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Some wildlife rehabilitation centers struggle to meet new DNR biosecurity requirements

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 5:46 PM CDT
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MANITOWOC CO., Wis. (WBAY) - Some wildlife rehab centers that normally take in fawns this time of year will have empty pens due to recent changes made by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“I’m having a very, very hard time with that. Trying to figure out how to screen the calls to make sure that fawns that need to be left alone in the wild stay in the wild, because not every fawn needs to be taken in,” said Susan Theys. “But the ones that you know where the mother was killed and they’re truly orphaned and that, or caught by a dog, what do I tell them? Other than call the DNR.”

Theys is a member of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Advisory Council (WRAC) and head rehabilitator of Wildlife of Wisconsin (W.O.W.), which is based at her home in Manitowoc County.

But this year, she doesn’t expect to take in any fawn or deer because of recent biosecurity requirement changes the DNR has made that pertain to white-tailed deer and big brown bats.

“We need to incorporate biosecurity measures not just while they’re in care, but to make sure that they’re healthy individuals after release,” said DNR Wildlife Health Conservation Specialist Amanda Kamps.

Kamps says a study in a laboratory setting found deer can get COVID and spread it from one another, hence the new changes.

“We need to protect both. Both the individual fawns in care, the animal caretakers, and especially with this novel virus, our wildlife populations in the state have not experienced this before just like we have not experienced this,” said Kamps. “We want to do whatever we can to prevent the introduction of this disease into wildlife populations.”

Some of the requirements include needing respirators or multi-mask systems for rehabbers, deer and big brown bats can only stay 180-days, and other facility requirements Theys says W.O.W. simply can’t accommodate or afford.

“Being a home-based rehabilitator we just can’t make these requirements,” said Theys. “They want our pens to be either double fenced, have another fence around a pen that cost thousands of thousands of dollars. Or put a cover over it. We have 60 ft trees in our pens, there’s no way to cover that.”

Kamps mentions they did look to some national recommendations by the CDC and One Health Group, national recommendations made with some professionals representing wildlife rehabilitation included.

Theys says the WRAC was not contacted or consulted as the DNR created its own biosecurity requirements for the state.

“None of this was brought up to us before they decided that this is what they’re going to do. I mean we could have made it more manageable, we could have worked with them and said ‘Hey, let’s tweak this and do this’ so that we can afford to do this,” said Theys. “We already have PPE and we have inspections to get our license. We are qualified individuals to handle this species, which we’ve been doing over 30 years,” said Theys.

Of the less than ten wildlife rehabs in Wisconsin that can take in deer, one has been approved under the new requirements through the DNR’s new application process.

Kamps says they’re working with a few others.

“There is flexibility in the biosecurity requirements to incorporate options that work best for the individual facilities,” said Kamps.

But Theys is concerned that with her and others not currently able to take in fawns, the general population may take things into their own hands.

“The general public who wears nothing for PPE, who lets the fawn intermingle with their cats and dogs, you know, it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Theys. “And then the fawn doesn’t learn its natural behaviors and becomes imprinted.”

She’s also concerned for W.O.W.’s own reputation if they have to refuse to provide care in cases when it’s necessary.

“They’re going to say ‘Well, why can’t you if you really care about this animal? Why aren’t you doing something?’ But if I do, they’re going to pull my license and then I won’t be able to help any animals,” said Theys. “I don’t know, I’m really dreading this season.”

Kamps urges people who do believe they may see a fawn or big brown bat in need to still contact wildlife rehabilitation centers or the DNR.

“We may have different roles in that but we’re all working with the same goal in mind, is to have to protect our wildlife as best as we can,” said Kamps.

At this time, it’s unknown how long these new requirements will be in place.

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