Dramatic wildlife rescue at Stebbins

By Jeffrey Clary, Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Director

Stebbins wildlife rescue
UC Davis graduate student Ben Plourde braved a looming wildfire to rescue his tiny research subjects from certain death. Image: Risa Pesapane/UC Davis

The subject line read, “EMERGENCY — ANIMALS IN TRAPS.” As the director of UC Davis’ Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve, I received this urgent email last Friday morning (July 7) from a researcher studying small mammals on the reserve.

For the fifth time in five years, wildfire had broken out in the vicinity of the reserve in the Coast Ranges west of Davis. This time, dozens of furry research subjects were potential victims.

Benjamin Plourde, a Ph.D. candidate in integrative pathobiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine, had gone out to the reserve Thursday afternoon (July 6) to set traps to capture small mammals, as he has done many times over the past four years. His advisor, Professor Janet Foley, has since 1997 been studying the reserve’s rodent populations and diseases they carry.

“As I was driving back to Davis after setting the traps, I saw the smoke from the grassfire,” Ben said.

Animal trapping in toasty California must be done overnight, so that direct sun does not overheat the temporary captives in their boxlike cages. Mammologists are accustomed to getting up before dawn to check traps and free their animals.

But when Ben went back early Friday to measure and release his rodents, he could not get through — authorities had set up roadblocks on Highway 128, because of the Winters Fire that broke out early Thursday afternoon…

Read the full story of how Plourde and Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Director Jeffrey Clary engineered the rescue of hapless trapped rodents on Dateline UC Davis.

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