False statements about bear escapes, a stray bobcat, euthanized eagle among violations investigated
By Gwendolyn Craig
A missing bobcat, undisclosed birds and a cover-up of failures in a black bear enclosure are among reasons state officials moved to pull a wildlife refuge operator’s licenses and deny the applications of her successors, new records obtained by the Adirondack Explorer show.
Wendy Hall, co-owner along with her husband, Stephen Hall, of Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, surrendered her remaining state wildlife licenses this summer after the Department of Environmental Conservation said it would revoke them. Wendy Hall was the sole license holder at the refuge.
On Aug. 31, the DEC denied the license applications of two employees listed as Hall’s designated agents, Hanna Cromie and Donald Tourtellot. Cromie, the general manager of the refuge, was “directly implicated in many of the violations and other unlawful conduct,” the department wrote. Tourtellot also worked at the refuge during the time of many of the violations, the DEC said.
In testimony submitted to the DEC, Cromie and Tourtellot admitted to deceiving regulators about how two black bears escaped their enclosure in 2019, records show.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Cromie declined to comment, but requested the Adirondack Explorer email questions. Cromie did not respond. The Explorer could not find contact information for Tourtellot.
With no one licensed at the AWR now, staff and the Nature Walks Conservation Society — a nonprofit connected to the refuge — are finding new homes for about a dozen state-regulated animals. The refuge’s social media posts show about half of the remaining animals have been relocated. DEC records show all the animals have found placements. AWR is closed to the public.
Stephen Hall said two other people, who were not working at the refuge during the time of the violations, have applied for licenses.
“The Wildlife Refuge is not going anywhere,” Stephen Hall wrote in an email on Wednesday.
Years of violations
Since 2015, DEC regulators have tried to bring Wendy Hall and her team into compliance. A July 29, 2020 email from the head of the DEC’s special licenses unit, Joseph Therrien, indicated the department had run out of patience and was considering the fate of the entire facility.
At that time, the department was investigating what happened to a bobcat named Yayo. A whistleblower had reported the educational animal had escaped, while Stephen and Wendy Hall had claimed it had died.
Therrien wrote to DEC colleagues then that the alleged escape of the bobcat, should it prove true, would add to a growing list of other animal escapes including that of wolves and two bears. Complaints had been filed against the refuge, too, about staff walking wolves and a lynx on leashes on public roads. A red fox bit a child, Therrien wrote.
“All of these animals are defined as animals dangerous to the health and welfare of the public,” Therrien wrote. “We may find that we soon have no other option then to proceed with revocation of Ms. Hall’s exhibition licenses and the removal of all licensed animals from the facility.”
Among records sought by the Explorer, one batch from the DEC details the March 2019 escape of two bears, Ahote and Luvey.
Wendy Hall and husband Stephen Hall testified in a written DEC deposition that the bears had escaped by toppling a tree. An employee, Chris Mattern, testified the same.
Cromie and Tourtellot gave the DEC investigators a different story.
The morning of March 29, 2019, Cromie discovered the bears were missing, she wrote in a DEC deposition. She and Tourtellot spent the day looking for them. When Cromie came back to the refuge on March 30, 2019, Cromie said Stephen Hall wanted to meet “and figure out what our story was going to be.”
Stephen Hall told Tourtellot and other staff to repair part of the bear enclosure, Tourtellot wrote in his deposition.
“Steve decided he wanted to pull one of the trees over to make it look like that was how the bears got out of the enclosure,” Cromie said. “Chris (Mattern) and I were not happy with this, but it was clear that Steve was not going to let us go back out til we took care of the tree first.”
Cromie and Tourtellot said they used a ratchet strap lassoed around the tree to pull it down and break it. Cromie said Stephen Hall approved the look of the broken tree before the team returned to looking for the bears.
“I regret that I didn’t call the DEC from the get go,” Cromie said.
In an email on April 3, 2019 to DEC staff, Stephen Hall said he wanted “to amend my statement with one detail, which was inaccurate.” Stephen Hall wrote paragraphs about Chris Mattern’s role as bear specialist in charge of the enclosure. Stephen Hall said he had made his own fixes to “vulnerabilities” in the enclosure and that Mattern was no longer working at the refuge.
“Wendy and I basically panicked, as the ambassador bears are a huge part of our education, and therefore money raising programs, and we feared that the DEC would hold us responsible, and not allow us to keep bears, even if we got our two bears back,” Stephen Hall wrote. “I suggested we try to make it look as though an act of god caused this, and Chris (Mattern) suggested the bent tree solution. I realize in retrospect that it was unfair to have team members be put in a position where they’d have to sign statements which might contain falsehood(s). In fact, it didn’t occur to me that we’d be signing statements at all, figuring the focus would be on getting the bears back.”
The Explorer reached out to Mattern Tuesday morning, but did not receive a reply.
In an email on Wednesday to the Explorer, Stephen Hall wrote, “Did we ever lie to the DEC? Yes, and their constant bullying tactics make this an almost unavoidable tactic.” Stephen Hall said the bent tree plan was his own idea and meant “to save the job of the young man in charge of the bears.”
Birds, an unaccounted eagle and more violations
At an inspection on April 5, 2019, state and federal investigators found 20 animals, including birds, on display in cages without the proper licenses. The state issued a notice of violation to Wendy Hall, which required her to transfer, release or euthanize the animals.
While the Halls appeared to comply with the order, they racked up new violations by taking on more animals and birds without licenses, DEC reports show.
At another inspection in October 2019, reports show Wendy Hall was housing a black vulture but did not disclose that to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or DEC. Hall told officers she had forgotten about it. Investigators asked Wendy Hall if there were any animals inside an enclosed building on the refuge. Wendy Hall told them no. They asked her to open the building. When she did, they saw a juvenile bald eagle inside. Wendy Hall said she didn’t know about the eagle, the report read, but “it was discovered that the eagle had already been fed by staff twice earlier in the week and was due for another feeding that afternoon.”
In November 2019, USFWS revoked Wendy Hall’s migratory bird licenses for numerous federal violations, including housing birds meant for rehabilitation and release with educational birds. The federal agency declined an Explorer request for records about its inquiry into the refuge, saying any documents generated represent “a law enforcement record for a pending or prospective investigation and releasing it could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”
In January 2020, DEC and USFWS conducted another inspection and found Wendy Hall to be in possession of nearly two dozen birds without proper state and federal permits. At the end of January, USFWS denied Wendy Hall’s request for reconsideration of her bird licenses.
At the end of February, a former refuge volunteer, Melissa Sheeley, contacted USFWS. Sheeley said during one of the inspections in 2019, she feared Wendy Hall had not brought officials across the street where another bald eagle was housed. After searching public records, Sheeley discovered Wendy Hall had reported only one of two bald eagles in her possession to the federal agency.
“I don’t want to be associated with her negligent actions,” Sheeley wrote in an email to USFWS.
Sheeley also signed a statement alleging the refuge would change animals’ names to avoid paperwork and avoid turning over animals to other rehabilitators.
Special Agent Ryan Bessey with the USFWS’s law enforcement, emailed Therrien and others that he spoke with Sheeley at the beginning of March 2020 and learned of the death of an eagle at the refuge dating to November 2019. He wrote: “Wendy (with convincing from her husband, Steve) had a bald eagle euthanized by a vet and buried ‘hidden on the property.’ The same eagle had been moved across the street approximately one week before the fall inspection and was euthanized approximately two weeks after the inspection.”
Officers later inspected the refuge and dug up the eagle’s remains, records show.
In an email dated Nov. 26, 2020 to the DEC, Wendy Hall said the buried eagle was “a careless mistake, not a true criminal violation.”
Connor Schmitz, a former refuge employee, told the department in a deposition earlier this year that he believed an injured bald eagle was euthanized and buried “to keep the undocumented eagle quiet from the DEC.”
In an email to Therrien, Schmitz accused Cromie and Alex Hall of improper handling of two coyotes. Alex Hall, the son of Stephen and Wendy Hall, is listed as a general manager, animal handler and groundskeeper at AWR. Schmitz also provided the DEC with video footage of Cromie planning to make a false statement to regulators that a peregrine falcon in her care had died overnight. That video was also supplied to the Explorer in response to the news organization’s records request.
“I don’t mean to make this personal, but these people are not fit to care for these animals,” Schmitz wrote.
Alex Hall did not return the Explorer’s phone call requesting comment. Reached by email, Sheeley and Schmitz declined to comment.
Records show Schmitz had also provided a letter to the board of Adirondack Wildlife Inc., the nonprofit that the Halls started, outlining his concerns on how the Halls and Cromie were running the refuge. The nonprofit board has since split with the refuge.
Samantha Pope, who is identified as the board’s president in 2020 financial records, said “We don’t have a relationship with the Halls at this time.” Pope did not respond to additional calls and emails requesting comment.
At the end of July 2020, Sheeley and Schmitz also contacted DEC about the stray bobcat Yayo. Maxwell Nicols, an environmental conservation officer, wrote a report about his investigation. Nicols spoke with Sheeley. The Halls had told her the bobcat had escaped. She had seen a live animal trap set outside the enclosure.
Nicols interviewed Stephen Hall, who told him Yayo had died and been buried.
Stephen Hall, in an interview with the Explorer this month and in past testimony provided to the DEC, attacked the credibility of Sheeley and Schmitz, pointing to a vehicle accident he said Schmitz was involved in with the refuge’s truck. He did not deny to the Explorer that the bobcat had escaped and that he had made a false statement to regulators.
What happened to Yayo? The DEC does not know.
Stephen Hall, who has written some pieces for the Explorer’s sister site the Adirondack Almanack, told the Explorer that Wendy Hall thought she found its remains, but he believed the fur she found was from a deer.
“Again, what does this have to do with what is good for the citizens and students of New York?” Stephen Hall said in an email. “They will always steer you back to Wendy, who is already out of the picture. Ask your DEC contacts whether education and the economy are important to New Yorkers.”
Wendy Hall, in a May 3, 2021 letter to DEC, said Sheeley and Schmitz had set her up so that they could seize control of the refuge.
“While much of this is accurate, there are plenty of inaccuracies,” Wendy Hall wrote about her former employees’ reports. “Much of this goes back many years, and I have since totally retired, leaving the refuge in totally capable hands. … Connor and Melissa had an agenda, and while Connor was an excellent worker, his behavior was totally nefarious.”
In a letter to Commissioner Basil Seggos on May 10, Stephen Hall wrote that he and Wendy Hall admitted to most of the DEC violations.
“There are some inaccuracies in the claims, some seriously manipulated information from disgruntled former employees,” he wrote. “Wendy is guilty of having an enormous heart in her desire to rescue every suffering animal she can, while not following through with the proper paperwork to document such rescues.”
Stephen Hall particularly highlighted a DEC violation involving a bear improperly tagged. He believed that was the DEC’s fault. He did not contest violations concerning the escapes and false statements; instead he has stressed that the AWR’s place in the community as an educational and economic hub should mean more to the DEC than their violations.
Stephen Hall said Wendy Hall is suffering from cancer and is no longer involved with the AWR. They still live on the property. Wendy Hall recorded a statement posted on YouTube, calling on the DEC to allow Cromie and Alex Hall to run the refuge. She called it “unfair” that the two were being branded with her violations.
On Aug. 30, Cromie emailed Therrien updating him on how the transfer of the refuge’s animals was going. She inquired on her own state license applications.
“In all seriousness, this transfer would be in the best interest of the animals being discussed–our top priority,” Cromie wrote.
On Aug. 31, the DEC issued Cromie a denial letter. Therrien said the Halls were still heavily involved with the refuge based on the fact that they reside on the 50-acre complex, and from DEC’s observations during a July 30 inspection. At that inspection, Stephen Hall was found giving an illegal educational presentation with animals under Wendy Hall’s surrendered licenses. Therrien outlined 10 instances of Cromie’s alleged involvement in violations, including making false statements. He also included how the two black bears had escaped a second time in 2021.
“Denial of your license applications is necessary to prevent further violations at AWR and to protect the health and welfare of the public and native wildlife in New York State,” Therrien wrote.
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Vanessa B says
Ouch. That’s a lot of good reporting and I’m not for a minute going to deny Gwen a hec of a scoop. I’m still not sure I personally would have been comfortable with all of this, but I am not a journalist. Nor am I remotely interested in “blaming the media” here.
I guess I am still not convinced that the balance of power in this situation is even. I really believe the Halls when they’ve said numerous times that their intentions have been good and concerned with animal welfare.
Government at all levels should help people. Once you get into a zone of zealous enforcement, imo it is always, always the responsibility of government to strongly justify why they are choosing to enforce harshly. I think for sure there’s a lot here that could be used as a justification for why enforcement was necessary. But I personally am still not quite feeling that public safety was at any point severely endangered by the Halls. There’s also a lot of “he said she said” here in terms of the reporting of violations.
My caution here? In my experience, enforcement is quite, quite often used to bully and unfairly disenfranchise people in society. We’re damn lucky all parties in this situation are white! (To give an unrelated example that’s maybe gonna get me some flippant replies, lol.)
I’m just not able eliminate over-enforcement as a possibility in this situation. Did the Halls do some illegal stuff? Yeah it seems like it. But are they a menace to the Adirondacks, as the DEC claims here? Come on, folks.
I don’t ever want to do the legwork for bad government – I just want to uphold and support good public servants, who are people that really do consider *everyone’s* welfare, *including* that of our non-human friends.
Stephen Hall says
Gwendolyn emailed me this morning at 11:30, asking me to comment on the fact that they would be publishing this article, which they did about three hours later. I sent her a lengthy response, out of which she quoted about two lines:
“Please don’t cherry pick my comments. Use them all.
Our basic complaint is that the DEC refuses to acknowledge factors which would point to a solution which benefits the public, which the DEC is supposed to serve, as well as the education community, as all colleges and schools within 100 miles of the Wildlife Refuge, send their classes and students to the Refuge. It’s almost as though the DEC employees involved in this decision have never had a job in the real world. They’re always determined to fix the blame, rather than provide a solution.
Since Wendy was the person licensed by the DEC, she had been the main regulatory interface to the DEC. This is probably my fault. While I am more computer and PDF savvy than Wendy, I tend to be wrapped up in my writing and educating. If you’ve been to the Refuge, you’ve probably seen me lecturing on wolves, bears and moose. I’ve written many articles, see https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/author/shall, and I’m currently working on my 4th book, three of them about Adirondack critters, see http://www.adirondackwildlife.org. I do a lot of travel to Alaska, Western Canada, Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Foundland and Yellowstone, where I observe and get inspired. The last thing I wanted was to be a clerk.
We never denied that Wendy was guilty of the violations, although some of them are confusing and others ridiculous, such as the bear ear tags, which I addressed in my comments to your last article. We didn’t put the ear tags on the bears. The DEC did, but bears play rough, and one of the tags was torn out. You require special equipment to affix the tags, and you can not attempt this without knocking the bear out, a practice we frown on, as anesthetizing can be dangerous to the animal, particularly when you are guessing at their weight. We’re also not permitted to have the drugs on hand, so we are mystified how this represents a violation. At no time did the DEC email or call us to request another go at attaching an ear tag.
Also the mingling of creatures in rehab with ambassador educational animals was addressed in a comment: “An animal at the Refuge is not classified by Wendy or the DEC, but by attending veterinarians, who decide whether the animal can be released back into the wild or classified as non-releasable. As usual, the devil is in the details.
Take Barred Owls ( see https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2021/04/barred-owl.html), probably the most successful owl in the country when measured by range and numbers, and who are often struck by cars while diving at or mantling over prey. Let’s further say a barred owl’s wing is broken in such a way, it cannot be repaired, and will have to become an ambassador or educational animal… somewhere. One solution is the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council or IWRC, which among other valuable services, connects rehabbers who wish to adopt out non-releasable critters to other educational facilities that want to accept an animal or trade another critter. Problem is, it’s very tough to place barred owls, because almost all educators already have too many.
Since both the DEC and wildlife regulatory bodies from other states must approve all moves, a very cumbersome and tax consuming process to put it mildly, veterinarians do not reclassify the barred owl as non-releasable until the arrangement is struck. In other words, if we have a barred owl in an enclosure that we know will never be able to live in the wild again, but has not been reclassified as non-releasable, and a visitor is able to reach that enclosure, we have violated the regulation even though all parties know that Wendy did not violate the spirit of the regulation, which is that releasable animals should not be displayed to the public, because you want releasable animals to be afraid of people, as they’ll live a longer life when they’re returned to the wild.
The DEC cites two “credible” witnesses to Wendy’s violations, disgruntled former employees, one of whom, Connor Schmitz, was fired for causing an accident through reckless driving, an act witnessed by three people, including myself, and who then basically refused to take any responsibility. Instead, within weeks of being fired, he sought revenge and became a “whistleblower” This is a kid I mentored for years, and was responsible for him joining the Peace Corps. I was the one who spoke to the Peace Corp officials to recommend him. All of this occurred in front of witnesses.
The second witness was his girlfriend, Melissa Sheeley, who tried to take revenge by reporting the Refuge to the Better Business Bureau, apparently unaware that the Bureau contacts targets of bad reviews for response. When we gave evidence of the lies and distortions in the review, the BBB declined to publish it. In a real civil Court of Law, such witnesses would be discredited because of the timing of their reports and the obvious alternative motives involved.
Meanwhile, we have invested over $200,000 in the last year to fix all violations cited in the DEC complaint. All mammal enclosures have been rebuilt, and the USDA, which licenses us for “Dangerous Animals”, as well as the DEC, insisted that all smaller education facilities like the Wildlife Refuge, build a perimeter fence to enclose all the mammal enclosures.
This means that even if an animal figures out a way to break out of his enclosure, each of which now features ZAA (Zoo Association of America) design standards, there is no longer any way for the critter to leave the grounds, or for trespassers or wildlife to find their way through the perimeter fence to the animal enclosures. Unimpressed, the DEC went ahead and rescinded Wendy’s Collect and Possess license. They knew we were borrowing money to build the perimeter fence, and they knew there was no way they would let the Refuge remain open. Should a regulator take violations personally and behave in a mean-spirited and vengeful manner?
Again, who does this help? Before we moved to the Adirondacks, I ran the Executive briefing Center for a large communications company in Manhattan next to Rockefeller Center…. A lot of public speaking, interaction with major clients and much international travel.
What I love about private enterprise is that it is competitive. If you do not provide your customers with good support, they go to your competitors. When a problem develops, you focus on fixing the problem, not the blame. This usually involves some sort of negotiation involving an improvement in the support process or product. All interested parties are brought to agreement through a compromise in which all parties get something important, as a means of improving, emphasizing the positive aspects of the process, not ending the process, but moving forward.
What is the value of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge to the citizens of New York State? For starters, 50,000 people visit the Refuge every year. To most Chambers of Commerce and Visitor Bureaus, that means more hotel and motel rooms, and more seats in restaurants. No one doubts that we are valuable to the local economies, and our reviews on Trip Advisor and other rating systems bear this out. More importantly, every school and college within 100 miles of the Refuge, routinely sends their students to the Refuge, so these professors and teachers obviously see value in exposing their students to our education program. During this process, the DEC has never discussed or even acknowledged any values to the citizenry beyond their rules and regulations.
Did we ever lie to the DEC? Yes, and their constant bullying tactics make this an almost unavoidable tactic. After the first bear escape, in an attempt to save the job of the young man, Chris Mattern, in charge of the bears, I suggested that we tell the DEC that the bears bent over a sapling and climbed out. The employees had nothing to do with Wendy’s violations, which never had anything to do with the care of the animals, and were certainly not intended to hurt the public or the students that we serve. Every rehabber we know is terrified of the DEC.
Wendy is dying, and I’ll be 74 in October. I’m looking to retire and spend more time writing and caring for the love of my life through home hospice. The DEC has many fine employees, and we’ve been friends with many, from the rangers we need more of in the high Peaks areas, to field workers in Region 5. The DEC bureaucrats in Albany, on the other hand, appear to have developed a vendetta against Wendy and I, in her case because of the violations, and me because I never hesitate to tell the regulators exactly what I believe, a strategy that works well in private enterprise, not so well with government bureaucrats whose actions are not generally understood or followed by the citizenry they are supposed to serve.
Wendy and I are already out of the picture, and the Wildlife Refuge has a great new team including vets and rehabbers who are ready and able to take over. We have requested that the Collect and Possess license be awarded to Kevin and Jackie Woodcock, owners of SkyLyfeADK, experts on bees and butterflies, as well as very learned naturalists and teachers. Jackie is a frequent contributor to the Almanack, see https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/author/jwoodcock. Kevin is a skilled craftsman who designs, and with Jackie rebuilds enclosures for our mammals and birds of prey, according to ZAA standards.
They did not start working for the Refuge until the violations Wendy was charged with had already occurred, so there is no reason to taint them with the same brush. Wendy and I are reduced to landlords, since we own the property the Refuge is situated on, and the physical Refuge would be leased from us, and managed by Nature Walks Conservation Society, a certified 501c3 organization with their own team of producers, writers and scientists.
The DEC has been sitting on Kevin and Jackie’s application for a month. When we called to check on the status of the app, we were told they hadn’t received it, and when we cited the dated return registered noticed from the post office, the person we spoke to asked us not to tell anyone about the phone call.
Unfortunately, the head of Special Licenses for the DEC seems determined to ignore all the good the Refuge does for tourism and education. With Wendy and I out of the picture, all the head of Special Licenses needed to do to allow the Refuge to remain open, and allow citizens, tourists and students to continue benefiting from the ongoing education the Refuge provides, was to approve the Woodcocks as the new Collect and Possess License, something he could accomplish with the stroke of a pen today. As things stand today, we have rehomed all animals except the bears, coyotes and wolves, all of whom have designated new homes, so this whole process has become a moot point.
The Wildlife Refuge is not going anywhere. This is still a free country with freedom of speech. We will simply change our format, and educate on other topics, such as the collapse of insects, which are the base of the food change, on the real evidence behind climate change, which you don’t learn about during the constant shouting in media between left and right, and what that means for your children and grand children. Another interesting topic is livestock, how it is treated and where the animals we consume and exploit under horrendous conditions came from.
Most folks know that the wolf was the earliest domesticated animal, even though it appears they had as much to do with becoming man’s best friend as we did. Did you know that all cattle and cows are descended from an incredibly dangerous ungulate called an aurochs? Why are homo sapiens the last human being on earth?
What are the chances that there are other advanced civilizations in the universe, and what could that mean? We have many interests beyond the mammals and raptors of the Adirondacks, and the minute the wolves, bears and coyotes are gone, we will no longer be under the thumb of the DEC, and will be free to use the USDA license we’ve had for twenty years, to explore these other subjects. Steve Hall”
Stephen Hall says
Gwen emailed me at 11:30, told me the Explorer would be publishing this article, without showing me the article, and asked for comment. I emailed a lengthy comment to Gwen, and she used maybe two lines. I then tried to post my response, but it looks as though the Explorer is not going to let you see what I had to say, which is a shame, as it would fill in many of the gaps.
william c hill says
I think we’ve all heard what you have been saying all along- and it doesn’t add up. I feel this is the first objective reporting on the subject that the Explorer has offered, and it’s long overdue. Using the Explorer recently as your pawn to pull on people’s heartstrings never settled well with me, and I doubt I’m the only one to feel that way. I hope to see more of this sort of unbiased reporting at the Explorer, and kudos to Gwen.
Sarah M. says
I agree. Enough is enough. It’s the adding of additional animals to that facility when they were under multiple violations and the repeated dishonesty and repeated escapes. The Halls are lucky that no one was seriously injured or killed. They could have faced homicide charges. This reminds me of the Death of Diane Whipple. Those owners were warned again and again about their handling of their animals.
Furthermore, this article IS unbiased. Such a report is overdue. It simply states facts from record requests and interviews with involved parties. This guy is going off the rails. It’s quite disheartening. His own board parted ways with him.
Stephen Hall says
So now we’re potential murderers? Sarah’s blind hatred for us has taken her over the edge. She was here for about 5 minutes many years ago, and her judgements get crazier by the minute. She referred to us in another post as “bad people”, someone who doesn’t even know us.
Let me help you out. I was a Marine squad leader in Vietnam in ’68. I worked with disadvantaged and juvenile delinquent boys for years. While living up here, we adopted a fresh air fund child, who had spent Summers with us for years, and our work with him and local kids drew praise from Lake Placid School Superintendent Roger Catania. Go ahead, ask him. Wendy is a perpetual volunteer, head of our volunteer ambulance when we lived downstate. She’s a member of North Country Wild Care, and has helped handle their 24 hot line for at least 15 years. What have you done for our country Sarah?
For those who don’t recall, Diane Whipple was the lacrosse coach who was mauled to death in San Francisco years ago by two dogs bred for fighting. This is the absurd analogy Sarah uses for our bears.
Here are the facts: over 30 Americans are killed each year by dogs. There are about 8,000 black bears in NY State, a quarter of which are killed by hunters every year. Black Bears have killed exactly one New Yorker in the last 150 years. I have personally encountered hundreds of black bears in the wild, and about sixty grizzlies, and I’m still here. It’s all about education, and knowing what to do when you encounter a bear. Does it make sense to close the one education center in the Adirondacks, where visitors can not only see black bears up close, what their roles in nature are, but to learn how to react in bear encounters?
As for the bear enclosure, notice how folks like Sarah define their terms, and dismiss any counter claims? In point of fact, the bear enclosure is twice the size recommended by standards bodies, has a cozy den, and many trees to climb in their enclosure. Go to our web page, http://www.AdirondackWildlife.org, where you’ll find many photos of our bears, as well as wild bears, and a great deal of information about bears generally. This is all a moot point, as our bears are being transferred to another education center, thanks largely to the hysteria drummed up by bureaucrats and folks like Sarah.
Joe Therrien of Special Licenses inspected the bear enclosure, as well as all the newly rebuilt mammal enclosures, and the perimeter fence which encloses all the enclosures, making the Refuge escape proof, to the tune of $200,000, most of which was borrowed from the bank. He also ignored the fact that we added an electric fence to the bear enclosure, such that the bears, who like ALL bears, consider escaping a challenge and a great deal of fun, don’t dare approach the fence. This is why when we located the escaped bears, they followed us home like dogs, one of them for 4 miles.
Were there errors in building the bear enclosure? Obviously, but why did Therrien decline to respond when we emailed him asking to provide bear enclosure standards? We have streams of emails, which show that while the DEC is always anxious to fix the blame, they are not so helpful when we’re trying get information from them. I challenge him to do another inspection, this time with media present. Don’t hold your breath.
Sarah M says
@stephen hall… you could be. I think you’re very lucky you escaped liability for injuring or killing someone. The fact that you see no issue with the mismanagement that allowed the escapes demonstrates why you should not be and no longer are responsible for these animals. Just because you cuddle with the bears and kiss them on the nose for photos while they’re on leashes does not mean you can accurately predict how they will behave if frightened or alarmed or surprised. I quite frankly shocked at how adamant you are that you’re in the right here. What’s next, a lion running down main street or a panther on the loose? They are wild animals. They can be unpredictable, just like dogs. Bears have killed people, and even if they don’t physically attack someone, they could cause an accident on the road or on someone’s property that you in your almighty opinion just can’t predict. I get it, you think you are superior and smarter than everyone, but just because you think so doesn’t make it true. And I can tell you, if my family was injured as a result of any kind of accident due to an animal in your care, I would sue you and the state without hesitation. I think your lack of remorse or acknowledgment of the danger is precisely why your family is being stripped of all of its licenses. I see plenty of similarities between you and that case. The report even says one of your foxes bit someone. I love animals, so I don’t think bears are inherently dangerous, but I don’t think captive bears should be running around Wilmington. Your problem is your inability to even fathom alternative viewpoints, reflected in you describing me as hateful. I am not hateful, only sufficiently disgusted by this whole saga. This grand scheme to turn a gullible public in your favor when there is evidence of significant failures at your facility. Animals and rehab facilities have a hard enough time as it is without people who are operating a zoo disguised as a rehab facility calling it education and giving all other rehabbers a bad name. And quite frankly, I don’t need to hear about all of your “accomplishments.” I would never bother telling you about my accomplishments and my family’s accomplishments because it is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Word for the wise: no one cares how great you think you are. People care about the evidence of this situation and what has been done to those animals. All of your logical reasoning is heavily dependent on straw man arguments and logical fallacies. You just don’t want to address the real issues, which is why you keep talking about anything or everything but the deception, lying, and violations. I also notice a pattern with you that all of your detractors are just no-goods. From your own board to your whistleblowing staff to the regulators, all just people with character flaws and agendas to get you. Maybe true turning that mirror in your direction and taking a good long look.
Sarah M. says
reporters don’t show their articles to people beforehand. that would be ridiculous and would eliminate biased reporting. they’re not writing an article for your benefit. They are there to shine light on the truth for the public, wherever that truth might lie, even if it means revealing some hard to swallow facts about people who are well liked by people in the area. Your response doesn’t fill in any gaps. It is a lot of excuses, instead of just taking responsibility. Trying to undermine whistleblowers is also in really poor taste. You better be careful too, because whistleblower laws are strict, for the very reason that people don’t get publicly defamed or have their names dragged through the mud by larger, more powerful people and enterprises. If I were them, I would be contacting an attorney right now based on your comments.
Stephen Hall says
No, Sarah, my logical reasoning is based on facts backed up by actual events, emails and statistics. Your reasoning is based on fabricating, exaggerating and fantasizing, which is why you bring up attack dogs, lions and panthers. None of Wendy’s violations were based on mistreatment of animals. You show how little you actually know about wildlife by suggesting the bears were on leashes. For starters, the only way you could put a leash on a bear is when it has a collar on, but even then, do you believe you could control a 200 lb bear on a leash? If the bears were so dangerous, explain why they willingly followed us home after the escape. By the way, personal experience is absolutely the point, because in this life, you are what you do.
Sarah M. says
OK Stephen, whatever you say…
Tuff call hear. I believe their heart is in the right place, but the violations, I just dont know?
Stephen Hall says
Since the Explorer has apparently decided not to publish my response to this article, you may find it here: Link
Vanessa B says
This is was a very nice read, Stephen, thank you for posting. I have thought of you & Wendy often and hope you’re both doing as well as possible given the circumstances. ❤️
The Buddhist in me wishes you peace, and the rebel in me wishes you “Illegitimi non carborundum.”
Stephen Hall says
They actually grind pretty good! Pax vobiscum!
William Keller says
“At that inspection, Stephen Hall was found giving an illegal educational presentation with animals under Wendy Hall’s surrendered licenses”. Let’s see the animals are there until they are relocated so lecturing about them is illegal? “Since 2015, DEC regulators have tried to bring Wendy Hall and her team into compliance”. The refuge was established in 2000, it would seem that a few (in my opinion) minor violations in reporting missing animals, unreported birds would not cause a shut down of this refuge. So an injured animal is brought to your wildlife rehabilitation center and the paper work isn’t submitted to the state it results in a closure? A bit of a stretch, once again in my opinion. We’ve been to the refuge a few times and in those years saw a tremendous amount of improvement to the enclosures and overall property. It’s a shame that the state and the Hall’s couldn’t of reached closure on these violations to keep this resource open.
Sarah M. says
Did you even read the article? “Minor violations”?! … Of highest concern were multiple animal escapes, including one where they attempted to hide it by saying the animal died. If one of these animals escapes and kills someone’s baby or someone dies in a car crash with a confused, escaped animal, it’s the state that is going to have to explain to the families why they never regulated this facility. Are you of the mindset that animals that are escaped, confused and frightened might not cause harm to either themselves or to a person or pet? Well that’s just ridiculous. They’re animals. Even pet dogs can be dangerous if handled poorly or without an owner. You simply can’t take in all of this wildlife, far over what you can handle or afford, and not follow basic regulations that are in place to protect the public. The Halls are actually very lucky the story ended without death or serious injury to the public. And as far as we have heard, they are not being charged with crimes, although it sounds like there might be a few they could be charged with. It is completely sad the refuge has to be shut down, but the blame should be placed with the Halls and no one else. The state tried for years to work with them so they could remain open. Since 2014… That’s a long time!
Why do you hate the Hall’s and the refuge so much? Why this constant vendetta? You spend a lot of time attacking them. Seriously- why is this so important to you?
Shame on the DEC and Gwen Craig for their treatment and lies about Wendy and Steve. Anyone with a brain knows disgruntled former employees want revenge. How sweet that they have cozied up with the Albany crime fighters to kick a man and woman when they’re down. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. I have been visiting the reserve for years and the Halls have always done a fantastic job of caring for the animals. Donate to the Explorer? Subscribe? No thanks. You all make me sick.
Excellent investigative journalism! Best yet by Adirondack Explorer. What excels about the article is the presentation of both sides of the argument, the facts, and amount of supporting documents. As much as I like the idea of a wildlife refuge and the good intentions of the Halls’ (most of the time) the evidence of chronic mismanagement is very damning. I can see and agree with decisions of the DEC and USFW that enough is enough.
Stephen Hall says
Todd: The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge itself was not responsible for the violations. Wendy was, and she is no longer part of the organization. It sounds like your position is that the citizens, merchants, tourists and students of the Adirondacks should be the victims of the closure. The non profit has already nominated two very capable naturalists to take over Wendy’s licenses, which would have the added advantage of removing the transgressors, while allowing an organization which brings great value to the Adirondacks to continue delivering those benefits to the public. As usual, the DEC bureaucrats are ignoring that request, which they received a month ago. Can you imagine how long the DEC would last if it were a private business? This is not about fixing the problem. This is about fixing the blame. Do you believe the DEC will turn around and begin delivering education to the folks in the Adirondacks?
Past Volunteer says
I’ve been an environmental educator with the DEC for years – so yes I do.
Steve, there is literally video of one of the two people you claim to be capable of running the refuge planning to lie to the DEC in this article. Enough already. I was a volunteer under you – I had to leave because it was sketchy. I’ve had to remove you and any links to you from my resume because animal care facilities turn their noses up.
Thank you Gwen for the great reporting. An accidental escape once, I get, twice is questionable. What are you doing that these animals are escaping or possibly dying at you facility? If you can’t take care of the, separate educational animals from rehab animals and file paper work to keep things legit get out of this business. You are not in it for the health, safety, and wellbeing of the animals. Mr. Hall you should be ashamed you are to self absorbed to realize the harm you are causing that you could have helped stopped but only find time to blame Govermental Organizations. Shame on you!
Sarah M. says
They actually had the bears in a “bear pit.” I was completely shocked when I visited because bear pits have long been known to be inhumane and there is a movement to try to outlaw them, even though they are still in use today. These bears were surrounded by high walls in a tiny enclosure not suitable for two rescue bears. This wasn’t a refuge, it was a zoo masquerading as a refuge. If you look up bear pit, you will see it has been around a long time, and is considered inhumane. “A bear pit was historically used to display bears, typically for entertainment or bear-baiting. The pit area was normally surrounded by a high fence, above which the spectators would look down on the bears”… This is exactly how I would describe the enclosure at the AWR. You had to climb up steps to look down at them a tiny circular enclosure with tall walls. “Bears are highly intelligent creatures and in these pits, bears are denied everything natural and important to them, such as running and digging. They’re unable to ever scan the horizon or gain a perspective on their surroundings. Instead, they are condemned to an unnatural life surrounded in walls with nothing to do but pace and be looked down on by tourists.” These bears were observed pacing when I was there. It was completely wrong and sad.
Stephen Hall says
First of all, we have many videos of the bears chasing each other around a pen, which is twice the size of standard bodies requirements. We also have many videos of them chasing each other over the white pine runways Alex created above the enclosure base, and many videos of them climbing one of the five trees they loved to climb. Their enclosure was set up to be a gym for bears, which they enjoyed constantly. By your own admission, you spent five minutes at the refuge, but suddenly you’re an expert on our animals and their enclosures. We have challenged the head of special licenses to reinspect the Refuge, this time with a member of the media present, and as usual there has been no response. This is all now a moot point, as the wolves departed for New Mexico this morning and the last animals here, the bears and coyotes will be gone in a matter of days. We’ve been talking about expanding our education offerings about nature, and you’ll be seeing announcements about this shortly.
Look up rescue hoarding. Sounds like it applies here: Link
I am increasingly troubled by what I read on the AWR facebook page. Without even notifying the public about the fate of all of the animals at their facility as of the October deadline or waiting for that deadline to pass, they have already posted that they will be reopening. They have said stay tuned for reopening plans. What about the animals that were there? Will we ever know what really happened to them? Were they brought to a good place or were they brought to zoos? Were they euthanized? Does no one else see this kind of behavior as disturbing? All of this has taken place and they want to open their facility right away and get new animals there?
Read the following list of actions of rescue hoarders that is mentioned on the ASPCA pdf educational file attached above and let me know that this does not apply to this situation. I am all for supporting a local organization and wish the Adirondacks had a rescue facility, but this report and all of the news around this situation is troubling. I think this community has been too lenient on this situation. We should call this what it is because animals deserve adequate care and protection. A group that is not hesitating to announce their reopening, even amidst all of this turmoil seems to have motives that are beyond health and welfare of animals. All of this would make any reasonable person pause, and we have to ask ourselves why?
Some Characteristics of rescue hoarders as listed by ASPCA:
– Numbers of animals usually unknown, unreported vs. rescue group where numbers are known and reported
– Often have current support from local agencies and organizations
– Staff is usually inadequate, family, transient, volunteers
– Unlimited intake, actively seeks new animals
– Excavation of clandestine graves
– Often has previous offense history
– Maniplating, cunning, lies to achieve ends
– Denial and alibis for behavior
– Dead animals are not reported or treated as alive or lost
– Actively plans to evade laws
– Common Excuses for Inadequate Care
– May have had prior support from agencies that are now investigating them
– Large numbers of animals present housing, veterinary, and zoonotic challenges to responders
– Believes he/she has unique ability to care
– Avoids authorities/impedes access, litigious!!
– Usually has network of enablers
Stephen Hall says
This is simply not true. In point of fact, there have been announcements in FaceBook for every single animal that was rehomed. How far down did you scroll? The only animals remaining are 2 coyotes, 2 wolves and 2 bears. All will be rehomed within the week. Once again, the violations concerned reporting, not the health and care of the animals.
Stephen Hall says
For example, There are several posts like this one: Link
Stephen Hall says
None of the violations had anything to do with the heath and care of the animals.
The violations were for not having proper paperwork for animals, having animals for rehab mixed with display animals, lying to investigators about animals present, burying an eagle that was unreported, saying a cat that escaped died, etc. No one even knows the animals you had there because you didn’t keep proper paperwork. You keep saying that it’s just a lack of record keeping, but records are for the safety of the animals! How does anyone even know what went on there? You didn’t even report the animals on your facilities. I guess we are supposed to take your word for it, but you’ve lied in the past?! You continued to collect new animals even after you had violations from the DEC. You lied to the DEC and investigators about animals at your facilities. They have video of your staff lying. They had to dig up a clandestine grave at your facility where they found an eagle you had lied about having. You had volunteers say that you switched the names of animals to hide them from investigators. Honestly…??? Do you not see this as a problem? Don’t you understand the whole point of paperwork is to prevent illegal or improper collecting of protected wildlife??? And despite all of this, still, you continue to talk about reopening your facility. Your present animals haven’t even been moved yet. Maybe you have homes already, but why not reflect on what occurred before going full steam ahead?? What exactly am I missing? This IS mistreatment. You were entrusted with protected wildlife. You purposefully mislead investigators about the animals that were present at your facilities! Legitimate rescue organizations don’t behave this way, because it’s about protecting the animals! Something is very wrong here!
Stephen Hall says
Mistreatment is when animals are negatively affected by the care they’ve been given, and the violations were not about the care of the animals or the medical records we kept about them. Right in front of me, I heard the head of special licenses in conference with a member of USF&W saying the shame is that animals are healthy and obviously well cared for. After recovering from my astonishment, I asked them at what point that particular judgement affected their overall assessment, a question that was greeted with angry glares. Your style of debating seems to be to make a series of spurious claims, and when they’re refuted (above) to dig in your heels. At no time did we disguise animals by changing their names. Animals in rehab are not named at all. The eagle was buried by their “credible” witness, and I never found out about it, until USF&W showed up with a warrant based on the whistleblowers complaint. The whistleblower had been fired a few weeks before the whistleblowing, because he caused an accident in front of three witnesses due to reckless driving at the Refuge. Their other credible witness, ex girlfriend of whistleblower 1, actually filed a false report with the Better Business Bureau, trying to pose as a visitor at a time when she was working here, apparently unaware that the BBB actually asks a business for their response. When we quickly exposed all the lies and exaggerations, her response was that she hadn’t done it, a friend had. Credible? Neither of their so called credible witnesses would have lasted five minutes in a court of law, when their obvious biases and revenge motives were exposed. This is all a moot point, as the only animals which have not been moved and rehomed are the bears and coyotes, which will be completed within the next week. If you’d like to discuss further, or, God forbid, actually see all the work that has been completed within the last year, you know exactly where you can find me. We will be announcing future plans soon.
This is my last comment to you, because there is clearly no getting through to someone like you. You seem to be operating in an alternate reality where the investigations and seizure of animals never took place. As the regulators said, you have been completely unresponsive to them. The way you fabricate excuses through the violations, coverups and above evidence is actually rather disturbing, because 1) you seem really skilled at it and 2) you think people actually believe it. But in reality it’s convincing to only a select group of people who likely don’t even take the time to educate themselves about what actually went on at your facility.
The whistleblowers are incredibly believable. They landed up being right about everything, including the animal you had buried in a clandestine grave! But of course you didn’t know about it! What’s really eyebrow raising is that you signed a sworn deposition and lied in it. That a crime! And it sounds like the federal investigation into you is still ongoing.
The maligning of the whistleblowers is the playbook really… you want to attack their character so as to distract from the evidence they are providing, but the regulators and others including myself find them credible. The excuses you are offering are just that. Not believable. I repeat, legitimate rescue organizations don’t act this way! You don’t lie to regulators and on sworn depositions. Because it puts the animals at risk. Rescues would work hard to not accumulate violations, even if it meant halting animal acceptances while the issues were corrected. You’re already plotting how to bring more animals there before the animals have even been completely rehomed.
And Mistreatment is when all the animals have been put at risk for euthanasia because you didn’t feel you needed to do paper work and racked up violations for years and never cared to stop collecting animals even after already under investigation. You keep telling people how smart you are and how you worked in the private sector. Well surely someone with such experience was capable of following basic regulations or offering support to his wife to follow basic regulations to protect the animals. And if you are incapable of such, then what makes you think you should still be responsible for wildlife??? Mistreatment is when animals have to be rehomed because you took on an excessive amount of animals that you clearly could not handle, evidenced by the fact that you couldn’t even file basic required paperwork for them. Mistreatment is not even accounting for animals you have in your care, so no one can ensure their proper care and handling. Mistreatment is being forced to bring all enclosures up to regulations because they were found to be in violation by regulators. And we don’t know what else, because again, you didn’t even think you had a responsibility to report.
Melissa Hart says
Just a reminder, from our commenting policy, to keep the conversation respectful:
Disagreement is a key part of discussions, but we’ll remove comments that harass or attack a commenter with a different perspective. If you disagree with someone, state your reasons why. Please be respectful toward other community members!
Stephen Hall says
Sad news… Ahote, the larger black phase black bear so many of you got to know, has apparently died of stress, after her transfer to Maine Wildlife Park. Our two 5 year old black bear sows were transferred to Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. Ahote is a Hopi word which means variously “Restless One” or “Spirit in the Wind”. She died of apparent stress a day or so after arrival. The handlers from Maine Wildlife Park are professionals, who came to pick the bears up, and from what we observed, did everything by the book. Luvey, the brown phase black bear is apparently okay.
As you know, we performed Rescue, Rehab and Release of Adirondack Wildlife for many years, before violation disputes between Wendy, who is in home hospice, dying of an inoperable sarcoma. and the DEC, the state regulatory agency, led them, in a very controversial decision, to revoke the Rehab license, as well as the Collect and Possess license.
The latter enabled 50,000 visitors a year to learn all about gray wolves, coywolves, coyotes, bears, fox, bobcat, lynx, eagles and other raptors, etc. Every college and school within 100 miles of the Refuge sent their students here every year, which is why we repeatedly asked the DEC to simply let the Wildlife Refuge continue under Jackie and Kevin Woodcock’s leadership, since they are both very capable naturalists. and since neither was here or involved in any of the violations, most of which involved paper work. Kevin and Jackie rebuilt all the mammal enclosures at the Refuge, and Jackie is an accomplished, published author on butterfles, bees and many other interesting fields.
Don’t worry about the Wildlife Refuge, we’re not going anywhere, and will be reorganizing, bringing forth more education on various topics. We’ll be delivering slide show lectures to your next meeting or class, for example, Moose as indicator species, Wolves as Keystone Predators and How We Developed Dogs Out of Wolves, Understanding Bears as Indicator Species who teach us about Habitat, The Collapse of Insect Populations (which are the base of the food chain), the Argument for Extraterrestrial Life (this one may surprise you), How did we create Livestock out of Wild Animals, and the impact of Human Beings on Nature.
We had adopted these captive bred cubs when they were a month old. They escaped twice during their tenure with us, and when we discovered where they were, they followed us home through the woods like dogs. We finally installed an electric fence in the bear enclosure, which ended any further attempts at escape, as well as a 1,500 foot perimeter fence, which we had to borrow $140,000 to erect, but the DEC, which always seems more focused on placing the blame, rather than fixing the problem, revoked our licenses anyway.
In an almost Lewis Carroll like absurdity, Joe Therrien, the bureaucrat who runs DEC’s Special Licences, on the day of his last “inspection”, complained that I was “illegally” educating about 100 visitors on gray wolves. Meanwhile he has been ignoring Nature Walks Conservation’s (our non-profit) request that the DEC license Jackie and Kevin Woodcock as the Refuge’s new leadership team for Collect and Possess. Joe was not only out to get Wendy, who’s already out of the picture for the last year, but he ignores the value of the education for New York students, citizens and tourists.
The DEC always claims that they are protecting the public and the animals, but the real result of forcing us to rehome the wolves, bears, etc. has been the loss of a key educational center for students, as well as an economic benefit to High Peaks hotels, restaurants and other merchants who depend on High Peaks tourism. We can now add to this dubious distinction the death of Ahote, as well as half the raptors the regulatory bodies insisted that we rehome. At what point does the DEC and Gov Hoschul expand their vision to ask what is the right solution for the citizens and voters they allegedly serve?
Regulatory bodies and media generally tend to push the theme that wolves and bears are dangerous, despite easily researched statistics which say otherwise. There are about 8,000 black bears in New York State. Hunters take about a quarter of the bears in an average year. In turn bears have killed one person in NY State in the last 150 years. While Maine has about 36,000 black bears, and I believe there has been one injury caused by a black bear in the last 25 years.
If you are fed up with the hypocritical bullying tactics of the DEC and the complete lack of interest of Gov Hoschul, who managed to visit several High Peaks farmers markets and other points of interest within minutes of the Wildlife Refuge in the last two months, but couldn’t be bothered to even respond to our invitation to come have a look for herself, let them know what you think.
Sarah M says
You shipped the bear to a zoo. What a forever home you gave Ahote… one zoo to another. As soon as you brought two captive bears to your facility, you were no longer a refuge. Your motives became clear. Your behavior and lack of care for the animals in your “refuge” is reprehensible. Didn’t think you had the follow the rules and put all of these animals at risk. And you’re still talking about reopening despite all of the devastation you have caused. You should be ashamed. The death of that bear is on your hands. I also wonder why that bear was in such bad shape that it couldn’t survive being moved? It should be investigated and it should be checked if it was given some kind of lethal drug. It wouldn’t surprise me