Bear dies after move to Maine
By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge has found new homes for its dozen animals regulated by the state, though an escapist black bear died shortly after arriving at its new destination. The transfers mark the end of an era for owners Steve and Wendy Hall, who gave numerous educational presentations involving wolves, bears and bald eagles.
Wendy Hall was the sole state and federal license holder for the Wilmington refuge and was forced to find new homes for the animals after relinquishing her authorization to continue running the refuge. Steve Hall and others worked under her as designated agents. A stream of records dating back to 2015 show the Halls and their staff had covered up animal escapes, made false statements to regulators and frequently operated without proper licenses.
Earlier this year the state Department of Environmental Conservation notified Wendy Hall it would revoke her remaining wildlife licenses. In July, Wendy Hall surrendered them. The DEC extended an Oct. 25 deadline to allow her time to relocate a few of the animals. Nature Walks Conservation Society, a nonprofit organization based out of Massachusetts, assisted with the placements.
The refuge has reported all animals have now been sent to new homes, the DEC said.
Steve Hall said a Eurasian lynx named Kayla is at a temporary home with a rehabilitation specialist. The lynx was showing signs of stress when staff prepared it for a flight to its final destination in Oregon, so they have since changed plans. Staff now intend to drive the lynx to a rescue facility in Florida in about a week, Steve Hall said in a Nov. 1 email to the Adirondack Explorer.
Most of the other transfers appear to have been successful except one with a tragic end.
Ahote, a five-year-old female black bear the Halls raised since she was a cub, died about 36 hours after arriving at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. The park is an educational facility with over 30 different species. It is run by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Mark Latti, communications director for the department, said the wildlife park was excited to welcome Ahote and her companion Luvey. The park had been home to two black bears, but both recently died at ages 28 and 35. Black bears generally live around 30 years in the wild.
The refuge’s two coyotes and the pair of bears, two of the Halls’ more well-known animals, were transported to Maine at the end of October. The bears had escaped their Adirondack enclosure twice, once in 2019 and again in 2021.
Latti said an independent vet examined Ahote’s body and determined she had died from “capture myopathy.” The non-infectious disease is caused when an animal overexerts itself and their bodily systems shut down. Latti said the disease is more common in deer than in bears, but it has been known to happen to many animals when they are relocated or captured. Latti said staff at the wildlife park noticed Ahote was nervous, pacing and running when she arrived at their facility. Steve Hall said the name Ahote means “restless one.”
Luvey appeared to be doing well and adjusting, and so were the two coyotes, Latti said.
Steve Hall said handlers from the Maine Wildlife Park arrived at the refuge and helped carry Luvey and Ahote to travel containers that were intended for lions. The Maine staff did “everything by the book,” Steve Hall said, and he didn’t blame them for Ahote’s death.
He did blame the DEC for not reviewing wildlife license applications from proposed successors soon enough to keep the bears and other animals at the refuge and prevent the transfer.
The DEC blamed the Halls. “The transport could have been prevented if the Halls had cooperated with DEC’s multiple attempts to bring AWR (Adirondack Wildlife Refuge) into compliance during repeated violations of state and federal laws, regulations and license conditions that are in place to protect public safety, native wildlife, and regulated animals possessed under licenses issued by DEC,” a DEC spokesperson responded, adding that Ahote’s death was “a very sad and unfortunate event.”
“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,” Steve Hall wrote. “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.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had similar dealings with the Halls when it came to long-term violations with migratory birds and bald eagles. The federal agency denied renewing Wendy Hall’s licenses for working with birds, and at the beginning of January 2020, she was ordered to find new homes for all those in her possession. Steve Hall said they’d warned regulators that many of the birds were older and transferring them “did not bode well.” Steve Hall claimed that about six birds had died after getting relocated.
Earlier, the Halls and the Nature Walks Conservation Society wanted the refuge’s general manager Hanna Cromie and staff member Donald Tourtellot to take on the wildlife licenses and keep the animals at the refuge. The DEC denied their applications, citing false statements and other violations the two participated in at the refuge. Cromie and Tourtellot, in written depositions filed with the DEC during Ahote and Luvey’s first escape, admitted to breaking a tree to make it look like the bears’ escape was an “act of God.” The bears had actually dug out of their enclosure and rambled into the woods. At that time, the Halls did not have a perimeter fence as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Kevin and Jackie Woodcock, who Steve Hall said have been helping them upgrade the refuge’s animal enclosures, have applied for these wildlife licenses now. Steve Hall said the DEC has denied that it received the applications, but the DEC told the Explorer it received those applications and is reviewing them. Jackie Woodcock and Steve Hall both write on occasion for the Explorer’s community-run forum, the Adirondack Almanack.
Steve Hall said Wendy Hall is dying of cancer. They continue to live on the refuge property, though Steve Hall said Wendy Hall is no longer part of the refuge’s management. He hopes the Woodcocks and others can take over. The Nature Walks Conservation Society is also working with the refuge. Its board of directors includes the Halls’ son and daughter-in-law, Dan and Magdalena.
“Don’t worry about the Wildlife Refuge,” Steve Hall wrote in a comment. “We’re not going anywhere, and will be reorganizing, bringing forth more education on various topics.”
The DEC said the refuge can operate if the Halls and the facility stay free of state-regulated wildlife and don’t engage in wildlife rehabilitation or another activity under “DEC jurisdiction.”