. Throughout the remainder of 2020, we will be releasing new and revamped online courses that take advantage of the technological benefits of virtual learning.

This new generation of IWRC online courses will utilize the classic digital lecture style of our previous classes, and make them more interactive. We are adding knowledge reinforcing activities and tools, including knowledge checks, flashcards and other activities, as well as closed captions, to ensure students are getting the most from their learning experience. Our classes will employ different types of media such as pictures, audio, text, and video, to cater to a wider spectrum of learning styles. We hope that our students will enjoy not only a broader range of courses available from the convenience of their homes, but also an enhanced educational experience.

Image showing a portion of our new Wound Management online course.

The IWRC’s online classes do not seek to recreate or replace in-person courses but give you a different educational experience with the same learning outcomes. To allow students the opportunity to practice procedures traditionally taught through IWRC labs, we are creating virtual labs in partnership with Folkmanis Puppets. When completing a class with a lab, you will learn procedures and then upload videos of yourself completing these assignments. Your videos will then receive feedback and evaluation. For those without access to supplies or cadavers, lab kits can be purchased along with a class. In these kits we include the materials needed for your lab including a realistic and carefully crafted Folkmanis animal puppet on which to practice. In this way, our online classes will allow all the benefits of online learning without sacrificing the important experience you gain through a lab.

Puppet of a peregrine falcon with a figure 8 wing wrap in blue vetrap. The puppet is sitting on a towel.
Folkmanis puppet sporting a figure 8 bandage.

These new classes also come at an opportune moment — during the self-isolation and social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 virus. While the global pandemic certainly lit a fire under our tails in terms of getting these courses ready for release, they have also been a long time coming. The development of these online courses began in 2018. Now these classes are being rewritten with up-to-date information, are being peer-reviewed by experts, and remodeled with current technologies/resources. You will find that our new courses, although timely, were not rushed to release, and are our best quality online learning resources to date! While we are committed to rolling out these new courses to meet the increasing need, we are still searching for funding to support this accelerated launch. Remember that donations, no matter the size, help us to grow and innovate!

Screenshot showing our explanatory video of avian body wrap using a deceased wood duck

Although we cannot promise exact dates, we will be releasing Wound Management with the bandaging laboratory this spring/early summer. Next, we will introduce our new Parasitology course (also available in-person at a later date), Fluid Therapy, and Pain Management! Directly following their release, the price of each course will be generously marked down. For students that recently took an older version of these courses, you can expect an additional discount as well!

Please stay tuned for more information on future online releases— we have some other projects in the works that we think you will love! The IWRC is committed to growing and improving our educational resources to push the field of wildlife rehabilitation forward. We hope you enjoy our growing curriculum!

Happy Volunteer Appreciation Week!

We have them, we know them, we love them, and most of us even are them… Volunteers make up the lifeblood of our wildlife rehab operations. Without them? Well… we don’t even want to go there. They help us with anything and everything from cleaning to caring for our patients to medical procedures. They even help with the admittedly less-than-fun administrative tasks including fundraising, event planning, and management!

Whether they are nurses, lawyers, contractors, pilots, or teachers, with us they are amazing supporters of our work and our wildlife patients. Some may even think of it as the great equalizer; we all, in some way or another, end up cleaning feces and urine out of our clothing, scrapping it out of enclosures, or searching for the diet items for those rare species we sometimes get in.

 

Though this year, along with other challenges, is quite different. We aren’t able to give the usual in-person smiles, hugs, potlucks, appreciation dinners, or customized gifts to our volunteers (at least, not yet!). COVID-19 has affected all of us to a great extent, yet, throughout this difficult time, our volunteers continue to be more dedicated than ever to our cause.

Nonetheless, we cannot express how much we care about and appreciate our many volunteers who make our every day work possible. IWRC is sending out a virtual hug to our volunteers and all wildlife rehabilitation volunteers. Thank you for all that you do!

Self-Caring During COVID-19

As COVID-19 (Coronavirus) continues to spread, it can be a stressful and daunting time. Especially as the baby season is here for some and closely around the corner for others. Many of us have had to temporarily remove volunteers from our workforce, while balancing more-so limited funds and an increased workload. However, we must always make time for ourselves. Without caring for ourselves, we simply cannot care for others. Wildlife needs you to practice self-care!

1. Get some air.

As of now, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is still saying it is OK for healthy individuals to go outside – as long as they practice social distancing (staying at least an eagle’s wingspan away from others; at least 6 feet). Confirm with your local authorities that such activity is still acceptable. Safely get outside and get some fresh air!

2. Leave work, at work (we know… it’s hard!).

Even if you rehabilitate out of your home, it is always possible to put work aside when you are done. Creating this mental separation between work and home has significantly helped significantly with productivity and mental health (Source). Consider looking at a recently-published resource: Going Home Checklist.

3. Schedule your self-care time.

This may sound silly, but having regularly scheduled blocks of time can help ensure you are saving time for yourself. Though we aren’t accustomed to anything ‘regular’ or ‘scheduled’ in our field, the importance of having ‘you time’ cannot be understated. Whether you block off a day of the week, an hour a day, or whether you take that time to take a bath, go for a run, spend time with a loved one, or read, it is imperative you have time to focus on you!

4. Social Distancing, or Physical Distancing?

Stay connected with loved ones, family, friends, and colleagues! Just because you have to stay physically away from each other doesn’t mean you can’t be social, take advantage of free video chat software such as Google Hangouts or FaceTime to communicate with each other, continue to hold meetings, and continue safely seeing your friends and family!

5. Consider talking with someone

Ask for help or seek professional advice. Thanks to advancements in technology, telemedicine is an emerging field – one which is especially valuable during this time with stay-at-home orders. There are many services that are covered by health insurance, as well as low-cost services for mental health available to you at your convenience and budget.

Some examples of these services include…
Emergencies: 911
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to talk to a counselor
BetterHelp (licensed psychologists): https://www.betterhelp.com/
Doctors on Demand (licensed medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists): https://www.doctorondemand.com/what-we-treat/behavioral-health

Wildlife Rehabilitators Operational Guidance for COVID-19

“Coronavirus spike protein structure” by National Institutes of Health (NIH) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

UPDATE 6/8/2020

Joint Statement on Wildlife Rehabiliation during COVID-19 from NWRA and IWRC

The IWRC and our partners have gathered some advice for wildlife rehabilitation operations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is fluid, and our responses must be agile to align. We will work to update this post as additional guidance and tools become available.

Abbreviations used throughout: Member of the Public – MOP, Personal Protective Equipment – PPE

 

Biosecurity Best Practices

Biosecurity and cleanliness are vital to the prevention of disease transmission. Make sure that you are up to date on recommendations and have protocols in place to safeguard yourself and others.

  • Put public health first and follow government guidelines 
  • Wear personal protective equipment and change it often
  • Don’t allow public out of the car, just transfer the animal and get information by phone or other electronic means
  • Have arrivals come to the center by appointment only, or at least phone ahead
  • Limit volunteers/staff on each shift
  • Check expiration dates and ensure proper dilution of disinfectants
  • Disinfect surfaces at end of each shift
  • Limit use of paper and other fomites (fomites are objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture)

 

Community Considerations

Community can be one of our most powerful resources in trying times. If you are part of a team, reassure staff and volunteers that their safety is top priority. If you are a home rehabber, or part of a network, communicate via phone or video calls and check in on one another. Let your donors and community know what they can do to help you. If you cannot receive patients take this time to work on development, education projects, or your own well being.

  • Have clear guidelines in place for volunteers and employees. If many of your volunteers are in a high risk category your guidelines may include letting volunteers self-select not to come in because: 1) they are at higher risk 2) they are caring for someone that is sick or of higher risk. Examples of other “adaptive” policies:
    • When volunteers are in the facility only one person can be in a particular area for that day/shift etc and then the area is wiped down. 
    • Volunteers are in teams that do not shift. If Anna and Sally are on a team today—they should be together tomorrow too. Anna should not be with Charles the next day. If someone from the team falls ill, then you replace the entire team. 
  • Reach out to other rehabilitators! 
  • Share resources if you possible
  • If veterinary clinics or other organizations direct people to you for drop off, make sure they are aware of new protocols and can communicate those to MOPs
  • Update your community and donors 

 

Capacity Considerations

Rehabilitators are all too keenly aware that resources are limited. During times of crisis taking space to evaluate and formulate a plan is crucial to continued successful operation. While it may be stressful to consider worst case scenarios, a plan helps mitigate the stress associated with disasters.

  • Do your best to ensure sufficient resources are on hand (people, food, bedding, cleaning, medical supplies). Don’t hoard beyond what you will use.
  • Create alternative plans if critical resources are scarce or missing (eg access to ¼ people, low on food for squirrels, out of euthanasia solution/access to vet)
    • Triaging cases
    • Transferring cases
    • Limiting intakes
  • Consider how many animals can you care for with your current staff/volunteers and resources? What is your plan if intakes increase?
  • Consider what should happen if you become ill? Who is the emergency contact? If you are a single rehabilitator – who will care for the animals?

 

Intake Procedures 

Does the animal actually need to come in? Our pre-intake assessments are more important than ever to avoid patient overload and unnecessary contact. 

  • Normal procedure: Assess the health of the animal during triage exam. Have the member of public wait in a different room; if the animal doesn’t need intake, have them return the animal back to its original location.
  • Adapted procedure: Use cell phone video to assess the animal’s need for intake before the member of public transports the animal.

Intake Information

  • Normal procedure: The member of the public writes information on paper form.
  • Adapted procedure: When the member of public reaches your location have them call or text. They should not leave their car. Text or email them a link to a Google Form version of your intake or obtain that information via phone and transcribe it.

Transfer of animal

  • Normal procedure: Varies
  • Adapted procedure: (Animal Help Now has additional suggestions!) Members of the public should not leave their car, or if walking, the sidewalk. When they reach your location have them call or text. While wearing appropriate PPE,  you pick up the animal transport container (cardboard box best) and bring it into your facility. Thank the person by phone or text.

 

Restrictions on movement

Know your terminology. Shelter in place, self-quarantine, lock-down, essential services – these terms have different interpretations in different jurisdictions. Know what they mean for your jurisdiction. Can you travel between home and work? If not, are you prepared to transfer all animals or have people stay on site?

 

IWRC extends our thanks to the centers that have shared their practices:

Native Songbird Care

RSPCA

St. Melangell’s Small Mammal Sanctuary

 

Keep an eye out for more information – here on our blog and on our social media accounts regarding this unprecedented, developing situation. We will continue to communicate with our partners to bring you the most accurate and useful information regarding COVID-19 and its impacts on the wildlife rehabilitation community.

Stay safe!   

 

How are you doing? Let us know by answering this survey

 

The Cost of Self-Deployment:

Deciding how to help during the Australian Brush Fires (and other similar emergencies) 

Since news of the devastating Australia bush fires broke in late December there has been an outpouring of support as well as a wave of global horror and sorrow. For many, including those involved in wildlife rehabilitation or care, this crisis evokes a strong need to contribute or help the animals affected by the fires. This altruistic urge is not surprising as many people feel a strong connection to the wildlife of Australia because it is so unique, with many species that are imperiled or endangered.  Others have useful skills that are relevant to the situation and this disaster may also be viewed as a rare opportunity to physically do something in the face of more impalpable or seemingly insurmountable problems such as climate breakdown and the extinction crisis. Some have chosen or are considering making the journey to Australia, to offer their support in the form of on-the-ground assistance. While this might be the logical choice for a few, in many cases, and despite the best intentions, this decision may hurt more than it helps. The IWRC urges all of those considering self-deployment to assist with wildlife care in Australia to weigh the cost and benefits of such an action and think about alternative ways to help.

The first costs to consider are monetary ones. According to an article in the Harvard Political Review, “Can Help Hurt?”, the price of volunteering abroad may outweigh the amount of help you are able to provide. The article offers an example of a child care volunteering opportunity in Rio. In this case they calculate that the money spent on three days of volunteering was the equivalent of the cost of 4 months of schooling for one child 1. In many cases, the money a person might pay out for housing, food, insurance, and transportation would go further as a donation. Much of the actual money being spent is paying for the experience of the person volunteering rather than the needs of those they aim to help. 

 Other costs to consider are the environmental ones. This is of particular relevance as the scientific evidence points to climate change as a definitive factor in the severity and scope of these Australian fires.  As stated in an article by Yu, Pei, et al., “The ongoing bushfires (wildfires) have confirmed researchers’ warnings several years ago about increasing bushfires due to climate change in Australia”2. Lecturer in veterinary pathology Dr. Andrew Peters averred, “the most important thing the international community can do, is recognise this for what it is – it is our climate change future, and to take individual and community action now to prevent a much worse future for all of us, including the wildlife that we share this planet with”3. With this in mind, it is important to acknowledge the carbon cost of a flight to Australia as well as the use of currently scarce resources upon arrival. The carbon calculator on myclimate.org estimates that a roundtrip flight from the IWRC office in Oregon to Sydney produces 4.4 tons of C02 per passenger4– that is only slightly less than the average emissions of a passenger vehicle for the entire year of 2019 at 4.63 tons5. Although there may be compelling reasons to get on that plane, we must also decide if doing so coheres with the need to mediate a “climate change future” like Dr. Peters describes. 

The final cost to consider is the potential toll international relief work can have on local populations. In Ilan Kelman and Rachel Dodds’ paper “Developing a Code of Ethics for Disaster Tourism”, they highlight the importance of only offering assistance and donations with the local context in mind. They stress that, “in a disaster-affected location, any additional people further tax a community”6. Kelman and Dodds convey that emergency workers discourage self-deployment because of safety hazards, reduced accountability and because it diverts scarce resources, even when volunteers are qualified to help (282). It is for these and other reasons that organizations such as the Red Cross have created codes of conduct for international or Non-Governmental Organizations in disaster relief situations. The sixth code of conduct item in their document states “All people and communities – even in disaster – possess capacities as well as vulnerabilities. Where possible, we will strengthen these capacities by employing local staff, purchasing local materials and trading with local companies”7

The urge to help those in need, human or animal, is great, particularly for those in fields that require compassion and empathy as wildlife care does. However, we must always ask ourselves, do they need our help? In discussions with IWRC staff, rehabilitators in Australia have repeated that they do not need more volunteers. Instead they need financial aid and encouragement from the global community. The wildlife carers in Australia are facing one of the most devastating wildlife disasters in recent history but they are also knowledgeable about the local wildlife, invested, and already on the ground. With this in mind IWRC recommends that individuals only deploy when invited to ensure that your help is really helping. 

Watching disaster unfold from the “sidelines” can elicit feelings of helplessness, idleness, and even frustration or anger. It is critical, however, to ensure that our efforts to help have the results we intend. Flying to Australia may bring the satisfaction of acting in the face of catastrophe but before booking a plane ticket we must first weigh the monetary, environmental and local costs. In many cases other means of solidarity or aid may be more appropriate. You may consider donating to an organization who is doing work you support. You might also think about how you can support those fighting to protect and save wildlife in Australia on an emotional level— for example you could participate in our letter writing campaign or make a video of support. Finally, you could take action in your own patch of the world to protect wildlife, your local ecosystem or the global biosphere. 

In Solidarity,

The IWRC Staff

 

Works Cited

  1. Brown B. Can Help Hurt? Harvard Political Review. [Internet] MA. 2018 Jun 11. [2020 Jan 10]. available from harvardpolitics.com/online/can-help-hurt/.
  2. Yu P, Xu R, Abramson MJ, Li Shanshan, Guo Y. Bushfires in Australia: a Serious Health Emergency under Climate Change. The Lancet Planetary Health. 2020; 4(1). 2020 Jan 1. [Cited 2020 Jan 10]. Available from doi:10.1016/s2542-5196(19)30267-0
  3. Williams K. IWRC Works to Support to Wildlife Carers Affected by Australian Bushfires. Eugene (OR): IWRC; 2020 Jan 15 [accessed 2020 Feb 12]. available from theiwrc.org/archives/75979.
  4. Calculate and Compensate for Your Emissions! Myclimate. [accessed 2020 Jan 10]. www.myclimate.org/carbon-offset
  5. Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator – Revision History. Washington (DC): Environmental Protection Agency. [accessed 2020 Jan 10]. www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator-revision-history
  6. Kelman I, Dodds R. Developing a Code of Ethics for Disaster Tourism. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. [Internet] 2009; 27(3)272-296. available from http://ijmed.org/articles/499/
  7. IFRC. The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief. Geneva: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. available from https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/who-we-are/the-movement/code-of-conduct/

 

 

 

IWRC and NWRA Oppose Changes to Migratory Bird Treaty Act

March 6, 2020        

JOINT STATEMENT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE      

[Eugene, Oregon]

Button saying take actionThe National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) and the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) are writing to comment on the scope of Opinion M-37050 (M opinion) proposed by the DOI US Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service). The M opinion on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) interprets the take of a migratory bird, its nest, or eggs that is incidental to another lawful activity as not in violation of the MBTA, and that the MBTA’s criminal provisions do not apply to those activities.

The IWRC and NWRA are international not-for-profit organizations based in the United States, with memberships extending to Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India. Our 2,000+ members include wildlife veterinarians and rehabilitators, wildlife biologists, animal behaviorists, government officials, and academicians from institutions across the world. Our members provide expertise in migratory bird conservation and welfare, often at the forefront of where humans and wild animals interact.

NWRA and the IWRC commend the Service for their work in the delivery of the vision of those who enacted the MBTA. The achievements seen over the past 100 years of guidance by the Service on this foundational bird conservation law are well-documented. The increased numbers and distribution of many species—including snowy egrets, peregrine falcons, California condors, brown pelicans, and Kirtland’s warblers—once threatened with extinction, are success stories of which the Service should be duly proud. The bald eagle is a fine example; a species with a success story that is recognized by every American. The bald eagle has been allowed to recover and recolonize much of its former territory, so that it is now a common sight in many areas where it had once been extirpated.

The benefits from reasonable enforcement of the MBTA have resulted in protections leading to population recovery and benefits for the communities in which these birds live. The Service recognizes the financial benefits provided by wildlife tourism1. Data collected on the economic benefits of wildlife tourism, and birdwatching in particular, show that:

  • 45 million people watch birds around their homes or elsewhere. Wildlife watchers contribute $80 billion to the US economy;
  • Birders spend $41 billion annually on trips and equipment, with local communities benefiting to the tune of $14.9 billion, with 666,000 jobs being created in one year (2011).
  • One example is the $300 million contribution made by wildlife tourism to the Rio Grande Valley economy, leading to economic benefits in terms of income and jobs for the communities in that area.
  • Birds also consume 98% of certain insect pests, resulting in benefits to farming communities.

While wild birds have inherent value, we recognize that they are also an important economic and social driver, engaging people with nature and the environment. The 2009 State of the Bird Report, issued by the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), of which US Fish & Wildlife Service is a report partner, stated that “[B]irds are bellwethers of our natural and cultural health as a nation—they are indicators of the integrity of the environments that provide us with clean air and water, fertile soils, abundant wildlife, and the natural resources on which our economic development depends…It is imperative that we redouble our efforts now, before habitat loss and degradation become even more widespread, intractable, and expensive to solve.2 The 2016 State of the Birds report states that conservation success requires that policies be “…based on sound science” in order to “implement effective on-the-ground conservation actions.3 IWRC and NWRA support these statements.

The proposed changes to the MBTA threaten to undo these important, hard-earned successes. The Service’s long history of minimizing risk to migratory birds through the development of guidelines and best practices has been key to reducing sources of bird mortality. Incidental take through destruction of nesting habitats without the requirement of alternative sites being made available threatens to reduce the breeding success of many species and could result in some extinctions, with long-term ecological consequences. The removal of adult birds and/or nests with young will have welfare impacts for these animals, leading to species declines. 

The destruction of nesting and roosting areas without requiring replacements to be created will likely result in a reduction in sites where these birds can be seen. This will have negative consequences for local community businesses that depend on wildlife tourism and result in a loss of income and jobs in areas where alternative employment is limited.

Wildlife veterinarians and rehabilitators see the direct impact on wildlife populations in our work. The impact to the wildlife rehabilitation community will also be great. The M-opinion has already increased the number of otherwise healthy birds admitted to rehabilitation facilities due to the destruction of nests or roosting areas, such as the 101 young cliff swallows presented to wildlife rehabilitators for care after their nests were destroyed during a single bridge renovation in Wisconsin in the summer of 2019. We anticipate this trend will continue and perhaps further increase as federal executive administration documents show that even voluntary mitigation is being discouraged.

The 2019 State of the Birds report4 records population declines in many species, and the peer-reviewed paper, Decline of the North American Avifauna by Rosenberg, et al,5 shows that declines are not restricted to rare and threatened species—many species once considered common and widespread are also diminished.

The threats birds encounter today—rapid industrialization and habitat loss—are not those faced by birds when the MBTA was adopted. The M-opinion no longer requires bird deaths to be reported to the Service, functionally eliminating the ability to measure the impacts of the rule change. The scale and extent of the impact of the M-opinion will be largely unknown. 

By reducing the protection of our native wild birds, the proposed rulemaking will add to their decline. The role of the Service and the MBTA is to protect the precious resource of wild birds; the M-opinion and its codification into law reverses this protection, placing bird populations at higher risk.

The NWRA and IWRC are opposed to the proposed MBTA rule-making change due to the negative impacts it will have on wild birds, their habitat, and the communities that value birds as a critical natural resource. We ask you to consider these comments as part of the review and we would be happy to discuss this further, if that would be of assistance.

 

 

 

Lisa Smith                                   Adam Grogan

President NWRA                         President IWRC

Button saying take action

 

 

 

References

1  https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/bird-watching/valuing-birds.php

2 https://archive.stateofthebirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/State_of_the_Birds_2009.pdf

3 https://www.stateofthebirds.org/2016/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/SoNAB-ENGLISH-web.pdf

4 https://www.stateofthebirds.org/2019/

5 Rosenberg et al, 2019 https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6461/120

 

 

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Media Contacts:

Kai Williams, Executive Director, The IWRC Office:  (866) 871-1869 x1 Email:  director@theiwrc.org 

Lisa Smith, President, NWRA Email: president@nwrawildlife.org

The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council

The IWRC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through training and resources on wildlife rehabilitation. The organization’s mission statement “We provide evidence-based education and resources on wildlife rehabilitation to move the field of wildlife rehabilitation forward; to promote wildlife conservation and welfare; and to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts worldwide, through better understanding of wild animal ecology, behavior, and welfare.” Wildlife rehabilitation is the act of providing temporary care for injured, sick or orphaned wildlife with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. By providing unique insights into issues affecting wildlife populations, species, and habitats, wildlife rehabilitation contributes to wildlife conservation and welfare worldwide.

 

National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association

The NWRA was born in 1982 at the first National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Symposium in Naperville, Illinois. The rich diversity of expertise and interest represented at the symposium provided a firm foundation for a national organization designed to meet the needs of wildlife rehabilitators. As the mission statement says , NWRA is “dedicated to improving and promoting the profession of wildlife rehabilitation and its contributions to preserving natural ecosystems.”