Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Wildlife rescues in Williamsburg often driven by human pollution, litter

A picture shows rescuers removing a green heron from a tree, where it was caught by the tongue on some fishing line. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Julie Wallace)
A picture shows rescuers removing a green heron from a tree, where it was caught by the tongue on some fishing line. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Julie Wallace)

Julie Wallace has been rescuing wild animals from harrowing situations for most of her life, but some rescues stand out in her mind more clearly than others.

For example: A green heron hanging from its tongue, wrapped up in fishing line caught in a tree; a blue heron that ripped its own foot off trying to get free from debris in a river; a mother cardinal hit by a car in the road. 

The connecting link between most of Wallace’s rescues: Humans being careless.

Wallace said she sees people carelessly littering more in the summertime, when they are outdoors more often and celebrating holidays like the Fourth of July.

“On July 4th weekend, everyone was out,” Wallace said. “People would literally just get chicken necks, crabs and throw them. All the food they were eating, they would just toss it right down where they were standing.”

A mother cardinal hit by a car. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Julie Wallace)
A mother cardinal hit by a car. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Julie Wallace)

Wallace now volunteers to rescue and transport wild animals in need of care. She has taken a safety course on how to rescue animals safely, and both rescues wildlife from harrowing situations and transports them to licensed wildlife rehabbers.

Wallace said many of her rescues are prompted by calls from a nonprofit called Wildlife Response, which runs a wildlife helpline dispatch center. Wallace handles many Williamsburg-area rescues.

Those rescues happen on both the James and York rivers, as well as the lane area in between. Sometimes Wallace rescues an animal days in a row, other times she doesn’t rescue an animal for a week or two.

The Wildlife Response dispatch system helps organize transport for wildlife to rehabbers, most of which are not in the Williamsburg area, Wallace said. 

“I joined because it’s the quickest and most accurate way to get the call ins, the rescues and transports all coordinated,” she said. “Previously, I felt lost as to where to take my rescues.”

Human trash and how to fix it

Littering food trash is an issue, but Wallace said fishing line, lures and unattended crab pots are another common issue she sees.

“If you leave it, it’s going to kill somebody sooner than later,” she said.

Every year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation hosts Clean the Bay Day on June 1. 

This year, volunteers removed an estimated 45,000 pounds of litter from about 200 miles of Virginia shoreline.

An example of trash found by Julie Wallace that is harmful to birds and other wildlife in eastern Virginia. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Julie Wallace)
An example of trash found by Julie Wallace that is harmful to birds and other wildlife in eastern Virginia. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Julie Wallace)

Some of the most common items found included plastic and glass bottles, aluminum cans, plastic bags and cigarette butts. 

Wallace said it can be tempting to cut fishing line when it gets caught in a tree, but that it’s “not the answer.” 

“A lot of it comes from them parents not teaching their young,” Wallace said. “If your parents never taught you any better, you’re not going to be better yourself.”

The green heron found dangling by its tongue was wrapped in fishing line caught in a tree. It was able to be saved, but many animals are not so lucky.

Other rescues

Humans and trash left behind are a large part of the reason Wallace has to rescue animals, but she added sometimes her rescues can be a little different.

To start the summer season, Wallace had to retrieve a redtail hawk who was born with fused toes on both feet. She was able to get the hawk to a local veterinarian who was able to do the surgery, resulting in a successful ending.

“That wasn’t a human trash issue,” she said. “We do it all.”

Wallace also once rescued a vulture in New Kent that had an illness that impacted its ability to stabilize itself. Again, the disease wasn’t caused by humans, but Wallace still retrieved the bird so it could be humanely euthanized.

And, what makes some cringe will light a fire in Wallace: snake relocations are a common rescue for Wallace. She will relocate both venomous and nonvenomous snakes.

Snake relocations can also be rescues, because some people will kill a snake when they are fearful.

“I get called and get really anxious because their life is in danger,” Wallace said. “Not the human — the snake.”

Those who see wildlife in need should contact Wildlife Response at 757-543-7000. 

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also has a toll-free wildlife conflict helpline at 855-571-9003, which can be called 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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