Living with Wildlife
By way of introduction, my husband and I have lived in Glen Ellen since 1988. If my name is familiar to some, it may be because my family and I founded Artisan Bakers in 1992, which we sold about 10 years ago. Before moving to Sonoma County, we lived in the East Bay, where I worked for the University of California Press, followed by North Point Press.
As a lifelong lover of animals and nature, it wasn’t until we sold our business that I had the time to start a brand new career: working with wildlife. Marj Davis, a Kenwood resident and founder of Wildlife Fawn Rescue, originally planted the seed many years ago, but with a business that operated 24/7, I didn’t have time to think of much else.
It was at about the same time that I discovered a bat in our bathtub in the middle of the day. I knew something was wrong with that scenario and gave Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue a call. They asked me to carefully put it in a box and bring it in to the center. As I was sitting there waiting for someone to help me, I noticed a flyer announcing a volunteer orientation. I went, signed up, took the classes and have been hooked ever since. It proved to be a lucky day for both me and the bat. After months in rehabilitation, she was released.
Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue (SCWR) was formed in 1981. It has moved several times since then, each time to a bigger space, and for the past several years it has been located on Meacham Road in Petaluma. Each year we take in approximately 1,500 animals, nearly half of them birds. You can discover more about SCWR on their website: scwildliferescue.org.
Legally, all wildlife in the state of California belongs to the Department of Fish & Wildlife, formerly the Department of Fish & Game. It is against the law to own or possess any native wildlife in this state. SCWR, and all rescue organizations in California are regulated by the Department of Fish & Wildlife and must have the proper permits, which are renewed on a regular basis.
We are so lucky to live in an area with such an abundance of wildlife. Sonoma County hosts a diverse population of birds, reptiles and mammals, and many of us are fortunate enough to see wildlife on a daily basis. My husband and I have spent time living in the South of France; sadly, they have almost no wildlife left. It is hard to imagine, but they have killed almost everything off. From time to time we have seen wild boar, and every few years a little fox or two. We see practically no birds, mostly swallows that migrate to the area for the summer. There are magpies and pigeons as well, but that is about all. In a 10-year period, we’ve seen two dead badgers by the side of the road. Talk about “the silent spring!”
What a difference it is here in the Sonoma Valley. We wake to beautiful birdsong every morning. Just yesterday, while walking our dogs, we spotted a blue heron in a nearby pond, and heard a pileated woodpecker close by. This week my husband called to tell me a coyote had passed in front of him while he was cycling on a road near the Geysers. Last month I spotted a young bobcat who ran across the road in front of me on an early morning walk. On most days we see the Western gray squirrels practically flying from tree to tree. If we are very lucky, we spot an opossum, skunk or raccoon at dusk or dawn. We watch bats circling outside our house on their nightly quest to catch insects.
Without a doubt, each of the animals we share our space with are beneficial in one way or another. Unfortunately there are a lot of conflicts between humans and wildlife.
In future columns I will go into more detail about the species we live with in Sonoma Valley, the work we do at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, ways to resolve human/wildlife conflicts, and the work that I do as a satellite branch of SCWR, specifically raising orphaned wildlife at my home that will eventually be released back into the wild.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at email@example.com.