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Local wildlife rescue center ready to help if oil arrives

BRADENTON BEACH, Fla. — Not many people have African tortoises wandering around their front yard, but then, not many people are like Gail and Ed Straight, whose home and wildlife rescue center co-exist on the same leafy property.

The couple, with 23 years of experience caring for injured wildlife, are serving as liaisons for Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research Inc. Tri-State has been hired by BP to manage wildlife rescue and rehabilitation for Florida in the event oil from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well reaches its shores.

"I've been through Tri-State training," Gail Straight said as the phone rang constantly with people wanting to volunteer. "When they have something going on down here, they call me."

Volunteers from the general public must follow a different protocol than those with professional credentials, she said.

"As far as I have been told, unless you are actually put on the BP schedule, you are not allowed to touch anything," she added.

"They're going to have certain people out there, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and BP are going to be telling who can go out on the beaches or wherever they're going."

She had to pass a 20-question test, and she has had HazMat training.

"Rescue work's only for people who are rehabilitators, people who have handled these animals," Straight said. "Great blue herons can poke your eyes out if you don’t know what you're doing."

If necessary, Tri-State would work with trained wildlife rehabilitators with the proper migratory bird permits, said Heidi Stout, executive director at Tri-State, based in Newark, Del.

Stout, who said she has enjoyed a long working relationship with the Straights, noted that officials have assembled a list of those in Florida with appropriate credentials, and either have contacted them or will be contacting them to see if they're available should the need arise.

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