By Gwendolyn Craig
The future of Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Essex County is in question as its founders grapple with health concerns and a state order to re-home its animals.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the refuge has less than three months to transfer most, if not all, of its animals to other licensed facilities. Wendy Hall surrendered her remaining licenses and signed a stipulation requiring her to transfer remaining state-regulated wildlife from the refuge, following DEC’s notice of intent to revoke her licenses, according to the DEC. In a Facebook post on the refuge’s page Friday morning, her husband Steve Hall said Wendy was also diagnosed with cancer and the refuge would be temporarily closed.
“We have recently found out that Wendy, my wife and love of my life for 45 years, the mother or our children and co-founder of Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, is suffering from metastasizing cancer of pancreas and liver,” he wrote. “We are waiting for more cat scans and test results and are frankly quite scared. At the same time, most of our followers are aware we have had difficulties with the DEC over licensing, which our lawyers are still trying to work out.”
The post had more than 1,000 comments from followers, mostly of support and prayers. In a phone call Friday morning, Steve Hall said he would not comment on anything involving the DEC and referred back to his Facebook post.
The Halls and their wildlife refuge have been a staple tourist attraction in Wilmington, a town of about 775 people and home of Whiteface Mountain. Steve is often known as the “wolf man” and often writes for Adirondack Almanack about wildlife. But the refuge has also received criticism for its operations. The refuge’s mission is wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release, but past state investigations have found the Halls in violation of the releasing and rehabbing parts. Two resident bears have also escaped the refuge twice, most recently this summer.
In response to a request for information on any enforcement regarding the bear escapes, the DEC said it “has taken action against Wendy Hall to address years of non-compliance with prior state enforcement actions, as well as repeated and ongoing violations of state and federal laws, regulations, and license conditions that are in place to protect public safety, native wildlife, and the animals in a rehabilitator’s care.”
It is nearly the same statement DEC sent to Adirondack Explorer last year, after Wendy Hall was issued state and federal violations.
In its latest enforcement, the DEC told Wendy Hall they intended to revoke her last two licenses for possession and exhibition of regulated species. In mid-July there was supposed to be a revocation hearing, but DEC said Hall voluntarily surrendered her remaining licenses prior to it happening.
The state-regulated species she is required to transfer within 90 days of July 26 are two wolves; two American black bears; two coyotes; one red fox; one gray fox; one fisher; one North American porcupine; one bobcat; and one eastern box turtle.
Wendy Hall is the only person at the refuge who had licenses and was authorized to possess DEC-regulated species for exhibition purposes, the DEC said. Steve Hall does not have any of those licenses, nor does anyone else affiliated with the refuge, DEC said in a follow-up email. It is not clear about what could happen to a few federally regulated species that primarily involved some birds.
In Nov. 2019, Wendy Hall was denied a renewal for her rehabilitation permit and license after the DEC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued her a number of violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act that began around 2014.
Some of the issues, records show, include that the Halls were mingling educational birds that wouldn’t be released, with wild birds needing rehabilitation. At one point, more than a dozen of the birds intended for release were also on display to the public, which is against rehabilitation protocol because it can acclimate the birds to humans and make their release less successful. Wendy was also in violation for possessing eagles, which she did not report to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
In February 2020, Wendy Hall was looking for homes for about a dozen birds. She had acknowledged the violations but in an interview with Adirondack Explorer had said she had nothing to hide.
“There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved,” she had said during the February 2020 interview. “I have had problems with compliance because I’m emotional, and I get very wrapped up in the environment, in what’s happening to species as a result of climate change, and again, this is not part of bureaucracy.”