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Hidden Gems: Meet Debbie McGuire of Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center

Today we’d like to introduce you to Debbie McGuire. Them and their team share their story with us below:

On February 7th, 1990, the American Trader ran over her anchor while moored in Huntington Beach, CA. She spilled over 400,000 gallons of Alaskan crude. This incident is what started Debbie down the path of wildlife rehabilitation. She met up with like-minded volunteers, combing the oiled beaches, picking up helpless oiled birds and taking them to a makeshift area to try and save as many as they could. She has been actively engaged ever since in rehabilitating wildlife in Southern California and has responded to numerous oiled mammal and oiled avian declared oil spills.

In 1990, she joined a group of individuals that came together to form the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center. She is an original member of their board. She was the late Dr. Joel Pasco’s Hospital Administrator at All Creatures Care Cottage. She retired in February 2020 after 25 years. Beginning in March 2020, Debbie became the WWCC’s Executive Director.

Debbie is a member of the OWCN and trained as an oil spill supervisor for field capture and clinically trained and certified for stabilization and treatment since 1998. She is certified for Hazing and Recovering wildlife, and is a certified 24-Hr HAZWOPER and can respond in the “Hot Zone” during oil spill response. She is a CVMA member, she is certified in FEMA emergency response, having completed ICS-700, ICS-100 and ICS-200.

Debbie has woven a unique relationship with Animal Control Agencies and county and city park rangers in Orange County. It took time, but the effort was worth it for the wildlife. The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center is fortunate that the animal control agencies and the county and city park rangers work so closely with getting injured and orphaned wildlife into their care.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest obstacle has been funding. The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that relies solely on donations to keep their doors open. We rely on the public, business partners, and various grant writing to fund this project. Estimated cost is $55,000 per month.

Obstacle #2 has been getting our name out there. Through social media outlets, press releases and word of mouth– we strive hard to let the public know who we are and how to contact us.

Obstacle #3 is finding and training volunteers to help us with our large patient load. In the middle of summer, our patient load exceeds 900 patients. That’s a lot of work to help clean up after and prepare meals.

As you know, we’re big fans of Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
History of the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center

INTRODUCTION

Let us give you the story of how we evolved into one of the largest Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers in the country. In 1972, we became the first licensed wildlife rehabilitator in the state of California. First operating in Anaheim, CA out of the North Orange County School Districts Regional Occupational Program. By 1978, we recognized that standardization of wildlife rehabilitation procedures needed to be established. A group we named AWRE, which consisted of 6 other licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers, was formed with the guidance of CDF&W and USF&WS.

On Feb.7, 1990, at 4:53 pm, 1.4 miles out from the shores of Huntington Beach, the anchor of the American Trader oil tanker punctured a hole in its hull, spilling 400,000 gallons of Alaskan crude oil onto Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, sickening more than 4,000 animals. The first incoming birds were housed at the Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard tower and were then moved several days later to a temporary facility on Terminal Island where they were treated by oil spill rescue specialists from International Bird Research Rescue Center (IBRRC). Only 600 (approximately 15%) of the affected animals and birds survived treatment at a makeshift facility. It was obvious that we were not prepared. An oil-soaked bird lying helpless on a beach stained with black crude oil–it’s a haunting image, one with which we are all too familiar with in Southern California. Since 1971, there have been at least 44 oil spills over the size of 10,000 barrels (420,000 gallons) along the Pacific Coast, each one affecting the survival and habitats of thousands of animals. Some species and habitats have already been irreversibly damaged. Human activity and wildlife is on a collision course, and wildlife is the loser. When human activity impacts the fragile balance of neighboring wildlife, it becomes our responsibility to make amends. We can and must take action to preserve our native wildlife and habitats for our children and ourselves.

On March 31, 1998, with the assistance of the California Department of Fish and Game Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), the Southern California Edison Company and others, the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center opened. It is open seven days a week, year round. Our trained staff and volunteers are on 24-hour call to respond to petroleum spills and other emergencies involving wildlife. We are one of 12 primary facilities in California that make up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Primary facilities are those that can handle everything from rescue through release. Since our opening, we have responded to dozens of oil spills affecting thousands of birds and mammals. Our release rate on these oil spills are over 65 %. We receive animals from 62 cities in Southern California and have taken in animals as far away as Henderson, Nevada and Parker, Arizona.

Southern California is home to more than 23 million people and, as growth continues, this large concentration strains the earth for natural resources such as water and open wildlife habitat. Another side effect of this massive urban growth is the impact on native wildlife. This includes destruction of native habitats and resultant adverse impact to animals, much of this caused by humans. Major efforts are being made to preserve what little wildlife habitat remains, but there has been insufficient effort to care for wild animals that are orphaned, injured or sick.

By 1989, the year of the Exxon spill in Alaska, the wildlife care community had already been networking to rescue affected wildlife from devastating disasters. The 1990 American Trader oil spill in Huntington Beach further mobilized the wildlife care community in southern California. This major event brought concerned individuals, local and state government officials, the Southern California Edison Company, and citizen groups such as the Alliance for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education (AWRE) and the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy together to begin planning for the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center.

Our local wildlife, including many endangered species, is continuing to experience an alarming rate of death and decline. Local activists (with our support) have been fighting to preserve our vanishing wetlands. The preservation of nearby Talbert Marsh and the dunes area adjacent to the Care Center are significant successes in this battle.

THE WETLANDS AND WILDLIFE CARE CENTER

The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center is a 501(C)3 non-profit facility that survives on generous donations. It was established to provide care for native wildlife and to educate the general public about wildlife and their habitat. The center is a nongovernmental facility staffed with licensed volunteer veterinarians, trained wildlife technicians, and volunteers. It is located on the Corner of Newland and Pacific Coast Highway at 21900 PCH in Huntington Beach, California telephone 714 374-5587. It is along the coast and Pacific flyway. Our Website is http://www.wwccoc.org. The center is capable of caring for 400 birds and mammals at a time with an emergency capacity of 1,000. With continuing encroachment on our remaining wilderness areas and increases in oil spills, the center becomes more important with each passing year. The treatment and rehabilitation areas are closed to the general public, but tours may be arranged. We conduct educational classes to the public. We have several educational programs, including our teenager program called Under our Wings for the 16 to 18 years old. We provide training and education for externs and interns. Outreach educational programs are also available. Please call for details.

We began with good intentions and little experience to attempt to save dying, oil-soaked wildfowl. In a few short years, we have evolved into an organized, sophisticated network of rehabilitation professionals and volunteers, unique to the Southland in accessibility, expertise and results. Including all the animals that come into the center we have an overall release rate today of nearly 65%. We are proud of the dedicated veterinarians, trained wildlife technicians and certified volunteers who make our success possible.

VOLUNTEERS

We have about 100 highly trained, unpaid wildlife volunteers at any one time filling one of the four hour shifts daily staffing the 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. days at the Center. Rehabilitation provides a personal connection with nature and wildlife. It offers a positive and personal way to give back to nature for all that we humans take and the problems we create. Rehabilitation brings a feeling of satisfaction from releasing a healthy, strong, viable wild animal back to live wild and free in its natural habitat. It creates an ongoing opportunity for personal growth involving such skills as problem-solving, priority setting, decision-making, conflict and crisis management, and building self-confidence. Rehabilitation provides an opportunity to talk with people about wildlife and impart an appreciation for native wildlife and their habitats. It can help individual wild animals while uncovering ways to assist wildlife populations at risk. Our wildlife volunteers receive a three-hour class with a written examination certifying them in basic wildlife nursing care. The cost of the class is $25. After completion of the class and passing the exam, each new volunteer is assigned to a supervisor for “on the job training”. Some of the non-animal nursing volunteers that we need include people skilled in cage building/repairing, plumbing, construction, electrical, landscape maintenance, construction, assisting with education programs, answering phones, data entry, grant writing and fundraising, manning booths at community awareness events, and newsletter publication. You must be at least 16 years of age (teenagers 16 and over can contact our “Under our Wings” teen education volunteer program). This is an exciting, hands-on wildlife rehabilitation education program teaching animal husbandry. Teens work over 120 hours during the six months program. Recent graduates have used their program experience to win scholarships and have gone on to college success in the environmental sciences, veterinary school, and marine biology.

THE ANIMALS

Between our opening in March of 1998 and the end of December 2019 we have taken in over 70,469 wild animals. Approximately 50 – 60% of the animals coming into the center are orphans, many coming in the springtime. About 30 + % are a direct result of trauma, clashing with mankind. About 5% are diseased with infections, malnutrition, parasites and toxicities such as lead, rodenticide and insect poisoning. About 3% are pelicans and other waterfowl suffering from botulism from the Salton Sea and local parks. About 2% are from oil spills. About two thirds of these animals are birds and one third are mammals consisting mainly of opossums of which more than 1,500 were brought into the center last year. We also take in native and wild reptiles. It costs an average of $125 to rehabilitate each animal. Our current monthly operating costs are $55,000 per month and going up. Our water bill alone can cost over $2,000 per month.

There are seasonal trends each year with winter months signaling the arrival of migratory waterfowl including ducks, surf scoters and grebes. March and April will see the arrival of Opossums, hummingbirds, baby ducks and orphan squirrels. In later summer months, we will see waterfowl coming in with botulism toxicity from local lakes and the Salton Sea. In the summer and the fall the center will receive pelicans and cormorants with domoic acid poisoning from neurotoxins in the red tides. In the fall migrating grebes will arrive that have crashed into parking lots and streets mistaking them for water surfaces.

ENVIRONMENTAL VANGUARD

The Wildlife Care Center is on the forefront of the constant battle of environmental crises. We are in the unique position to often be the first organization to discover environmental calamities. Following are a few of the examples of recent interventions and discoveries of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center.

In 2004 a large number of songbirds came into the center dying. This incident was traced back to a local equestrian park and pest control company incorrectly using pesticides targeted to kill pigeons. Instead of killing only pigeons, this poison was killing protected non-targeted songbird species like the red-winged blackbird, various types of warblers, grosbeaks, and birds of prey.

In the fall of 2003, the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center launched an investigation into the large die off of Northern Fulmers along the Pacific Ocean coast of California, Oregon, Washington and Canada. Different hypotheses are currently being studied for the die off. These hypotheses include starvation due to overfishing, changes in the oceans current due to global warming, and rising water temperatures causing changes in the food sources. The warming waters shut down the upwelling of ocean nutrients vital to a healthy marine environment and its food supply.

Heron Steatites is a newly discovered lethal disease affecting heron and egret species in southern California. The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center has been educating other rehabilitators and biologist about this emerging disease. The cause has not yet been determined. We are currently studying this disease and collecting data for biologists and veterinarians to affect a cause and prevention for this disease.

We work cooperatively with the Orange County Vector Control (OCVC) on West Nile Virus. We provide the testing base with a variety of avian species. By providing the exact location of the affected patient, OCVC has been able to accurately report to the community where the outbreaks are occurring. During 2005, all but one crow that came into WWCC died of West Nile Virus.

The occurrence of rabid bats has dramatically increased in the summer of 2005. This upsurge in rabid bats highlights a risk to our community. The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center actively educates our community through press releases and newsletters.

WILDLIFE CARE TEACHING HOSPITAL

On Sept. 30, 2004, groundbreaking began for a 4,350 square- foot teaching hospital with about one quarter of the building dedicated to a visitor center and another quarter for a meeting room where training and educational classes are conducted. We provide community outreach educational programs to help educate both school age children and adults. This facility replaced All Creatures Care Cottage, a private veterinary hospital in Costa Mesa, which had been acting as the wildlife care hospital since 1972. There are many advantages of having an on-site, fully equipped and fully licensed veterinary hospital. The teaching hospital has an intake area, surgery room, examination room, employee lounge, medical treatment area, pharmacy, radiology department kitchen and food preparation area, and laboratory. We are always looking to get corporate sponsors for each of the main rooms in the hospital and have a naming opportunity for the entire hospital. The observation deck with a view of the Bolsa Chica State Park and adjoining Magnolia marshlands is located above the center of the hospital. We have closed circuit television monitors for the public to view various aspects of our animal care.

WILDLIFE CARE CENTER LAYOUT

A large parking lot for school buses is available which is seen when first entering the center, which is located on two acres of land on the southeast corner of Newland and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach. The first building in view as you enter the center will be the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy Interpretive Center, which also houses our wildlife care teaching hospital with observation deck. Behind it is our 3,000 square foot Butler building. It contains our intake area, kitchen, and oil spill wash area. The oil spill washing stations are capable of washing up to 200 oiled birds a day. A large washer and dryer accommodate large loads of laundry. The freezer contains frozen smelt, sardines, bloodworms, krill, frozen mice and other food. There is an indoor caging area and a “wet’ room for waterfowl warm therapy pools which continually skim contaminated surface water. Behind the Butler building are six 30 by 20 foot, ten foot high outdoor cages complete with slanted side 500 gallon swimming pools. The cages are modular and can be altered to different sizes for various species. There is a 250 square foot shorebird caging area, a 250 square foot outside mammal caging area, and a 50 square foot dove aviary. The facility has the resources to fill their outdoor pools with either fresh “city” water or saltwater pumped into the center by 16’ diameter intake pipes that stretch 1-mile out to sea. All the centers used water cycles to the Orange County Sanitation District for recycling. It is not drained into the ocean. The high ceiling allows for some flight within the cage. Our future plans will include 100-foot long 30-foot wide flight cages with 16-foot ceilings for large waterfowl and birds of prey. In addition, we have five out buildings that store our snowy plover recovery supplies, our Oiled wildlife shed, an education shed and a container with supplies needed to expand or retract current caging. Continuing on from the south end of the center is the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy’s back parking lot, native plant nursery, and the Magnolia Marsh.

FUTURE CHALLENGE

What if our children grow up without ever having seen a red-tailed hawk in the wild or a brown pelican fishing in the harbor? What if, by their adulthoods, the last California wetlands have disappeared from the county or our endangered species are now something found only in a reference book? Although the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center is licensed by and works with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Center is a private, non-profit organization that depends on community support and donations. The rescue, rehabilitation and preservation of our native Southland wildlife and their habitats are a task that belongs to every concerned county resident. The Center is continually expanding to better serve the needs of Orange County and surrounding areas. Join the effort to coexist with local wildlife, Volunteer your time or make a donation. Support your Wildlife Center; the end result will be extraordinary. THEIR FUTURE IS IN YOUR HANDS!

What was your favorite childhood memory?
Bringing home an ocelot I found on my way home from Kindergarten. I found this big nice kitty with a collar and a leash, so I walked it several blocks home. My mother almost fainted when she saw me walking up the driveway with this HUGE cat. My mother opened the front door, grabbed me by my shoulder and pulled me inside. She slammed the door on my new pet cat and made it stay outside. She dialed “O” for the operator and asked to be connected to the police.

I was crying because I had walked my “new” pet cat all the way home and wanted to keep it. The police showed up and knew who the real owner was. The Ocelot had escaped out of the front door and the owner had been trying to find it. So, it ended up having a happy ending. I was still sad that I didn’t get to keep it…

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