Ways you can help protect and preserve local wildlife

T-L Photo/CARRI GRAHAM ABOVE: One of Barkcamp State Park’s trails, where nature and wildlife can be admired.

BELMONT — Living among the rolling hills and wooded landscapes of the Ohio Valley, wildlife is abundant and all around us. And wildlife officials say doing small acts of kindness can help preserve our local wildlife and ensure it thrives for years to come.

Whether it’s picking up litter and disposing of it properly, becoming knowledgeable about how to help wildlife critters or planting a garden, all of these acts assist in preserving our local wildlife. If you happen to see litter, officials encourage you to pick it up, as litter can be detrimental to wildlife. Disposing of it properly is also extremely important.

The six-pack plastic rings that soda, beer and other beverages come encased in can pose a real threat to animals. They are a potential choking hazard for all wildlife, on land and sea. To help reduce the danger, ensure that you cut apart all sections of those rings, including the inner diamonds, before disposing of them. The cans themselves also are dangerous for wildlife, along with cups and jars, as animals can become trapped in them or get cut on their sharp, rigid edges. It is best to crush each can and place the lids tightly back on all jars and cups before disposing of them.

Chewing gum is another danger to wild animals. It can become matted in fur or feathers and is a potential choking hazard for birds. Wildlife officials recommend that you never spit gum out onto the ground; instead, always wrap it in a napkin or paper before disposing of it in the trash.

Now that spring is underway and summer is nearly upon us, it is breeding season for many creatures. Although the resulting offspring can seem irresistibly cute, it is best to leave these adorable critters alone. Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife Officer Wes Feldner said that leaving wild animals in the wild is the best thing you can do for them.

He said many mothers leave their young in a safe spot, nest or den while they venture out to forage for food. They will return when the coast is clear. If you stumble upon wildlife babies, it is best to leave them alone. According to the Ohio Wildlife Center, wild animals rarely abandon their young.

Some ways to help local wildlife are as follows:

∫ Check your yard before you mow. Often, rabbit species tend to build their nests in people’s yards. If you happen to see a brown spot on your lawn, it can potentially be a nest filled with babies. If you see a nest, you can mark the area with a small flag or gardening stone, some item to remind you of its location, so that you can mow around the spot and not disturb the young. Unless the babies are in imminent danger or injured, leave the nest undisturbed. The mother is more than likely nearby and typically comes back at dusk and dawn to care for her young.

∫ Check for signs of young. The female opossum will carry undeveloped young in a pouch on their stomach until the babies are able to live on their own. This usually last up until the babies are about 3 months old. The opossum has a very slow reaction when confronted with danger. This is why in spring and summer months, you may see many of them hit on the side of the road, and deceased female may still have viable offspring in her pouch. The Ohio Wildlife Center or a local animal hospital may be able to provide care for any opossum babies that are discovered in a deceased mother’s pouch.

∫ Remember the rule of thumb that if the ears are straight, the fawn is great. For the most part, a mother deer will leave her young in a safe location and will eventually return. If you happen to find a fawn, is best to leave it alone. You can tell if a fawn is distressed or in need of help by the position of their ears. If the ears are straight, the fawn is OK. If the ears are curled at the tips, the fawn is distressed and possibly alone in the world.

Feldner, who works mostly in Monroe County, said, “We get a lot of phone calls regarding fawns being abandoned. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is actually not the case. … They do this for a reason. … Deer put their fawns in a safe spot while she goes out to feed because fawns are scentless and adults are not. That way if a predator were to follow the adult, the fawn would be safe.”

∫ If you help a turtle find its way across a road, make sure to avoid touching the reptile’s head. Use both hands to hold it at the sides, near the ends of its shell, and lift them up to move. Make sure you move them to the side of the road they were facing when you found them.

∫ Feed the birds. Birds are one of the only wild animals it is OK to feed. Seeds and nuts are best; try to avoid processed breads. Bird feeders are enjoyable to humans, as well as to birds. They allow you to see a variety of bird species flying to and from the feeder. Feldner said that feeders are best when feeding wildlife or, if you don’t have a feeder, make sure not to leave food in “piles.” Instead, spread the food out over the area. Big piles of food can lead to mold, and that creates health problems for wildlife, he said. However, if you do decide to feed the birds, place the feeder high enough that it does not allow predators to make the birds easy prey.

∫ Plant a garden. Planting a garden is not only satisfying and beautiful, but it also helps sustain birds, butterflies and bees. Honey bees are an essential part of wildlife. They are very important pollinators for flowers, fruits and vegetables, which means they help other plants grow. Bees transfer pollen between the male and female parts of plants, allowing plants to grow seeds and fruit. You can help the honey bee population by planting a bee-friendly garden and stopping use of commercial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. According to the Ohio State Beekeepers Association, bees prefer sweet aromatic plants or plants that have a minty fragrance, like herbs such as borage, basil, oregano, thyme or sage.

Feldner said the Division of Wildlife has a new initiative for butterflies, specifically Monarchs, in which the agency recommends that people plant milkweed plants.

He also explained that the best way to help protect your garden from wildlife intruders is to put up a fence as soon as you begin planting. An electric fence may be beneficial for larger gardens, he added, to keep deer out.

ODNR wants to remind Ohioans that the best way to enjoy wildlife is from a distance and to leave young animals alone. Wild animals are born to live their lives in the wild, and sometimes actions undertaken with good intentions can hurt their chances of survival.

There are many local parks where wildlife can be enjoyed. Barkcamp State Park in Belmont, Sally Buffalo Park in Cadiz, Seneca Lake Park in Senecaville, Oglebay Park in Wheeling, Grand Vue Park in Moundsville and many others offer a variety of opportunities to view wild animals.