On the outskirts of the Capital City of Montana is a group of dedicated people working to keep the wildlife wild by getting animals back on their feet. Well, in this case back on their wings.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center run by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is one of only two raptor rehabilitation centers in the state. Here professionals and volunteers work with injured animals, mostly birds of prey, with the goal of returning them to the wild. A job that has just as much risk as it does reward.
“Some circumstances it’s certainly better for nature to take its course, just because no matter how much we have here in terms of our facility, that animal isn’t going to make it," said Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Program Manager Ali Pons. "The stress of bringing that critter in is worse than just leaving it where it’s at. But in some circumstances, there is an animal that has had an injury that is normally human-caused. So, in order to mitigate our effect on the wildlife we have rehabilitation centers to take in critters that have been hit by cars and other issues.”
Issues that often mean the birds can’t be returned to the wild. But in those cases, like with this 13-pound golden eagle, the raptors become permanent residents of the center as Ambassador Birds.
“Appreciation leads to support and wildlife initiatives, human’s interaction with wildlife is all driven by support, and I think that’s why we feel that our education programs are so important here," said Lead Volunteer at the center Art Compton. "Because it’s impossible to meet any of these species we have without appreciating them. It leads to a better relationship between humans and our charges here and that makes a huge difference in their lives.”
Big birds take up a lot of space though, and that space is filling up. A problem the center is trying to address with grants, donations and help from the Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation.
"Up until now, we’ve made do, we have smaller enclosures, but the goal is to increase our capacity because we get a lot of raptors that come through our doors," Education Bureau Chief Laurie Wolf told MTN. "Then also what we want to do is give the public more access to viewing these raptors. So, we want to have enclosures that face our education center along with a trail and a viewing area that the public will have access to and be able to see these birds up close
As important as education is, the center’s main goal is to keep all these animals in the wild where they belong, and to do that they need your help.
“What we want to keep in mind is there are a lot of animals that may not be truly injured or orphaned, and people mistake that, and they’ll pick them up and bring them in when they really don’t need to be," said Pons. "So, we want to make sure that the circumstances actually warrant them coming in. So, the best thing to do would be calling your local rehab center or an FWP game warden to kind of make that determination."