BLACK FOREST – Tucked away in Black Forest among the tall trees, green grass, and wildlife; you’ll find a tiny herd and its caretaker.
The group of tiny wayward deer is comprised completely of broken or abandoned fawns. The caretaker is a woman named Linda Cope.
“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” Cope commented, a state licensed wildlife rehabilitator and the director of the Wild Forever Foundation.
That’s 22 years of working around the clock to build a brighter future for wildlife.
“I want to make sure that they’re still around, still around in 20, 50, 100 years from now the way we had the chance to see them,” commented Linda.
The job is a complete volunteer gig and covers rehabilitation from start to finish. All of this work, which takes place months at a time, means fairly long hours. During peak intake season in June, Linda sometimes just stays out at her rehab facility, “I’ll spend up to ten hours… a day. I’m just out here, it’s where I kind of live.”
It also ends up being where she spends a lot of her own money, which poses its own set of problems.
“It’s not sustainable, it’s not a permanent facility that can be available 24/7.”
Linda cares about this work, but even so, she says she may have to wrap it up sometime in the next year.
“Well, to be quite honest, I have some life responsibilities right now.”
She’s afraid it may be the end of the foundation, “This place will have to close down because it’s on personal property, and that’s the hazard, that’s the unsustainable part when it comes to residents doing the work.”
Although she is state licensed, she receives no state funding. That’s also the case for every other wildlife rehabilitator in the state.
- According to the 2018 PUBLIC LIST OF WILDLIFE REHABILITATION LICENSE HOLDERS (hosted on the CPW website), there are a total of 60 wildlife rehabilitators in the state of Colorado
- Of that number, only 12 are licensed to care for larger mammals, including fawns
- And those 12 are split between nine agencies
- Within El Paso County and all of its bordering counties, there are 13 rehab centers
- Four centers are inside El Paso County
- Four centers are licensed to care for large mammals
- Only two centers are equipped to care for fawns
“So, you know, the agency doesn’t fund wildlife rehabilitation, because we have very little funding, and our focus is on maintaining species and populations of wildlife,” stated Frank McGee, an area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Running a year-round rehab off of personal funds and some community support is a system that is unsustainable, according to Terri Collins the director of the Catamount Wildlife Center.
The facility happens to be Teller county’s only rehabilitation center and is usually quite busy.
That constant state of being busy is, in part, due to the small number of similar facilities in the surrounding areas.
“And [that number] is dwindling,” Terri stated.
Dwindling, mostly, due to the high money and time-related demands this volunteer job places on those that are in the field.
The more facilities that close, the harder it is for other rehabilitators to continue meeting the needs of their surrounding communities.
“What happens is, the wildlife are still injured but there are only a few people that will really be able to handle it, so capacity is an issue,” commented Todd Marts, recreation and cultural services manager for El Paso County.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, only four licensed rehabilitators are left in El Paso County.
That includes Linda. Her facility is one of only nine rehab centers in the state licensed to take in large mammals.
If she does end up closing her doors, injured fawns will have fewer places to receive aid and rehabilitation.
“So about the only place left, that we have, that will take in deer fawns is the Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehab Center.”
That’s located in Wetmore, a drive volunteers would have to make if Linda closes her doors.
- According to the 2016-2017 fiscal report from CPW, “Volunteers play an important role for CPW. They help us get the job done and are a vital part of the CPW family.”
- In that time period, 6,174 people volunteered
- Those volunteers put in 304,460 hours of work
- Those hours equate to over $7.3 million
“There is going to be a limit to what people can do in other areas, and [eventually] they’re going to say ‘we’re full’ and there’s not going to be anybody here,” stated Linda.
Linda is afraid this could have serious repercussions for fawns with nowhere to go.
“They will be euthanized. That, to me, is a loss that is unacceptable, especially if that loss is due to a hazard that humans have created,” stated Linda.
So what’s the fix? What’s the answer to a lack of rehabilitation opportunities in the area?
According to the experts, the answer comes in the form of a nature center paired with a well-funded wildlife rehabilitation facility that offers public education and aid to a wide variety of injured animals.
Currently, Linda is working to raise interest in this type of facility and has been speaking with El Paso County who might have something cooking.
“We’ve got Bear Creek Nature Center, Fountain Creek Nature Center, we’re missing something up north,” stated El Paso County’s Todd Marts.
That something could, potentially, be what Terri and Linda are both looking for.
“[A] northern nature center has been in the master plan and several plans, over the last 10-15 years,” Marts continued.
The county recently started a feasibility study, to figure out where a new northern nature center might end up. The study will also examine if the potential facility could accommodate a wildlife rehabilitation facility.
Finding money to fund a permanent wildlife rehabilitation facility will be the biggest issue, and funding must come from outside sources.
“If we go down the road of partnering with [a wildlife rehab facility] there will be a healthy capital campaign,” commented Marts, “As well as a long-term funding campaign, to make sure that the private donors that do support this, have an opportunity to do that.”
“Having a facility like that nearby would absolutely provide an opportunity to help educate the public and do good work,” said Frank.
“If I had to pick a good partner, this would be one of them that would be a good fit, ” Marts finished.
A fit that could mean a more nature savvy public and a larger safety net for injured animals. Especially for those El Paso County fawns that may have fewer options soon.
“I think if we don’t start monitoring what’s going on and mitigating some of the problems that we possibly can,” commented Linda, “we’re going to be sad that something we consider very common today, will not be common in the future. We will have disturbed it so much, that we will have destroyed it.”
Going forward, keep your ears to the ground. We’ll be working diligently you keep you posted on the progression of the county’s feasibility study.
Additionally, county community services staff invites anyone to send them a call or email:
- (719) 520-7529
Community services also hope that interested parties will attend any and all public meetings related to the project.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO GET INVOLVED/HELP
- You can find a complete list of all licensed rehabilitators by name or county HERE.
- If you are looking to volunteer with, donate to, or learn more about Linda’s organization (The Wild Forever Foundation) and its future, you can click HERE.
- If you would like to begin the process of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator yourself, you can click HERE.