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Explore Your Wild Side: Volunteer With Wild Spirit Education

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By Mary Heyl

Calling all lovers of the great outdoors! Wild Spirit Education, a non-profit organization located in Delevan, NY, invites you to share your passion for nature by educating others about the natural world and rehabilitating the sick, injured, and orphaned animals that are an important part of our environment. According to founder and senior rehabilitator Paul Fehringer, “A love for nature is the only qualification volunteers need.”

In 1995, Wild Spirit was first started as a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center that trained volunteers to rehabilitate hundreds of sick and vulnerable animals in Western New York. In addition to training individuals to get their rehabilitation licenses, the organization created several educational programs throughout the region. In 2009, Wild Spirit shifted its focus from animal rehabilitation to education, although the organization does take in some rehab cases each year and trains volunteers in animal rehabilitation. According to Fehringer, the New York State DEC reports a great need for rehabilitators in Cattaraugus County right now; volunteering with Wild Spirit is the perfect way to get involved!

Wild Spirit teaches educational programs throughout the region, including the Buffalo area, Cattaraugus County, Chautauqua County, and even as far away as the Finger Lakes region and northern Pennsylvania. Each year, Wild Spirit performs hundreds of programs in schools, home school groups, eldercare facilities, and public venues. Fehringer explained that right now, Wild Spirit hosts programs in five different eldercare facilities at least once a month, and is heavily involved in local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops: “Almost monthly, we do merit badge activities with Scouts.”

Those who attend Wild Spirit’s educational programs get an unforgettable experience of the importance of wildlife preservation and rehabilitation. Programs and activities include nature walks, insect displays, and birds of prey, which brings seven live birds that have been rehabilitated into the classroom. Fehringer said, “Hands on education teaches much better than lecturing. It means so much more to go on a nature hike and get dirty!”

Thanks to Wild Spirit’s dedicated staff and volunteers, these programs are able to continue and expand. Volunteers are needed to become environmental educators for Wild Spirit’s programs, and training is provided at the Wild Spirit facility in Delevan. Those who would rather work in a “behind the scenes” capacity can get involved at the facility by doing research, clerical work, data entry, and cage maintenance.

Currently, Wild Spirit is looking for a volunteer coordinator for the citizen science projects that Wild Spirit is involved in. Citizen science projects include Frogwatch USA, a program that promotes local wetlands and amphibian conservation by encouraging individuals and families to report the calls of local frogs and toads. Similarly, the Nestwatch citizen science program monitors nests at the Wild Spirit property and throughout the neighborhood. Currently, Wild Spirit is involved in a new citizen science project that monitors caterpillars in the area and how their numbers affect the food source for local birds. Wild Spirit is the first group in Western New York to participate in this national program.

Fehringer explained that anyone over the age of 16 is welcome to volunteer in whatever capacity they’d like. “Even if you don’t know a lot about nature, we can teach you,” said Fehringer. Volunteers receive lots of training at the Wild Spirit facility in Delevan, including extended training for those who would like to work with the birds of prey or learn how to rehabilitate wild animals. Those interested in volunteering can visit www.wildspirit.org and fill out the volunteer inquiry form, where they can indicate their areas of interest, amount of time available each month, and relevant experience. Interested volunteers can also contact Renee Flierl, volunteer coordinator, at renee@wildspirit.org or call Paul Fehringer at (716)531-1428.

To learn more about Wild Spirit, including their educational programs, citizen science projects, and upcoming events, visit www.wildspirit.org and check out their Facebook page, Wild Spirit Education.

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