By Caitlin Switzer
OLATHE—(January 15, 2014) Brenda Miller recalls vividly the moment her life changed.
“I was a little girl,” said Miller, who lives today with her husband on a remote ranch near Olathe. “I had an older cousin who was a falconer, and she had a kestrel tied to her dresser. I just sat there and looked at that bird and thought, wow.”
Though falconry is an accepted, legal activity, Miller now opposes the concept on principal.
“I would never take away another creature’s freedom,” she said.
In fact, Miller is now one of 78 trained wildlife rehabilitators in Colorado, working with both Colorado Parks & Wildlife and the U.S. Division of Fish & Wildlife to save wild creatures that otherwise would be put down. She will discuss her work as founder and director of Roubideau Rim Wildlife Rescue at the upcoming Ouray Women’s Club meeting Jan. 21, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center.
The importance of keeping wildlife wild is something Miller stresses.
“There are 78 volunteer rehabilitators in the state, but it is not enough,” she said. “Otherwise, these creatures are killed, or they become pets. As pets, wild animals can make people sick, people may do cruel things to them, or they may be raised all by themselves so they have absolutely no chance of surviving in the wild.”
Miller, who has a working relationship with Montrose Veterinarian Bettye Hooley, does whatever is needed to get her charges back on their feet or flying under their own power—from caring for animals herself to placing those with special needs in other area facilities.
“I am always scrambling for food,” she said. “I took in 83 animals in 2013. Two-thirds of them either died or were put down, but some got to go free, which is so cool!”
One creature that Miller expects to be released is a Great Horned Owl that was caught in a fence.
“I am sending him to Ouray, to someone who has a 100-foot flight cage,” she said. “He needs to fly and build his strength. I have a 40-foot cage here at the ranch, but it’s in a valley and it is cold, and birds do love to sun themselves in winter.”
Eventually, the owl will be strong enough to be released.
“He came from near a dairy, and he will go back and be free to deal with the mice and rats,” Miller said. “Owls are really important to our ecosystems.”
Miller recalls another rescue that caught everyone but her off guard.
“There was a car that had died, and a marmot had hitched a ride down from Silverton,” Miller said. “When the mechanic opened the hood, he freaked out, and then he called me. I caught it, and found it a ride right back to Silverton.”
Miller does not work alone, but relies on a team of approximately 30 local volunteers. She is also allowed to sponsor up to three new volunteer rehabilitation specialists each year.
“Every time a critter comes in, it takes a lot of people,” she said. “We have 30 volunteers signed up through Fish & Wildlife, and every month they go out to clean up Chipeta Lake. The lake is heavily used because it is stocked, and many families here consider it a source of food. It gets trashed, but our folks go and clean it. Volunteers also clean the bluebird nesting boxes at Ridgway State Park, and I have a volunteer in Telluride who does my Facebook page for me.”
Miller is still seeking a volunteer to put a regular newsletter together, and has several Colorado Mesa University students who are assisting with a new web site for the non-profit, she said.
“One of them is a rancher, like me,” she said, “so he knows how important this is. My husband and I raise grass fed beef, without antibiotics, hormones or pesticides, because we have seen what those chemicals are doing to wildlife—especially birds.”
Every bird who comes through Roubideau Rim Wildlife Rescue is tested for agro-phosphate poisoning, and all show some evidence of it, she said.
In future, Miller hopes to expand her efforts with the help of Black Canyon Regional Land Trust, which will write a conservation easement for her once she is able to land a sought-after donation of acreage for a wildlife refuge.
“We are looking for land to start a facility and train the public,” Miller said. “We need ten acres or more, and I would love to border public lands so we can let our fawns walk away and our birds fly.”
Though her work is not easy and can be heartbreaking—prior to our interview, Miller had just finished butchering a fawn that did not survive—she knows that her efforts are making the world a better place.
“I have my ups and downs, but I am jazzed,” she said. ”I am very passionate about my work, and want to share it with a lot of other people.”
Brenda Miller and Roubideau Rim Wildlife Rescue can be reached by phone at 970-209-5946, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous, tax-deductible donations can be made to: Box 750, Olathe CO 81425, or through Vectra Bank Colorado at 1200 South Townsend Ave. Find them on Facebook at http://bit.ly/RRWR-Facebook.