Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies

California State University-Bakersfield - Bakersfield, CA

  • BS

FACT is a unique project of Cal State University Bakersfield whose purpose is to promote the conservation of wildlife through the rehabilitation of non-game species of native animals and through educational activities. The main emphasis of the project is on the rehabilitation of endangered or protected species, particularly birds of prey. Sick or injured animals are treated and retrained so they can be reintroduced into their natural habitat. Some birds require relatively little treatment, while others need extensive medical treatment and prolonged care and training. Bird are brought to the facility by wildlife biologists, veterinarians, or private citizens. Many have broken wings, some due to gunshot; others have been confiscated by wildlife enforcement officers. In addition to many kinds of hawks and owls, FACT has successfully rehabilitated several golden eagles and San Joaquin kit fox, species that are afforded maximum protection by state and federal laws. FACT has also sponsored a professional seminar on birds of prey, conducted workshops for wildlife biologists, presented programs to schools and civic groups, and cooperated with the California Department of Fish and Game in wildlife studies. How does FACT operate? Cal State biology majors working under the direction of Ms. Marlene Benton, Coordinator for ESA/FACT earn course credits while assuming responsibility for a variety of duties. When animals are received at FACT they must be examined to determine the course of treatment. They are then kept in a small enclosure until they are able to begin an exercise routine. Participating students feed and water the animals daily, clean cages, and exercise the birds. When a bird is able to fly satisfactorily and kill its own food, it is released in the same area in which it was captured. The program thus provides an unusual opportunity for students to observe, at close range, many species that are protected by law and usually inaccessible. In addition to keeping careful records on the progress of each bird under treatment, each student conducts a literature search and prepares a paper about a bird of prey of their choosing. Who supports FACT? The program involves the close cooperation and support of many people in the community. Day to day operations are supported by California State University Bakersfield, Farmer John Eggs, and members of the Friends of FACT. The Kern Wildlife Resources Commission has furnished materials for the physical facilities. Dr. Thomas Banks and the staff at Bakersfield Veterinary Hospital provide medical treatment when needed. Members of California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assist in acquiring and releasing animals. FACT's Early History by FACT founder Ted Murphy How FACT came about and what happened in the first couple of years. The Facility for Animal Care and Treatment is one of many rehabilitation centers in California, but it is unique in many ways. It is a part of California State University, Bakersfield, but it is supported by community contributions, not by tax monies. It began at the suggestion of a student and was planned by another, both biology majors, and much of the work at the facility is done by students who earn course credits for the experience. In 28 years the project has grown from a small raptor rehabilitation effort to an animal rescue-conservation education program that is known throughout California. It began in the winter of 1975, soon after FACT Director Ted Murphy had become Project Director of the newly-established Environmental Studies Area. At that time the only improvements to the Area were a new greenhouse and a chainlink fence that encloses 20 acres of former cropland. Ron Thomas, wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, called Murphy one evening and asked if he would like an injured Red-Tailed Hawk. 'What would I do with a Red-Tail Hawk?" was Murphy's response. Thomas then suggested that it could be put in the Environmental Studies Area where it would be protected and might eventually fly away. This sounded like a reasonable plan. The next day Thomas, accompanied by his colleague, Ray Buss, and his supervisor, Roy Hinds, walked into the classroom where a small group of students were discussing some topic in "Environmental Resources", and announced that he had brought the hawk. Seizing the opportunity to have his students meet and talk with wildlife biologists who work with local environmental resources, Murphy adjourned the class to the ESA where Thomas pulled a cardboard box covered with an old barbecue grill out of the back of his pickup truck. The box was overturned and the hawk unceremoniously dumped on the ground in the middle of a ring of onlookers, none of whom had any idea of what was wrong with the bird or what to do with it. It was decided that someone would keep an eye on the bird, which apparently had an injured wing, and provide fresh food for it. During the discussion with the biologists it was learned that injured hawks and owls were commonly found in Kern County and that, until recently there had been an individual in Frazier Park who sometimes cared for such animals. Otherwise, Fish and Game personnel sometimes rescued injured birds and tried to care for them in makeshift backyard cages. Recognizing a need, one of the students, John Hayes, said "Doc, why don't we start a project to take care of these animals?" Murphy's reply was: "O.K., John. Write up a proposal and we'll see if it can be done." At that point the class time was up and everyone had to dash to other places. The Red-Tail stayed at the ESA for several weeks, perching on the young palm trees. Food was provided in the form of chicken parts from the supermarket but no one ever saw the bird eating it. After a couple of cold, foggy weeks, the bird disappeared and John got busy studying for final exams and forgot about his suggestion. STUDENT DESIGNS FACILITY, GETS FUNDING A practicing mortician for several years, Phil Sheldon discovered he had more interest in the living and decided to got back to college and study biology. After transferring to CSB from Bakersfield College, he concentrated on environmental biology, delivering Oriental food at night to pay the bills. In need of a senior project, he remembered John Hayes' suggestion that we start a bird rescue and asked Dr. Murphy if he could pursue the idea for his project. Getting approval, he spent spring quarter of 1976 visiting zoos, other rehab centers, Fish and Game labs and wildlife wardens, collecting information on legal problems, injury treatment, food requirements, and building specifications. After many discussions with Dr. Murphy, Phil's information was consolidated into a proposal. The original name proposed, although appropriate and producing a catchy acronym (HABITAT) was discarded in favor of Facility for Animal Care and Treatment-FACT. Interviews with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent W.D. "Bill" Hawes and California Department of Fish and Game Captain Barney Bryan revealed a real need for such a rescue center and both officers pledged their support to the project. At this point it was realized that medical support would be essential to such a facility's operation, since undergraduate students would operate the program and the director lacked a medical background. Dr. Tom Banks, a partner in Bakersfield Veterinary Hospital, although lacking much specific experience with wild birds, had close connections with the vet school at UC Davis, a real interest in the project, and a willingness to learn. He pledged his support and the feasibility of the project was established. A concrete pad at the Environmental Studies Area, which had earlier supported a steel storage building, was chosen as the site for which to house recuperating birds were drawn, and lists of materials were prepared. A request for funding was submitted to the Kern County Wildlife Resources Commission, a group appointed by the Kern County Board of Supervisors and charged with disbursing money received from fish and game law violations in Kern County. In August, the Commission agreed to pay for the materials for the building and some necessary supplies, but they had to be purchased by the County Purchasing Department, which took several months. In the meantime, word of the project got around and the first 'customers' were three young Horned Owls confiscated by Warden John Reed from a local businessman. The month-old nestlings had been stolen from a nest by several young boys and sold to the businessman who put them in a cage for his customers' pleasure. A plywood box and a lath-covered aluminum frame (formerly a greenhouse) were pressed into service as quarters for the fuzz-covered birds. The seizure of the baby Horned Owls marked the beginning of a long association with John Reed, who died in an automobile accident in 1984. Reed gave a lot of time and attention to FACT, delivering injured animals, releasing rehabilitated birds, delivering road-killed animals and carcasses from the evidence locker for food, and generously giving advice and counsel. Another biology major, Pat Del Rio, was employed as a caretaker at the Environmental Studies Area and during the summer he cared for animals and helped develop a set of procedures for operation of the facility. The first hawk cared for at FACT was a nestling that had fallen from a tree in east Bakersfield and was raised in a cardboard box on FACT Director Murphy's patio in the summer of 1975. One side of the cardboard box was hinged, like a door, and slits cut in it to resemble the bars of a cage. A shallow paper cylinder filled with soft cloths served as a nest. As with any good raptor nestling, the bird's excrement was never dropped in the nest. Instead it was ejected through the cardboard "bars" on to the floor of the patio! The young bird was covered with white, fuzzy down and couldn't be identified. It was named "Beauty" since it was thought to be a "buteo" or broad-winged hawk. As it grew and began flight training, it shared the backyard with a large Desert Tortoise and, if placed on the turtle's shell, would hang on during a slow, perplexing trip across the yard. Often, when it was allowed to perch on a pole in the back yard it would be buzzed by resident Brewer's Blackbirds and Mockingbirds, much to the poor hawk's puzzlement. Later, "Beauty" was transferred to the lath-house at the ESA where it had more room and where it was killed by a predator, probably a weasel. Still later, a comparison of color photos of "Beauty" showed it to be a Red-Shouldered Hawk. By mid-December the materials purchased by the Kern County Wildlife Resources Commission for FACT's first (and still main) building were delivered and its construction was begun on the Saturday before Christmas. A local contractor, Don Mahan of Construction West, and one of his carpenters, Dave Shoffner, spent the day, aided by Murphy and CSB student Richard Barbour, building most of the frame for the structure and over the next few weeks the building was finished and ready to occupy. The initial plans included a building with four separate compartments large enough for a hawk or owl to exercise in and four small cages to house birds with taped wings or other problems that required suppressed physical activity. A maximum capacity of 8 birds seemed reasonable at the time. At one point years later there were 75 animals at FACT at the peak of the season! The first fall and winter of FACT's operation was manned by CSB biology students Pat Del Rio, Cathy Hayden, Carol Hodgson, Nancy Hollandsworth, and Dan Holland. Barn Owls, Horned Owls, Red-Tails and Kestrels were among the first patients. Both Dr. Tom Banks, FACT's volunteer veterinarian, and Murphy learned a lot about raptor treatment during those early months, frequently the hard way. Fortunately, Dr. Banks had close ties with the staff at his alma mater, U. C. Davis, particularly Dr. Murray Fowler, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine, who had established a raptor rescue center there and was a expert on the treatment of wild animals. Many of the treatments and procedures were crude and innovative (and some still are). For instance, after weeks of immobilization of a broken wing, hawks and owls were placed in the larger compartments and allowed to exercise freely, but some way was needed to give them longer flights to speed up the muscle development and loosen stiff joints. A system, based on a backyard dog tether, was designed that seemed to be a solution to the problem: a wire was stretched between two posts about 75 feet apart; a heavy cord about 10 feet long was attached to the bird's feet at one end and to a metal ring on the wire at the other. The bird was placed on a perch on one of the posts and forced to take flight. The bird had to fly along the wire and land when it reached the end of it. Everything worked fine until then; if the bird developed much speed in this short flight, it was abruptly yanked to the ground. A large rubber band between the wire and the cord softened the blow, but the system was far from perfect. Later, the wire was abandoned and the bird was- attached to a long cord coiled on the ground. This worked better, but the recovery of the line was very tedious and the tangles were unbelievable. Eventually we adapted an old falconer's method, using a modified fishing reel with a very long line, that works well, even for large birds, such as eagles. In February of 1976 Mrs. David Goldberg, a part-time anatomy instructor at CSB, learned about FACT and wanted to help the project by contributing money. Since there was no mechanism receiving donations, an account was established with the CSB Foundation called the "FACT Fund." Soon after, contributions to the Fund were made by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Stockton, local ranchers and organizers of the Kern Audubon Society, and the Cal State Women's Club. FACT had become a legitimate operation! With $400 in the Fund it now was possible to actually buy things that were needed, rather than have to scrounge them.

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