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CARTERVILLE – Sprucing up the yard for spring sometimes involves removing what has died to make room for new life.

But Beverly Shofstall, owner of Free Again Wildlife Rehabilitation Center north of Carterville, encourages people to first think about the animals that might be living inside a dead tree before cutting it down.

Ironically, dead trees provide natural places for baby squirrels and various species of birds to bring forth new life, and tree-trimming in the spring often forces those squirrels and birds out of their nests.

More than 35 baby squirrels and several baby barred owls have been rescued and brought to Free Again already this year, and Shofstall expects more to come her way before the spring baby season is over.

“It’s a hollow tree thing,” Shoftstall said. “Everyone wants their yard to be perfect, so they see a tree that’s dying and they call someone to cut it down and, of course, you can’t blame the tree trimmers.”

Shofstall said if a tree needs to be trimmed to keep it from blowing over, the top and some of its branches can be taken off in the spring. The rest of the tree can then be taken down in mid-summer or mid-winter after the spring and fall baby seasons.

If squirrels are knocked out of a nest, Shofstall said the rescuer should provide the mother an opportunity to retrieve her baby.

“About 50 percent of the time, the mommas will come and retrieve them if they’re given the opportunity,” Shofstall said.

If the mother doesn’t come back in a couple hours, she recommends bringing the babies to Free Again.

“If they are not brand new pinkies – if they’ve got a week or two – we can usually save them,” Shofstall said.

Tree trimmers with Most Affordable Tree Service in West Frankfort have rescued squirrels and owls, driving them more than 30 miles to Free Again.

“I see it as bad luck to tear a creature out of its home and not do my best to give it another home,” a tree trimmer with Most Affordable Tree Service said. “I’m just glad that place is there because what would I do with squirrels that come out of the trees?”

Free Again’s mission is to raise the squirrels until they are mature enough to live in the wild on their own. The center avoids treating its animals as pets to ensure they are wild enough to survive in their natural habitat.

It takes more than $30,000 for the center to care for more than 600 animals a year. The center is funded by donations and educational wildlife programs hosted by Shoftstall.

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Chris Hottensen is the entertainment and features reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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