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NEBRASKA Wildlife Rehab

all creatures great and small

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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MIDNIGHT noshing in the Campagna household can get a little dicey. Groggy sleepwalkers can’t just grab the first thing they see when the refrigerator light springs to life during a late-night raid.
 

The milk in those odd containers? That’s baby formula for Amy Campagna’s orphaned ground squirrels. Those bite-sized delicacies in the zip-lock bags? Mice for feeding a brilliantly-hued snake that shares a home with the family that lives on property situated among the rolling hills southeast of Blair.
 

“I do have some interesting things in my fridge,” said Campagna with a wink. She’s just one of a small army of wildlife rehabilitators who volunteer with Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc.
 

The non-profit that came into being in 1998 when a cadre of volunteers with extensive experience in rehabilitation launched a new entity to nurse our winged, slithering and furry friends back to good health.
 

Now for the first time, the home-based project that has had all manner of fauna being nursed in volunteers’ basements, sheds and barns has a home of its own. A historic 1929 building, one that was until 2009 the stately administrative offices of the Ash Grove Cement Company in Louisville, has been made available to the organization under an arrangement that carries the princely sum of $10 for an annual lease.
 

“The great people at Ash Grove have been our friends for some time now,” explained Laura Stastny. Now operations chair of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, she joined the group in 2001 and originally carried the ominously toothy title of Carnivore Team Leader. “We got to know Ash Grove when we approached them about using their vast riverside property for a coyote release effort a couple years ago and one good thing led to another.”
 

“To see some of the things these volunteers do to treat injured animals to be released back into the wild shows true commitment,” said Ash Grove Plant Manager David Dorris, “and we are proud and excited to be working with Nebraska Wildlife Rehab.”
 

The non-profit has begun using the building as a base of operations for hotline calls, training and animal intake with 12-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week staffing from volunteers. The group is now continuing fundraising efforts to retrofit the space to meet their long-range vision. Along the way, they’ve reverted almost to start-up mode in dealing with such business baby steps as their first bills for such expenses as insurance, utilities, signage, maintenance and general upkeep. They also have eyes on another major milestone – the hiring of their first employee, an executive director.
 

The group will be showing off their new digs on Sunday, July 17th in an open house that will run from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event includes activities for the entire family, including a scavenger hunt, building tours, food and entertainment.
 

“Eventually NWRI would like to raise the funds to build our own specialized wildlife rehabilitation hospital and education center,” said Stastny, whose home is shared by 15 raccoons, two woodchucks, a turtle, half a dozen rabbits and others. “Wild animals have very specialized diet and caging needs that can be best addressed in that type of center, giving our animals the best chance of survival when they are returned to the wild. Our new Wildlife Center at Ash Grove is a stepping stone to that larger project, allowing us to grow our operations in a steady, sustainable manner.”
 

Operating on the tiniest of budgets, the Nebraska Wildlife Rescue treats and releases up to 4,000 animals each year. The rewards of their work are many, but it is the group’s education efforts that promise broader benefits for all.
 

“For me it’s seeing when people, especially kids, understand a bigger picture of the world and how everything is interconnected,” Stastny said of programs where habitat preservation is intrinsically linked to rescue efforts. “Sometimes the concepts of ‘conservation’ and ‘ha­­­bitat destruction’ are too large for young students to wrap their brains around, but you bring them these lessons in the context of a single animal’s story of rescue, rehabilitation and release back into the wild and it all begins to make sense to them.”
 

Stastny explained that a lot of kids growing up in the city suffer from what some experts have called “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
 

“We seek to ensure that students learn the lessons of habitat conservation and restoration through hands-on learning that also teaches the importance of volunteerism and action in our communities,” she added. “Our interdisciplinary approach that melds science and technology with everything from social studies, reading, writing, math and the arts is so important to the development of critical thinking skills. Students come to learn that every animal plays a role in our natural ecosystem.”
 

The organization has long provided educational programs to schools and community groups throughout the area. Since introducing its outdoor science classroom project at Underwood Hills Focus School, the group’s programs have grown to encompass a wide array of learning initiatives. The organization is now developing summer school sessions focusing on science, math and technology, programs for underserved and at-risk children, prairie restoration efforts for high school teens, and even wildlife biology internships for college students.
 

Amy Campagna’s three children do not fall into the category of those who suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder, but they do have to take care in grabbing something from that most unusual of refrigerators.


“It’s so amazingly enriching that my kids get to grow up in this great environment,” said the farm-raised women who kept a promise to become more involved in wildlife issues once her children became older. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just look at all these wonderful people they’ve come to know and all these valuable lessons they are learning.”
 

For more on supporting the work of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, visit www.nebraskawildliferehab.org.

 

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