Budget gap threatens work of Sarvey wildlife center

ARLINGTON — The Lewis’ woodpecker lost one of its eyes when it was hit by a car in mid-flight. It was brought to Sarvey Wildlife Center last summer for medical help.

The bird survived but wouldn’t make it if released into the wild. Still, it’s mostly healthy and spent the past six months at the center, located between Arlington and Granite Falls, until a permanent home could be found. The bird soon will be headed to a natural history museum in Oregon.

While Sarvey has received much of its publicity for caring for the more glamorous species such as eagles, hawks, owls, cougars and coyotes, most of the 3,500 animals brought through its doors every year are the little ones — small birds, squirrels, rabbits and opossums. None is turned away.

Caring for those critters could be more challenging in the coming months. The nonprofit operation’s donations are down and the center is falling well short of breaking even, director Suzanne West said.

The busy summer season is coming — that’s when the babies start rolling in — and the center’s population swells.

While about 50 animals are currently housed at the center, that number can balloon to 500 at any one time in the summer, staff members say.

“Our patient count is constantly changing,” said Mark Collins, the center’s assistant clinic manager.

West just recently had to lay off a couple of members of the paid staff, which now numbers 10, she said. Volunteers are a big help, and the center has about 80 to 100 at any one time.

Expenses, however, are high. The animals require special food — venison, quail, rodents, fish and worms, for example, depending on the species. The center spends more than $50,000 per year on food.*

The animals can’t be fed store-bought meat because of the high fat content and added hormones, Collins said.

The food needs to support the goal of rehabilitating the animals so they can return to the wild, West said.

“We try to feed them as close to what they eat in the wild as possible,” she said.

The center’s total budget is about $450,000 per year. In addition to food, other expenses include medical bills, transportation, fuel, utilities and salaries.

Right now, the center is about $95,000 in the red, West said. One regular, major donor, a private foundation, has cut back recently because of its financial situation, West said.

The Sarvey Wildlife Center has been caring for injured and orphaned wild animals for 30 years. The wooden buildings on the five-acre property are showing wear and some will need to be replaced soon, West said.

Many of the center’s permanent residents — including Athena the great horned owl and Baxter the bobcat — live in a wooden, barnlike structure where tarps form some of the walls.

These animals — one of the better known is a bald eage, Freedom — are healthy but can’t be returned to the wild, so they serve an educational purpose and often are taken out to events at schools or other locations.

Of the 3,500 animals brought to the center every year, about 1,300 are dead on arrival, West said. Some of the others have to be euthanized or are transferred to other facilities.

The center rehabilitated and returned 982 animals to the wild last year, according to West — roughly in keeping with the center’s success rate over the years of about 55 precent to 65 percent of the animals that are treated.

Saving the animals not only gives them a new lease on life, it’s therapeutic for the people who report them or bring them in to the center, West said.

A majority of the injuries or displacement experienced by the animals are caused by humans.

“People dig up a tree and realize there was a nest of bunnies there,” West said.

One man hit a barred owl with his car but didn’t know it until he got home and found that it had fallen out of the front grill. He brought the owl to Sarvey and they were able to save and release it.

“It’s just very rewarding to take an animal that has somehow met with some human calamity and change the circumstances for it so it can be rehabilitated and released,” West said. “You’re giving it another chance.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

More about Sarvey

The Sarvey Wildlife Center is located at 13106 148th St. NE, near Arlington.

For more information on the center, including how to donate and what to do if you find an injured or orphaned animal, go to www.sarveywildlife.org/ or call 360-435-4817.

Correction, March 20, 2013: The amount spent on food was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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