This month marks one year since the passing of Wildlife Center of the North Coast’s founder, Sharnelle Fee. Fee, who has been described as a “light in our community,” had an incredible passion for helping animals, conservation and education. She was a champion for wildlife in need.

Fee founded the wildlife center in 1997 and moved from Portland to the coast, where she set up shop to specialize in seabird rehabilitation.

“I have never met anyone as absolutely dedicated and mission-focused as Sharnelle,” said Vicki Bucklin, a longtime volunteer at the center. “She cared for nothing other than what was best for the birds and didn’t mind if she offended anyone who didn’t agree with her (views).

Fee worked side-by-side with the volunteers, never asking them to do anything she hadn’t done herself at least a million times,” Bucklin remembered. “She earned the admiration and respect of those she worked with, and inspired so many people in our community and beyond.”

“She was fun — and funny!,” said current Director Joshua Saranpaa, with a laugh. “Sharnelle had such a sense of humor. She was also a tireless worker. She’d run circles around everyone every single day, but she loved her volunteers,” he adds with a smile, “despite the fact she liked birds more than people.”

Saranpaa, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, was Fee’s longtime assistant director and protégé, and has been at the helm since Fee’s passing. With support from the board of directors and an outstanding volunteer team, Saranpaa has accomplished much to be proud of after his first year without Fee.

“The transition has gone really smooth overall, considering all of the changes we’ve undergone this year,” Saranpaa said. “It is sometimes difficult to go from a founder-directed organization with just one person calling the shots to one run by a group of dedicated individuals. We all have different ideas of what to focus on and the priorities that we’d each like to see accomplished, but we’ve got a great group and have been working well together. I feel lucky to have such a great team!”

What started in Fee’s small mobile home trailer nearly 20 years ago has grown into a fully functional wildlife hospital including 19 outdoor enclosures and a variety of prerelease pools. The wildlife center relies mostly on volunteer support and public donations to take care of over 2,000 patients annually. A wide variety of birds and mammals come through their doors every year, each in need of some kind of care. Whether injured, sick, starving or orphaned, the center is working on building the facility to take care of their every need.

The wildlife center continues Fee’s mission of honoring the dignity of their patients, respecting their wildness, and returning them to their natural home as quickly as they can.

“We’re working to improve our current rehabilitation techniques by being more science-based and data-driven in the decisions we make, and want to expand our ability to rehab more patients by fixing currently unusable spaces and have plans for new, state of the art enclosures,” Saranpaa said. “We’ll also need to get some new equipment and add medications in order to be more self-sufficient in-house, but it’s all a work in progress.”

From safe, secure kennels inside for those patients needing critical care to long flight aviaries and therapy pools outside, Saranpaa and his team have a plan to become a state of the art wildlife hospital, recovery center and wildlife-conservation education center.

“Our goal is to be open to the public with an education center onsite in five years’ time,” he says. “Education was very important to Sharnelle and we would love to honor her legacy by expanding our education programs and developing a stronger community-nature partnership. A bold plan, but very exciting, too.”

This fall is considered the wildlife center’s “busy season” as starving seabirds all along the coast wash up on shore as warmer ocean temperatures deplete their food source. The center is looking for volunteers to help with patient care at the center and those to join the animal transport network they have set up along the coastline from Newport to Long Beach, Washington. Anyone interested in lending a helping hand can email volunteer@coastwildlife.org for more information on how to sign up.

Don’t have the time, but still want to help? The center has an item “wish list” posted on their website, www.CoastWildlife.org, and accepts monetary donations there as well. For those interested in staying involved and up to date with the wildlife center, join their new membership program by visiting the website. Donations can also be mailed to Wildlife Center of the North Coast, P.O. Box 1232, Astoria, OR 97103.

Lindsey Nicolas is the development and communications coordinator for the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, which serves Pacific and Clatsop counties.

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