As a major botulism outbreak rages at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and a bird field hospital works around the clock to treat their winged patients, much-needed support has come from another Oregon wildlife refuge.
Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been collecting donations since August 23 and, as of Thursday, has amassed more than $7,000 to send to Bird Ally X, the nonprofit operating the duck hospital on Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. And they’re not finished yet.
Janelle Wicks, executive director of Friends of Malheur, said supporting the Klamath Basin Refuges fits in with the nonprofit’s advocacy and outreach goals. She used to work as the environmental education specialist for the Klamath Basin refuges and received a call last week from visitor services manager John Fitzroy about the outbreak.
“It was jarring to me, since I had no idea about what the current water levels were like,” Wicks said. “Botulism has happened here, but never the way that it’s happening right now in Klamath.”
Fitzroy asked Wicks if there was anything Friends of Malheur could do to help. Because of COVID-19, the hospital can’t rely on large groups of volunteers like it has in the past, so it needs money to hire interns who will be there consistently. Wicks settled on donating the funds to pay two more of those interns, who would be able to stay in refuge housing.
In a conversation with her board of directors, Wicks proposed sending Bird Ally X a grant of $4,000, which would be taken out of Friends of Malheur’s budget. Almost immediately, every board member agreed. To help offset the cost to the organization, Wicks compiled a YouTube video with information about the outbreak to help organize a fundraiser. She sent an email out on Sunday, and by the end of the day on Monday, Friends of Malheur had already reached the $4,000 goal. As of Thursday, more than 85 people have sent in donations — mostly from Oregon but some from as far away as New York and Massachusetts.
“Birders connected to Malheur are also deeply connected to the Klamath Basin,” Wicks said. “Their birds are our birds.”
If bird habitat and resources on the Klamath Refuges are lost, that often affects the same birds that visit the Malheur Refuge, as both places lie within significant migratory routes of the Pacific Flyway. Wicks said it’s important to recognize that each refuge may provide something different for resident and migratory birds, who need all of those habitats to survive.
“A basin by definition is a self-contained unit, but in the larger sense we are not disconnected from one another,” Wicks said. “Really sharing our support is valuable.”
Wicks said the process of delivering the initial $4,000 grant to Bird Ally X has already begun. Friends of Malheur’s fundraising drive is set to continue through September 15.
As of Wednesday, the hospital has treated 1,862 avian patients this year. January Bill, who helps run the duck hospital for Bird Ally X, said she was grateful for the support from the community and nonprofits, including Friends of Malheur and the Klamath Basin Audubon Society, which has awarded the hospital over $4,500 in grants over the past several years.
“It always revives my faith in humanity with each botulism response, because it brings the most amazing people together,” Bill said.
— Reporter Alex Schwartz is also a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 541-885-4477.