By Gwendolyn Craig
Cree howled. The sound stabbed through snow-laden pine branches, startling a raven or two.
Steve was here.
Steve Hall is used to getting announced when he pulls up in his truck to the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington. Hall is the friend and caretaker of Cree, a 14-year-old alpha male wolf
who knows the specific sound of Hall’s truck.
The howling continued as Hall walked into the refuge’s visitor center and settled on a couch
near his wife, Wendy. Smiles flashed across their faces as they looked out on the snowy
Adirondack scene, and a wolf trotted in front of the window with a carcass hanging from his
The smiles faded. While things may seem normal at the front part of their nonprofit education and wildlife rehabilitation center, they are not normal in the back. State and federal violations
have altered the operation, leading the Halls to move birds to other care providers, and to
employ another permitted rehabber.
A short walk through the woods leads to a little village of green enclosures. Some hold bald
eagles. Others hold a porcupine, a lynx, a fisher, and a few other animals. It’s quieter than
usual, though, with empty enclosure after empty enclosure.
“Oh my God, it makes me cry,” Wendy said. “I can’t even think about 16, 17 birds.”
Wendy had racked up a number of state and federal violations when it came to her work with
rehabilitating migratory birds. None of them involved harming the birds, but the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service and state Department of Environmental Conservation records show the issues
were persistent. They denied renewing her rehabilitation permit and license as of November
“The action was the culmination of 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,” a spokesperson for DEC wrote in an email.
“This is not a step we take lightly—which is why we’ve been working with Ms. Hall since 2014 to
remedy these ongoing compliance issues,” said Scott Johnston, acting chief of the USFWS’s
division of migratory birds, in a news release. “Unfortunately, we did not succeed in this case.”
Without a license and permit, both agencies also required Wendy to release or place most of
her birds, some of which she had worked with for 10, 20 and 30 years.
The initial shock was wearing off, but the pain for Wendy remained deep. The Halls were
moving full speed ahead, though. They have new rehabilitators to take the reins, and the community has rallied around them like never before.
“We’re very grateful,” Wendy said. “I think if you’re totally transparent—I’m full of violations,
but I’m hiding nothing, and I think if people believe in you, in this world where everybody lies, I
think it helps generate (support).”
‘You can’t get me in a box’
The violations started, more or less, in 2014. The USFWS and DEC noticed Wendy was housing some of her educational birds with birds that were supposed to be rehabbed and released into
the wild. Mingling or exposure to people could endanger them upon release.
Agency visits in 2017 and 2018 ramped up. USFWS checked on the Halls because someone had
called, concerned that Wendy possessed eagles she wasn’t permitted to have, records show.
She was found to be in possession of two bald eagles and a golden eagle for which she did not
Another federal agency visit showed that birds intended to be rehabbed and released were on
display to the public, and still housed with the educational birds.
DEC site visits last year revealed that Wendy had several birds in possession that were not reported to the state, including an immature bald eagle. Seventeen birds were on public display
without a DEC exhibition license. Thirteen of them were supposed to be rehabbed and
DEC records also show that a dog was running around the wildlife refuge, only separated from
the rehabbed animals, at times, by cage wire.
“These conditions all increase the stress of animals undergoing rehabilitative care and greatly
increase the risk of such animals becoming habituated to humans and domestic animals,
thereby decreasing their chance of being successfully rehabilitated and released back to their
natural environments,” a DEC report from 2019 reads.
The continued violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle
Protection Act, however, led to both state and federal agencies putting their feet down.
On Oct. 31, DEC filed its notice of intent to revoke Wendy’s state wildlife rehabilitator license.
On Nov. 5, Wendy’s application to renew her USFWS rehabilitation permit was also denied.
For the couple of animal lovers from the Bronx, who had moved up into the Adirondacks and
helped rehab animals before they knew permits were required, it was devastating. Wendy and
Steve said oftentimes they’re overwhelmed with birds coming to the refuge in need of care.
Wendy can lose track of reporting them.
As far as housing the birds, the Halls rely heavily on in-kind donations, and the enclosures are
expensive, they said. The ones they do have on their property were mostly built by volunteers
or contractors who charged them half of what they normally would.
“Folks don’t understand how expensive it gets,” Steve said.
Feeding the animals and birds is getting more expensive, too. Wendy said laboratories used to
donate their rats and mice to the refuge, but that has stopped. Now they spend between
$1,500 and $2,000 a month on food for their hairy, furry and feathery tenants.
“I am losing so many rehab friends because they can’t afford it,” Wendy continued. “It’s on us.
It’s our dime.”
The Halls are also grappling with climate change and habitat loss while rehabilitating animals.
The changes Wendy sees in the seasons are throwing off when babies are born, and when she
feels comfortable releasing some of these rehabbed birds into the wild.
“There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved,” Wendy said about working with the agencies. “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.”
“You can’t get me in a box,” Wendy added, “but you can’t get them out.”
Like your everyday person may be bonded to his or her dog or cat, Wendy is bonded to her
While she is still able to keep the bald eagles as part of her educational license, Wendy must
place more than a dozen of her birds, including her snowy owls. On a wintry day in February,
she had placed all but about four birds.
“I am fulfilling their wishes,” she said of the DEC and USFWS.
There is a rehabilitator website that Wendy has posted to, advertising the birds she is forced to
give up. The snowy owl was easy to place, she said.
“Aside from that, it’s difficult to place certain ones where people have a lot of them, like red-tailed hawk, broad-winged hawk, and other different species. The little owls will be placed
immediately, and they are,” Wendy said.
The worst is when someone says they’re interested in a bird, but then changes their mind and
Wendy has to search for a home all over again.
“She’s driving all over the country,” Steve said.
“Utah, to Pennsylvania, to everywhere,” Wendy said. “I’m going back to Virginia in a couple of
days because I refuse to put the birds on a plane because they’re so old. My birds are old now.
They’re at least 10, and I stop, and I let them out, and I let them extend their wings, and I’ll give
them something on the trip,” she said, gesturing as if to feed a bird.
Part of the community
Steve is dumbfounded by why the state and federal agencies have required Wendy to give up
her birds, especially when they have a new rehabilitator waiting in the wings.
“Who does that really hurt?” he asked about placing the birds elsewhere. “It hurts the children
in the Adirondacks. It hurts the businesses. It hurts the people who come visit.”
And the wildlife refuge does get many visitors. Steve estimated 50,000 people walk through the
property each year. Even in a February snowstorm a family from New Jersey walked around the
property, showing their children the wolves.
The Halls often work with area colleges in the Adirondacks and Vermont. Public schools hold
field trips at the refuge, the Halls come to them for presentations, and the Halls run educational
programs at the DEC’s campgrounds.
Wilmington Supervisor Roy Holzer said the refuge is “a vital part of our community.”
“I can tell you thousands of people who come to our region make a stop at the wildlife refuge,”
Holzer said. “I think one thing positive that they’ve done there, they’ve brought a lot of college
students into the area to develop an appreciation of the Adirondacks and our Adirondack
wildlife in this region.”
Steve continues to work with his wolves and bears, among the other animals at the refuge.
Wendy will continue to run educational programs with her bald eagles. She has three at the
While still getting permissions for this, Wendy hopes to add a golden eagle to her programming.
A rehabber friend in Utah is nursing one back to health after it was hit by a car. Unfortunately
this happens to a number of golden eagles out west, Wendy said, and wildlife rehabilitators are
running out of room. Wendy hopes she can offer this one a home, if it survives.
The couple have a wildlife rehabilitator who will take on Wendy’s former role. One of their sons
is also a veterinary cardiologist, and may play a larger role at the refuge going forward.
“I’m almost 70,” Wendy said. “I’m passing the torch to a person who is at least as good as I am.”
While unable to rehab birds, Wendy also continues her volunteer work on an animal hotline.
From 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day, every other week, she takes calls from the public with
questions about animals. That includes working with many emergency dispatchers, police
officers, environmental conservation officers and rangers, all whom may need help or advice
after a deer is hit by a car, or some other animal-related incident.
During the first few months of the year, without someone on staff permitted to rehab
migratory birds, the refuge got hundreds of calls it wasn’t allowed to respond to. But that
doesn’t stop Wendy from helping.
“We’re not going to stop doing what we’re doing, but I am going to be compliant,” she said.
“And if it’s a matter of people calling me, and then I have to hunt for another rehabilitator, so