Fly fishing

Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center founder Greg Hickman dies

Greg Hickman, an animal advocate who founded the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, has died.

Hickman, 72, died suddenly on May 15 while on a fly-fishing trip in Montana, according to Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center.

“He will be greatly missed,” said McGuire, who had known Hickman for more than 30 years. “He was doing what he loved to do – fly fishing was his favorite pastime. I knew he was found at home, and they assume it was a heart attack.

Hickman, who moved to Lake Elsinore a few years ago but was a longtime Newport-Mesa resident, was still chairman of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center board. He had been involved in this work for five decades.

A Vietnam War veteran who served as a PT boat captain for the U.S. Navy, Hickman received the first wildlife rehabilitation license in the state of California in 1972. He first operated in Anaheim as part of the Northern Orange County School District’s Regional Occupation Program. where he also taught.

His rehabilitation center was then known as the Alliance for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education, and operated there until the school district sold the site.

“They decided they should start licensing us, instead of people finding wildlife and doing it in their bathtubs,” McGuire said. “He was the very first, I think because the Alliance for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education started with ‘A.’ #2 was the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, probably because they were ‘L’. But it has to be #1.”

Later, in 1987, Hickman and veterinarian Joel Pasco opened a veterinary hospital in Costa Mesa called All Creatures Village. Some of the birds oiled in the 1990 American Trader oil spill off Huntington Beach were taken there.

AWRE and the new non-profit organization HBWC have forged a partnership to build a wildlife rehabilitation center using damage money collected from the American Trader oil spill. On March 31, 1998, Hickman opened the nonprofit Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center with help from the California Department of Fish and Game Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Southern California Edison, and others.

Since WWCC opened until the end of 2021, it has hosted nearly 80,000 wildlife. It costs an average of $125 per day to rehabilitate each animal.

Hickman was also a part-time RV salesman in his later years, McGuire said.

Hickman was divorced and survived by his son, Paul, McGuire said. His family is planning a memorial, but the date has not been announced.

“I offered to have a memorial at the Wildlife Center, but I think they wanted a little better setting,” McGuire said with a laugh. “I think Greg would have liked, though, to have a crossed pelican or something.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.