On the east side of Bend, Oregon, volunteers mix formula for orphaned squirrels, hand-feed baby birds every 15 minutes, and help staff examine injured eagles and owls at an unassuming 4-acre property that houses a blend of wildlife education and veterinary science.
Founded in 2016 and opened in 2020, Think Wild is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit hospital and conservation center created “to inspire the High Desert community to care for and protect native wildlife through education, conservation, rescue and rehabilitation,” says Executive Director Sally Compton.
The name is a nod to those who call Central and Eastern Oregon home.
“Think Wild is an ethos embodying all the common reasons we humans, who could live anywhere, choose to live here,” founder Reese Mercer says. “Thinking wild is about keeping wildlife top of mind in our day-to-day choices.”
The organization interacts with the community through three primary services: a wildlife hospital committed to rescue and rehabilitation, public education programs and conservation efforts.
Launch Filled With Challenges
Sally started as executive director in January 2020. Her first 90-day priorities included hiring a wildlife rehabilitator, fulfilling extensive requirements of a conditional use permit, establishing a sustainable funding plan and building 10,000 square feet of enclosures.
Just 75 days in, the global pandemic hit.
Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation Pauline Baker started on March 16, which was Day One of the COVID-19 lockdown.
No volunteers were permitted on-site, so it was up to Sally and Pauline to care for the small mammals who came in, seven days a week. At the time, the facility was awaiting a federal permit to care for birds, so the clientele was limited to small, four-footed native animals.
“The limitations of the pandemic—although challenging—also provided an opportunity to position Think Wild as a new, accessible resource for Central Oregonians to engage online about native wildlife conservation and education,” Sally says. “We provided monthly online wildlife trivia nights, posted daily updates on social media, hosted virtual hospital tours and sent out press releases for media interviews on relevant subjects, including the impacts of wildfires on wildlife and the regional avian salmonella outbreak. Through these activities, Think Wild’s community and corresponding support grew despite the continuing pandemic.”
Soon, volunteers jumped aboard.
“I believe native animals deserve a second chance to thrive in the wild if they suffer the misfortune of an injury or are orphaned babies in need of hand rearing,” Jennifer Will says. “Syringe- feeding baby squirrels to preparing songbird diets and, most recently, to releasing a female cedar waxwing back into the wild are reasons I volunteer my time.”
Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds help with in-clinic care of animals, nest box building, native plant gardening and enclosure construction.
In fall 2021, Think Wild hired its third permanent full-time employee, Sadie Ranck, as education and volunteer coordinator.
She relocated to Bend from Boise, Idaho, where she earned a biology degree in 2019 and is finishing her master’s in raptor biology, studying American kestrel migration.
“Being a part of a community that shares a common goal of conserving and protecting native wildlife is incredibly fulfilling,” Sadie says.
Caring for the Injured and Orphaned ANIMALS
The goal for every animal that passes through Think Wild’s door is to rehabilitate them for release back to the wild. That inspires volunteer Gary Lauder.
“I have loved the outdoors and especially wild animals my entire life,” Gary says. “The idea that injured or orphaned wild animals have a compassionate organization to support them was too good not to personally participate. I rescue animals, help teach schoolchildren and am actively involved in the beaver program to help these important animals make a comeback.”
For severe cases or those requiring X-ray, diagnostics and surgery, staff consult with veterinarian Laura Acevedo.
“We are lucky to have such a dedicated team that provides such good care to each animal that comes to us,” Laura says. “We’ve given a second chance at life to many patients that have come to us in poor condition. It feels good to release them at the end of the day.”
Think Wild provides internships and veterinary clinics in conjunction with local colleges.
“Interning at Think Wild was nothing short of amazing,” says Oregon State University student Kylie Lanuza. “Being able to be so hands-on and close to such extraordinary creatures is something few people can say, and even fewer can say that they assisted in the rescue and rehabilitation of such animals.
“Not only did I learn about animals, proper care and medical procedures, but I learned about communication, coordination and leadership. Think Wild made me realize what I wanted to do with my life, and I helped many lives along the way.”
Reaching Out to the Next Generation
Youth programs for pre-kindergarten to 12th grade are essential to Think Wild’s mission and include ongoing partnerships with local schools, workshops, events, public tours, and resources such as the hotline, social media and website.
Given the pandemic, activities have been modified. Some moved outside, where children could collaborate at picnic tables and open spaces. Last summer, Think Wild hosted a five-day summer camp, in partnership with Cascades Academy, for more than 60 children.
Other activities went virtual, such as a trivia night, when more than 100 households participated via Zoom.
With safety protocols in place, Think Wild staff has ventured to classrooms with weekly programs covering Central Oregon’s nocturnal wildlife, native insects, birds of prey, hibernating wildlife and the role of scavengers.
“My favorite part was when we got to go in the operating room,” a youngster, Ainsely, told staff. “It was fascinating when we got to dissect owl pellets. I never really knew that birds ate mice and smaller birds whole!”
Engaging in Conservation
In winter 2021, Think Wild partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Eagle Environmental Inc. to rehabilitate, radio tag and release two golden eagles—the fourth and fifth of their species to ever be tracked from the Pacific Northwest.
Dr. Robert Murphy, a wildlife biologist from the partnership, says information from these studies has been revolutionary in understanding the conservation of golden eagles.
Beaver Works Oregon is another program within Think Wild’s conservation services. It collaborates with landowners to mitigate problems and restore habitat, educate the public about the importance of beavers to the ecosystem and monitor wildlife movements.
About 15% of hotline calls involve human-wildlife conflicts in need of human resolution. Have a raccoon nesting under your deck? A flicker pecking holes on the side of your house?
Landowners are referred to Wildlife Field Services Coordinator Nick Kilby for free phone consultations and paid site visits. Fencing, nest box construction and installation, and placing species-specific deterrents are examples of a few exclusion techniques.
“The Central Oregon community is growing very quickly, and its urban-wildlife interface is also growing at an accelerated pace,” Nick says. “Within this wildlife-urban interface, humans and wildlife often have conflicting needs. Our service acknowledges the needs of both the community and wildlife, and helps promote healthy coexistence between them through long-term sustainable solutions.”
Future plans at Think Wild include creating a native pollinator garden, increasing capacity for wildlife intakes, contributing to research, having education ambassador animals and offering more summer camps.
“I am filled with gratitude for the Think Wild team, volunteers, donors and supporters that have made all of the above possible in such a short time,” Sally says. “As the Think Wild community grows, so does the reach and impact of the work toward our mission to protect and care for native wildlife. Judging by the hotline calls already beginning to trickle in, I have a feeling that this trend will continue in 2022—and we’re ready for it.”
Test Your Knowledge of Central Oregon Wildlife
1. What is Central Oregon’s most common native hoofed animal?
2. What is Central Oregon’s largest weasel?
3. Which of these animals is the fastest in North America?
4. Which of these animals is the smallest canid in Central Oregon?
5. What is the “rock chuck’s” real name?