Sometimes when I read the newspaper, I get material for fun and jaunty columns. “Couple arrested for being nude on the beach.” “Woman charged with aggravated assault after passing gas near another customer in a Dollar Store.” Those stories, ripped from actual headlines, practically write themselves.

Conversely, there are the headlines that make me want to crawl under a rock and never come out again. “15 dead dolphins wash ashore in one day.” “U.S. uses tear gas on children.” These stories make me question the future of mankind, and the ability of one person to make any difference in the grand scheme of things.

Then I am reminded of the starfish story. Walking along a beach littered as far as the eye can see with dead and dying starfish, a boy picks one up and throws it back into the ocean. An elderly man points out that the boy’s minuscule efforts can’t make much of a difference to the species as a whole. Undeterred, the boy tosses another back and says, “I made a difference to that one.”

My faithful readers (I think I have five now!) probably get sick of me harping on the same subjects all the time, but I remain hopeful that one of my tirades will strike a chord with someone and change will occur, one starfish (or snowbird) at a time.

Some of the things I have determined to personally let go of include obsessing over the little things. I was so angry with myself for having to get gas the day before the price dropped 7 cents per gallon. To put that in perspective, my tank holds 7 gallons, so we’re talking about less than 50 cents. And I had to drive out to an area of town with no gas stations and would probably have ended up stranded with an empty tank had I not filled up when I did. I really need to let that go.

What can you, dear reader, let go of? How about those bunnies? Let’s resolve to leave the baby bunnies alone. Peace River Wildlife Center gets countless baby bunnies every year. (That’s hyperbole — we do count them, and the actual number of bunny admissions will be tabulated in next week’s column.) Every wildlife rehabilitation facility in the country does also. We see cute memes on Facebook about it all the time. But the reality for the bunnies is anything but cute.

They are a difficult species to rear, since their entire gastrointestinal system changes from digesting mama rabbit’s milk (not cow’s milk!) to eating grass during a precarious stage from one to three weeks of age. Many of them die in captivity due to the lack of natural enzymes they would have gotten from mom to help this transition.

Well-meaning people find baby bunnies alone in their yards, at construction sites, or in the park and assume they have been abandoned. Mama rabbit may not be the best nest builder on the planet, but she is an attentive and careful mother.

Deer and rabbits, both called does, usually only visit their offspring twice a day to nurse them, and they do that quite quickly. Hanging around the nest would draw the unwanted attention of predators. So, an expedient in and out, feed the kids, change their “diapers,” and the moms are off to graze and shop or whatever it is that does do in their downtime. So, let’s resolve to leave the bunnies and fawns alone unless we are really, truly, absolutely certain they have been orphaned.

There are a couple other things we can all do to help wildlife, especially at this time of year. There are not many baitfish in Charlotte Harbor right now. During the cold weather of winter, there is always a lack of small fish to feed the birds and larger fish. This year we have experienced a long bout of red tide that killed even more of nature’s snack bar. Because of this lack of nutrition, PRWC is admitting many shorebirds that are emaciated and lethargic.

During a recent trip to the beach, I noticed families watching their young children chase the few birds that were wading in the surf trying to find a morsel to eat. While I’m sure neither the children nor their parents think of this as an example of animal abuse, it really is. Those birds must expend a great deal of energy to take to flight — energy they don’t have to spare during these lean times. Not to mention that they are also missing out on that tidbit they had finally found.

We all really need to be cognizant and respectful of the wildlife around us. Plant native (or Florida-friendly) flora around your property to provide nutrition to migrating and resident birds and butterflies. Try to keep invasives at bay. Try. It’s a lifelong battle, but it’s not like anyone has anything better to do than to keep chopping down that same Brazilian pepper tree that the original landscaper brought here in 1850, right?

Anyone interested in learning more about Florida’s fascinating environment and how to help maintain it should consider taking classes through University of Florida IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences). In Charlotte County, IFAS has two programs that showcase Florida’s natural splendor.

The mission of the Florida Master Naturalist Program is to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors. There are three core courses and numerous special topics for adult learners. These programs do not have any prerequisites, and don’t require any advanced knowledge or scientific background.

The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida. The program relies on dedicated volunteers who have an interest in gardening and in giving back to their communities. One of the most important aspects of life in Florida starts in your own backyard. Literally. Selecting the proper plants will help ensure their survival as well as the survival of native animal species.

Are you looking for a way to make a difference? Looking for a New Year’s resolution that you will be eager to keep? Check out FMNP at http://bit.ly/2QcnBeZ or FMGP at http://bit.ly/2QVZgPZ. Both programs offer a wealth of information and are a fun way to learn more about nature, your neighbors and yourself.

Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.

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