The Carlington Summit

The Region of Ottawa-Carleton voted in December to provide emergency funding to keep the 13-year-old Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre open.

Carlington, with its older residential neighbourhoods, many mature trees and in-fill development, will continue to benefit from the Centre's services, which include providing advice on how to deal with conflicts with urban wildlife such as raccoons, skunks and foxes.

Local councillor Wendy Stewart, who tabled the request to provide funding to the centre, said, “While the delivery of all animal services will need to be comprehensively studied for fit and funding in the new municipal structure, we simply could not afford to lose the essential services provided by the centre at this time.”

Council supported a request for funding for the centre's Conflict Resolution Service, the cornerstone of which is its telephone Hotline. The Hotline responds to more than 4,000 calls each year from homeowners looking for immediate advice to solve wildlife problems in an effective, progressive, humane and cost-efficient manner. It's a service that the centre took over from local municipalities in 1989.

Without the region's financial support however, those 4,000 annual calls would have reverted back to local by-law departments which lack the human and financial resources to respond. The $143,000 required by the centre for the Conflict Resolution Service is marginal compared to the costs local government would have had to incur to provide even a fraction of the level of service.

“Local municipalities would have been forced to deal with the same responsibilities that other Ontario cities are having to bear at a cost of 42-45 cents per capita for a purely reactive approach to the problem,” says Stewart. “Ottawa-Carleton ratepayers, on the other hand, have enjoyed the most progressive service in the country and will continue to do so at 19 cents per capita given Council's support of the request.”

As heard from cities like Toronto and Nepean at a recent information session provided for regional councilors, the cost of prevention, particularly if carried out by a volunteer organization, is still far cheaper than a reactive response by government given the associated costs of euthanasia, backyard rehab, by-law infractions, and public health and safety risks.

“The closure of the centre would have had a big and lasting impact on the community, resulting not only in the euthanasia of several thousand healthy young animals each year but, costing local ratepayers a lot more money for a purely reactive response, satisfactory to no one,” says Donna DuBreuil, president of the wildlife centre.

The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre provides two essential services to the community. Its wildlife rehabilitation program cares for orphaned and injured wildlife, the majority of which are casualties of urban development and habitat loss. This program is entirely funded through volunteers and donations. For the past 10 years, the centre has also provided a Conflict Resolution Service which is recognized as a “model for North America” by organizations such as the International Wildlife Coalition and the Humane Society of the United States.

Calls to the Hotline have grown exponentially given the extent of development in Ottawa-Carleton. There has been a 55% increase in calls in the last six years. Calls have also become more complex with respect to human and animal health risks, given the incidence of raccoon rabies which has entered Ontario for the first time this past summer. Bat rabies is also an on-going concern.

In addition to the telephone Hotline Service, the Conflict Resolution Service is also supported by innovative, year-round targeted campaigns aimed at known problem areas such as older housing stock requiring repairs and animal-proofing, and the negative impact of the use of live traps, along with extensive and broad public education programs.

“It's an essential municipal service that is funded by local government in other cities in Ontario,” says DuBreuil. “As a volunteer organization, we are providing a first-rate response at less than half the cost elsewhere because it is based on prevention and subsidized by dedicated volunteers. The centre has absorbed deficits that amount to $73,000 over the last three years in trying to maintain the Conflict Resolution Service on behalf of local government.” The decision to fund the centre will now ensure that it remains open to serve the public.