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Fair seeks to foster awareness of endangered species

Conlan McCartney, 6, enjoys the silky softness of the baby barn owls at the Endangered Species Faire in Bidwell Park Saturday. (Jason Halley/Enterprise-Record)

By MANDO NAVARRO - Staff Writer

Alan the alligator and Checkers the owl are not endangered.

But that's not important. What's important is that people are aware that our furry friends and also our natural resources could become endangered one day if we're not careful.

The 26th annual Endangered Species Faire was held in Bidwell Park's Cedar Grove Saturday. Many ecological booths were displayed there, showing thousands of people what they do to help the wildlife in Butte County.

Marilyn Gamette rehabilitates animals that couldn't have survived on their own. Checkers was run over by a semi truck and lost a wing. For 15 years Gamette has been rehabilitating him in her back yard in Chico.

Gamette is an interpretive specialist and also works with the Bidwell Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

But in simpler terms, she said she is just a "foster parent."

The main theme for the event is letting people know that animals are our friends, and our natural resources, like plants and water, can become scarce if we don't take notice.

"There's billions of species besides human beings," said Olivia Peters-Lazaro, events coordinator for Butte Environmental Council, who sponsors and organizes the event each year.

While few species are endangered in Butte County, except for a few a wetland plants, that doesn't mean people shouldn't take the issue seriously.

"What's endangered is our knowledge of the environment," said Laurel Blankenship, a volunteer.

Many people enjoy the wildlife, but most people don't know the consequences of losing a species or one becoming endangered, Blankenship said.

"We take it for granted like they'll always be there," she said. "You're missing a lot of vitality in your life. When you see them, you realize how important it is to protect them."

Another part of protecting wildlife is protecting the soil we use to grow our natural foods and flowers. And Linda Gaber has mastered the art of producing healthy soil through worms.

What started as a bunch of worms in a bathtub has developed into more than 10,000 worms and a store where Gaber works in Durham.

Gaber displayed a bucket of red worms digging in some fresh, soft soil.

A pound of red worms were for sale at her booth, as well as their castings, which Gaber says is better than soil.

This has been Gaber's best year as far as sales go, she said. More and more people are starting to realize the significance of worms.

"The more worms we have, the healthier the ecosystem is," she said.

With Checkers and four baby barn owls stealing most of the attention, few people noticed the many snakes displayed in glass boxes.

But 13-year-old Amy Schildhaver couldn't put them down. This is Schildhaver's first time at the event and she said her favorite part is being able to see and touch animals, especially the snakes.

"They're interesting creatures," she said. "People think they're slimy, but they're really soft."

Schildhaver is an animal lover. She hopes her mother will let her take home an orange tabby kitten from the Butte Humane Society.

"I'm an animal freak," she said.

The key to drawing a lot of people to a booth is entertaining children while parents check out the information given to them or displayed on walls, said Caryl Brown, fishery biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With the lowering of the water in the Sacramento River, many Chinook salmon are suffering, she said.

During the winter run, salmon are especially endangered.

When the young salmon swim to the ocean, they get bigger and decide to come back to the river, but when they come back sometimes there is not enough water to hold them and they die.

But compared to the last 10 years, Brown explained, "things are getting better."

It is most important to Brown to not only let people know of the problem but to find a way to change legislation issues so that so much water isn't taken from the river.

And though it has been a lot worse, Brown is personally hurt by the deaths of thousands of salmon a year.

"Salmon are cool," she said.

Reprinted from the Chico Enterprise-Record, May 10, 2005