This photo essay is part of “We Are the Change,” a series telling the stories of local causes. View all the “We Are the Change” essays.
Every spring, Mary Bliss, the director of Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center, has to be ready. Spring tends to be the busiest season at the center, whose mission is to protect the welfare of wild animals.
Bliss — along with her husband, her daughter and 62 volunteers — is responsible for a litany of around-the-clock responsibilities, including caring for injured and orphaned animals, answering a helpline, giving tours, publishing a newsletter, doing community outreach education and more.
Bliss and her team have been operating Turtle Ridge 24-7 since 2005. The 10-acre site south of Salem city limits — which includes a hospital, five barns for orphaned animal care, a waterfowl habitat, a deer barn and numerous other animal enclosures — is the only facility in Marion County that does not limit the types of wild animals it cares for.
Turtle Ridge typically takes in about 1,000 animals annually with the goal of helping them return to the wild. About 100 to 200 birds, mammals and reptiles are typically on the site at any given time. Some are too injured to be re-released and must be euthanized. Others that are unable to return to the wild become educational tools for the center.
Animals typically end up at Turtle Ridge due to mishaps caused by people, Bliss says: motor vehicle accidents, starvation resulting from habitat loss, pesticide poisoning, cruelty, attacks by cats or dogs, loss of nesting spots due to trees being cut down and fishing line injuries. In addition to taking calls from people reporting injured or orphaned animals, volunteers answer thousands of questions from the public “about living in harmony with the wildlife that surrounds them,” Bliss says.
Daily operation is a struggle, she says — from recruiting and training volunteers to raising money to finding time for the countless tasks required to keep the center operating. Turtle Ridge’s cash budget is $100,000 per year, but if the volunteer time was accounted for in dollars, it would easily quadruple that, Bliss says.
She will be launching a campaign this year to raise $250,000 for additions to the facility and to improve educational outreach for children and families.
“I believe that, left to itself, nature balances wildlife populations perfectly. What alarms me is the devastation that humans are causing, just because of our existence,” Bliss says. “Our education program is growing, and my dream is to reach as many children as we can so that they will be inspired to protect all of nature.”
Contact Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center
Stephanie Hazen, a Salem resident since 1977, is a retired veterinarian. She enjoys all things about nature, including photographing birds and insects, organizing conservation-minded educational seminars and writing on topics that inspire people to tread lightly on our Mother Earth.