North Island wildlife lost a guardian Wednesday, and the Comox Valley lost a friend, when Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) founder Maj Birch succumbed to cancer.
Birch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Oct. 6, her 66th birthday.
“She was diagnosed just over six weeks ago, and the disease just progressed really quickly,” said Pearl McKenzie, vice-president of MARS.
The death came as a shock to many, as Birch remained true to the MARS campaign throughout her short battle with the disease.
As recently as two weeks ago, she was campaigning the local government councils for money to go towards the new hospital and a flight pen to help eagles and other wildlife recover.
“Maj and I were making delegations to the local governments,” said McKenzie. “She was very committed to helping us raise money for our new wildlife hospital and visitors’ centre. She was very excited about both of them.
“She had a number of ideas about the education centre, about how to get kids involved and get them out looking at all the little critters in our waters and on our land.”
“She knew, when we were making those presentations, about the diagnosis, but she was hoping for more time. It’s important to say this, she accepted it. She wasn’t afraid. She felt she lived a very good life.”
Birch began rehabbing animals in 1987 in northern B.C., and after certification in International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council basic skills, she moved to the Comox Valley with her husband Keith. Maj established the wildlife centre in 1995 on their three acres of property, gaining permits from Canadian Wildlife Service for migratory birds and permits for raptors and mammals from the BC Ministry of Environment. She completed the exam and MARS became a designated wildlife facility in 1996.
McKenzie said that while replacing Birch will be impossible, the MARS mission will be upheld.
“Maj was planning on retiring, so she had been, over the past period of time, transferring a lot of her responsibilities to the rest of us,” said McKenzie. “We are a very strong organization. We have hundreds of volunteers, and the core volunteers are just very dynamic, skilled people. So we will take her work forward.”
A Celebration of Maj’s life is being held today at 2 p.m. in the Upper Hall of the Florence Filberg Centre, 411 Anderton, Courtenay. In lieu of flowers, donation to MARS is suggested, www.wingtips.org, to build a new wildlife centre.