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Wildlife Regulations and Agencies


By law, state and federal government agencies are responsible for developing most wildlife regulations and policies in the United States. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regulates and oversees actions involving migratory bird, marine mammal, and threatened and endangered species. States, on the other hand, have responsibility for the management of all species that exist within their respective state boundaries.

Within this framework and mandate, state wildlife agencies and the USFWS are responsible for promulgating regulations that govern and providing oversight of wildlife rehabilitation activities, which includes establishing regulations, conducting facility inspections and possibly tests, granting permits and licenses, enforcing laws, and so forth. In addition, there are other agencies that affect wildlife rehabilitation and rehabilitators, such as departments of health and environment, agriculture, and local planning and zoning, with additional regulations, ordinances, policies, and statutes.

Since 1993, WildAgain Wildlife Rehabilitation has worked to actively support wildlife rehabilitators and agencies with helping to promote effective regulations affecting wildlife and rehabilitation. As a result, we have conducted three nationwide research studies on wildlife rehabilitation regulations in all 50 states over the last 10 years; presented at state and national conferences, as well as to rehabilitation groups and state and federal agencies; and published the results of this research in the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation, NWRA conference proceedings, websites and newsletters. We also have consulted with numerous rehabilitators, rehabilitation organizations, and agencies on rehabilitation regulations and related issues.

We have compiled some resources that may be helpful for rehabilitators, agencies and others working on wildlife related regulations, particularly wildlife rehabilitation. Some of materials are provided in full, others are links to helpful websites, such as the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. 


Wildlife Rehabilitation Regulations – Research and Resources

-          A Survey and Study of State Regulations Governing Wildlife Rehabilitation—2004 Update: Current Regulations and 10–Year Trends. This study describes and compares wildlife rehabilitation regulations in all 50 states as they existed in 2004. It also describes trends and changes over a 10-year period, including in licensing and qualifications, testing, facilities, and prohibited and restricted species. Presented at the NWRA National Conference in 2005 and published in their conference proceedings.

-   Regulations Impacting Use of Volunteers, Interns and Staff: Excessive Bureaucracy or Ensuring Quality Animal Care? Many wildlife rehabilitators holding wildlife rehabilitation licenses or permits, especially those operating high volume rehabilitation facilities, have often enlisted help from others (volunteers, staff, interns). Most of the people helping rehabilitators with tasks involving direct animal care have not undergone rehabilitation licensure themselves. Recently, at least one wildlife agency clarified in their regulations how unlicensed people assisting rehabilitators with direct wildlife care shall be trained and supervised, permitted tasks they can perform and new recordkeeping requirements. This paper describes what prompted these new regulations, approved in Colorado in 2009, on a key aspect of rehabilitation that has generally not been addressed in state regulations. It describes the regulations as well as reactions from rehabilitators. Since rehabilitator practices regarding the training, supervising, and monitoring of unlicensed volunteers, staff and/or interns can have a direct impact on considerations of wildlife ‘possession’ and quality  of animal care, other state wildlife agencies may consider similar regulations.  

-          Wildlife Rehabilitation: Expanding the Wildlife Management Framework. This paper provides and discusses a conceptual framework that could be used to help agencies understand that wildlife rehabilitation, while somewhat ‘outside the box’ of traditional wildlife management, fits within the changing scope of wildlife agency responsibilities. Published in the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation in 1996.

-          Statement of Need and Justification for the Regulation of Wildlife Rehabilitation Efforts. A group of leaders from the wildlife rehabilitation field met regularly during 1996-97 to discuss wildlife rehabilitation regulations in the US. This Wildlife Rehabilitation Cooperative Task Force developed a framework to help guide wildlife agencies and rehabilitators working on wildlife rehabilitation regulations. The resulting document described the legal framework, the need to recognize wildlife rehabilitation, and goals and features of regulation. The document was sent to wildlife agencies in all 50 states and state rehabilitation associations, and made available to other interested parties. The Humane Society of the United States provided the majority of the funding for this project.

-          Survey of State Regulations Governing Wildlife Rehabilitation – 1999. This paper describes an analysis of wildlife rehabilitation regulations in all 50 states in the USA. It describes wildlife rehabilitation regulations in 1999 and changes during the previous 5-year period. Presented at the NWRA Conference in 2000, and published in the conference proceedings.

-          Survey of State Regulations Governing Wildlife Rehabilitation – 1994. This is the first of a two-part article that reviewed wildlife rehabilitation regulations in all 50 states in the USA. The research was presented at the IWRC Conference in 1995, and published in the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation.

-          State Regulations Governing Wildlife Rehabilitation: A Summary of Best Practices (1995). This is the second part of a two-part article that reviewed wildlife rehabilitation regulations in all 50 states in the USA. It was published in the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation in 1995.


Background Materials

-          Wildlife Rehabilitation: Is it for you? This booklet provides a general introduction to wildlife rehabilitation, including reasons people become rehabilitators, common rehabilitation tasks, myths about wildlife rehabilitators, and ways to learn about wildlife rehabilitation. While it was initially developed to be distributed by rehabilitators, rehabilitation organizations and agencies to potential rehabilitators, it also has been used to provide an orientation for wildlife agency staff, media and others. It was developed by a team of wildlife rehabilitators from around North America and used throughout the world.

-    Wildlife Rehabilitators Do More than People Realize. Discussions about the benefits provided by wildlife rehabilitators often focus only on the animals receiving care and being released back to the wild. Rehabilitation of individual wild animals is a major objective and certainly valuable, especially for animal receiving care. However, rehabilitators provide a wider variety of services than most people may realize. This paper describes some of those services.

-    Wildlife  Rehabilitators Contribute to Public Health. In addition to helping wild animals regain their health, wildlife rehabilitators activities can positively impact human health. This paper describes several ways that rehabilitators support public health, such as provide a facility to take care of wildlife, communicate information to the public about wildlife, reduce transmission of wildlife diseases, and inform wildlife and health agencies about wildlife health problems.

-          Wildlife Rehabilitation Demographics and Caseload Analysis: Colorado 1998-2002. This study develops and quantifies statistics that describe the scope and breadth of the activity in an entire state. This data from Colorado was compiled from all annual rehabilitator record reports over a five-year period including 400+ rehabilitator records and 53,000 wild animals.  It provides ‘hard data’ to describe rehabilitators and rehabilitation activities, including species, the length of time wild animals are in rehabilitation, disposition statistics, and more. It was initially published on this website.

-   A Decade of Wildlife Rehabilitation Demographics and Caseload Analysis: Colorado 1998-2010. This research shows twelve-year trends of rehabilitator recruitment, attrition, caseload, and more. Available in 2011.

-          Development of Guidelines for Obtaining a Provisional Wildlife Rehabilitation License and Guidelines for Sponsoring a Provisional Wildlife Rehabilitator. The Colorado Division of Wildlife provides a variety of resources for Colorado rehabilitators and those interested in becoming a rehabilitator in the state. It includes a booklet and brochure used in many states for people considering becoming a rehabilitator (Wildlife Rehabilitation: Is it for you?).  While the flow chart of the process to obtain state and federal rehabilitation licenses is specific to Colorado, the general sequence may be similar in other states. The website also includes guidelines for new rehabilitators and their sponsors/mentors, examples of learning plans, and examples of documentation to ‘graduate’ from apprentice to full rehabilitator status. 

-          A Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Code of Ethics. This document was developed jointly by the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. It is available for download at www.nwrawildlife.org.

-          Colorado Division of Wildlife: Chapter 14, Wildlife Regulations - excerpted from the  Basis and Purpose of Wildlife Rehabilitation as approved by the Colorado Wildlife Commission in March, 1995.

"Every year some wild animals become injured, diseased, orphaned or otherwise distressed. When people fine these animals their response is often to want to rescue the wild animals, restore them to health and independence and return them to the wild. However, proper care of distressed wildlife requires special knowledge and care that most people do not possess.

Distressed wildlife remains the property of the people of the state and the responsibility of the Division of Wildlife. We believe it is the desire of the people that these animals be rehabilitated and returned to the wild as soon as possible or euthanized if rehabilitation is not feasible. In the rare cases it may alternatively be desirable for non-releasable wildlife to be retained for educational or foster parenting purposes.

The purpose of these regulations is to recognize wildlife rehabilitation as a legitimate wildlife related activity and permit qualified individuals to provide the humane care of distressed wildlife so that such wildlife may be quickly and successfully returned to the wild, with due consideration of the health and safety of native wildlife populations, human health and safety."


Working with Wildlife Agencies

In addition to working personally with government agencies, rehabilitators and others on wildlife rehabilitation regulations, we’ve worked on a wide range of other wildlife regulations, policies, legislation and issues since 1992. We’ve worked as members of groups, members of coalitions of multiple organizations (local, state, regional, national), and as individuals. We’ve seen some great strategies and results, as well as some things that didn’t work. We are very grateful to the many people and organizations with whom we've learned and worked!

Along the way, we’ve written a few articles about working with wildlife agencies. We are absolutely certain that we don’t have all the solutions and still have much to learn – but are willing to share some of what we’ve learned with the hope that it can help others working for wildlife.

-          Influencing Wildlife Policy. This paper describes how those interested in wildlife policy can increase their effectiveness in influencing and impacting wildlife policies.  It includes learning about wildlife agencies, policies, and decision-making processes, building relationships and coalitions, and developing effective strategies. Presented at the NWRA National Conference in 2000 and published in the conference proceedings.

-          Tips For Making Your Voice Heard With Government Agencies. Many government agencies at all levels are required, by law, to seek and accept input from the public and affected parties on proposed regulatory changes. The article provides proven tips to help make your participation be more effective, such as describing your credentials and experience related to the topic, identifying reasons for concerns, and providing workable options. The authors are experienced wildlife rehabilitators who have worked effectively with wildlife agencies on a variety of wildlife regulations. First published in NWRA Quarterly, 1998.

-          Strengthening a Relationship with a State Wildlife Agency. This paper describes the approached used to successfully build understanding of wildlife rehabilitation and its benefits in preparation of and during the revision of wildlife rehabilitation regulations in the 1994-95 time period. The paper illustrates how regulations that are supported equally by the agency and rehabilitators can result when an inclusive and open process allows for each side to better understand the various aspects of rehabilitation from both the regulator and practitioner perspective.


Other resources

Copies of State and Federal Wildlife Rehabilitation Regulations - available from each agency (check their websites for online versions)

Wildlife and the American Mind (Duda)

Environmental Leadership (Berry and Gordon)

The Consensus Building Handbook (Susskind, et al).

Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals (Jacobson)

Getting to Yes (Fisher)

State Wildlife Law Handbook (Musgrave)


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