Animal House: Wildlife Rescue Coalition Relocates Founder Barbara Tidwell Retires, Welcomes New Director

Animal House: Wildlife Rescue Coalition Relocates Founder Barbara Tidwell Retires, Welcomes New Director
WRC President and Director, Lisa Rowell, with founder Barbara Tidwell, who is retiring after twenty-five years

The Wildlife Rescue Coalition of Northeast Florida (WRC) has begun a new chapter of progress in its mission to save local wildlife, said founder and president, Barbara Tidwell. Tidwell, who recently announced her retirement, has devoted the past twenty-five years to leading the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization. She will continue serving as a board member, advisor, and chief supporter.

In response to the need for increased space and modernized facilities, WRC  has relocated to four acres on Porter Road Extension across from the St. Augustine Airport on Phillips Highway. According to Tidwell, the location is more centrally located to help wildlife from the surrounding seven counties it serves. The property owner is WRC’s new President and Director, Lisa Rowell, a Jacksonville native.

Rowell is a thirteen-year board member, experienced wildlife, farm, and exotic animal rescuer, and licensed Florida Wildlife Rehabilitator. Her husband Jamie, with their teens, Isla and Chase, assists and supports her work. Rowell was formerly an industrial consultant, and Jamie works in banking. 

Lisa Rowell and her daughter, Isla Rowell, future wildlife rehabilitator
Lisa Rowell and her daughter, Isla Rowell, future wildlife rehabilitator

Tidwell said that Rowell has trained and volunteered in wildlife rehabilitation with WRC for thirteen years. When asked why Rowell is the perfect person to lead the WRC, Tidwell did not hesitate.

“Lisa’s intelligence, energy, tenacity, love for wildlife, and drive to get things done is incredible. She rented equipment, read some instructions, and cleared the land herself to save money for animal care,” Tidwell said. “Lisa is the future of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. Her goal and the mission of WRC is to save as many animals as possible. We want to educate our children and community about what is happening to local wildlife, habitat loss, and how desperately our help is needed.”

WRC’s mission is to give orphaned, injured, ill, or displaced animals a second chance at life and to build respect for wildlife through education and conservation. Tidwell explained the importance of comprehensive preparation and planning to successfully rescue, rehabilitate and safely release as many healthy animals as possible back into safe areas.

Finding a safe woodland habitat for local wildlife release in one of the fasting growing parts of Florida is increasingly difficult. Exploding population, increased traffic, widespread land clearing, construction, and massive developments pose grave threats to native wildlife.

For years Tidwell said she has watched development swallow thousands of Northeast Florida’s woodland acres. Entire forests, scrublands, and marshes have disappeared: replaced with concrete, buildings, and roads. In the path of bulldozers, wildlife may be killed, injured, or driven into dangerous situations and shrinking territory with no refuge. Tidwell correctly predicted that the endless phone calls begging for help with wildlife emergencies and animals needing help would exponentially increase.

The small Seaboard Avenue location where the rescue organization was previously located could not continue to support WRC’s wild residents. Tidwell knew she must plan and fundraise for an expanded, modern facility, with no idea when or where that might happen.

New Director Rowell made Tidwell’s dream a reality when she agreed to relocate WRC to her family property. Rowell designed high-quality, species-appropriate outdoor wildlife housing and large enclosures to facilitate optimum rehabilitation and recovery. Structures were built to withstand storm conditions in adherence to current wildlife and safety standards. Animals are separately housed away from the prefabricated, climate-controlled modular buildings used for intake, medical facilities, and infant wildlife care, courtesy of Tidwell’s fundraising.

WRC offers the community free wildlife advice, assistance, care, and rehabilitation. Healthy animals are released whenever possible. The first step if an ill, injured, orphaned, or displaced wild animal is found, is to call (904) 779-5569 for help, an appointment, or to leave a message. Messages will be returned as soon as possible and drop-off appointments are required. There is currently no public access.

Founder Barbara Tidwell with Taz, WRC’s sixteen-year mascot & educational ambassador. Taz was unreleasable due to a disability
Founder Barbara Tidwell with Taz, WRC’s sixteen-year mascot & educational ambassador. Taz was unreleasable due to a disability

Barbara Tidwell was a country girl who grew up surrounded by nature and wildlife, with no fear of animals. On the contrary, she was fearless. That bold attitude led her to become an entrepreneur operating successful assisted living senior care homes, inspired by the devotion of grandparents who lovingly raised her.

Despite juggling her professional career and family, Tidwell’s natural bond with animals and wildlife never paused. She said that throughout her life, animals in trouble always managed to find her, and she had to help them.

WRC began in 1997 as a makeshift hospital sanctuary in Tidwell’s backyard. She somehow found a way to care for the growing group of orphaned and injured animals. As word spread about Tidwell’s gift for healing wildlife, more arrived at her doorstep, and phone calls for help became part of her daily routine. To her shock, she soon learned that there was no rescue organization to take them or offer any help.

For years Tidwell saved countless wild animals and sought funding for a designated location to rehabilitate wildlife until release. She received no support from city officials for the creation of even a basic wildlife rehabilitation center despite the documented need. Officials listened and agreed that there was a need but offered no city funding or facility. Tidwell realized it was all on her shoulders to continue what she had begun. WRC moved into a loaned trailer and property on Seaboard Avenue. That location has closed and all wildlife has been transferred to the new facility.

WRC will offer educational programs for children and adults to interact positively with wildlife and experience nature up close. There will be opportunities to learn about and understand our wild neighbors and critical conservation issues that affect everyone. Educational outreach for schools and organizations will teach about the need to live in harmony with nature and wildlife and ways to do that, including how to avoid human-wildlife conflicts.

WRC will invite the University of North Florida Veterinary Internship Program on-site to provide wildlife care experience for students. Horse boarding, rental space for small events, birthday parties, and a petting zoo are additional activities planned to raise funds for wildlife care and rehabilitation.

Visit for information to help wildlife in distress or how to determine if a wild baby is orphaned or independent. There is a constant need for caring volunteers to do a variety of tasks: transportation, animal care, cleaning, and office help. Free training is provided. Groups, families, or individuals can collect donated supplies, host fundraisers, volunteer together, or fulfill community service hours. On-site volunteers must be 17 years old.

WRC is a 501 ( c) (3) nonprofit charity that receives no government funding. They rely on donations and fundraisers to raise the money needed to continue to save wildlife. Donations can be mailed or made online through Paypal. Donations are tax-deductible. When buying online, purchase through Amazon Smile and choose “Wildlife Rescue Coalition of Northeast Florida” as the charity of choice. The Amazon Foundation makes a .5% contribution of every purchase to WRC at no extra cost. offers an option to contribute to WRC with every online purchase or to place an order for WRC on a one-time or monthly basis. The WRC Wish List of daily needed supplies is: dry and canned dog or cat food, stainless steel pet bowls, hanging pet water bottles, bleach, and cleaning supplies. Donations can be dropped off at the center by appointment.


Wildlife Rescue Coalition of NE FL:


5250 Porter Road Extension, St. Augustine, FL 32095

Call (904) 779-5569 immediately if an orphaned, injured, or distressed wild animal is found. Do not wait even one hour. Delay could mean life or death for that animal. Wear gloves and carefully place the animal in a  warm, dry, secured container in a safe, quiet location until transport or further instructions. Do not give food or water. Keep children and pets away.

Despite their small size, many mammals like wild baby rabbits are independent at a few weeks, with fur and eyes open. Leave them alone. Look for injuries, call for advice and describe babies if unsure of age or whether help is needed. Only babies with injuries or found in the open with no fur or closed eyes need help.

If you transport any wild animal to a rescue organization or individual for help, give a monetary donation to help cover costs. Nonprofit wildlife rescue centers receive no government funding and must raise every dollar to pay for wildlife care. Donations are tax-deductible.

Transport wildlife whenever possible, freeing rehabilitators and volunteers to care for the animals.

Most rescuers and rehabilitators have full-time jobs and families, plus their work saving wildlife. They cannot always immediately answer calls. If you must leave a voicemail, be patient and wait for callback instructions.

Please answer questions with as much detail as possible. Cooperate if asked to follow instructions to try to reunite wild babies with parents. Rehabilitators know when that is their best chance of survival.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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