Wilmington refuge surrenders licenses amid allegations
By Gwendolyn Craig
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge is finding new homes for the majority of its animals after the operator surrendered two of her remaining wildlife licenses the state planned to revoke after years of alleged deceptive and improper reporting about the Wilmington facility.
Records obtained by Adirondack Explorer through an information request show the Department of Environmental Conservation has run out of patience with the operation. The DEC tried since 2015 to bring operator Wendy Hall and the refuge into compliance after repeated violations, but to no avail.
RELATED: Refuge closes ‘temporarily’ due to violations, health issues
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied renewing Hall’s federal licenses in November 2019, also citing multiple violations. Aside from housing educational animals with those under rehabilitation intended for release, DEC records cite whistleblower reports of “discussions with staff to deceive regulators about illegal activity at AWR” and reporting “false statements.” DEC staff also highlighted three instances of escaped animals–one involving two bears in 2019, another involving a bobcat in 2020 and another in 2021 involving the same two bears.
Joseph Therrien, a wildlife biologist in charge of DEC’s special licenses unit, testified before DEC Administrative Law Judge Richard Sherman on July 13 that he believed the public’s safety was at risk given AWR’s history of animal escapes. Adirondack Explorer obtained the transcript of that hearing. Therrien has worked at the DEC for nearly two decades.
“Any of these animals that get out from their enclosure are going to be in a strange environment,” Therrien said. “If they run into the public, they’ll be around people they don’t know, they’ll be stressed, anxious, and could easily react in a way that could very much harm the public. So we would see this facility with the animals housed there as indeed a risk to the public health and safety in the area.”
Steve Hall, Wendy Hall’s husband and co-founder of the refuge, said Wednesday that his wife had made mistakes and acknowledged some of the violations. He called Wendy Hall’s surrender of her licenses “a dreadful mistake.” They are complying with the DEC’s order to find new homes for their animals, he said, though they hope it won’t come to that.
The Halls have partnered with a nonprofit called Nature Walks Conservation Society. Executive Director Mark Fraser said he’s finding the animals homes, but is also trying to get staff properly licenced at the Wilmington refuge. He hopes that the refuge might remain open and some of the animals, namely the wolves, could remain. Fraser lives in Massachusetts.
“My number one goal is to make sure every animal at the facility is safe, bar none,” Fraser said. “My longer-term goal, assuming every animal is saved, is the hope to rescue this important education gem for the northern Adirondacks.”
Two AWR staff members–Hanna Cromie and the Halls’ son Alex–have applied for the licenses Wendy lost. Steve Hall, who sometimes writes for the Explorer’s Adirondack Almanack, and Fraser said DEC isn’t granting them the licenses. Steve Hall and Fraser both believe Cromie and Alex Hall are qualified.
In an emailed statement, a DEC press officer said at least two individuals associated with AWR had applied for DEC licenses but the many violations at issue happened while those individuals were working there.
“This summer, DEC’s comprehensive review of license applications and those individuals’ roles in past violations at AWR resulted in denial of license applications to continue possessing DEC-regulated wildlife species at the facility,” the agency’s statement read.
Fraser said there are two others applying for licenses, but he has not yet heard whether the state has reviewed those applications. Meanwhile Wendy Hall, who Steve Hall said was diagnosed earlier this year with cancer of the pancreas and liver, read a statement for the refuge posted on YouTube on Wednesday.
“It is unfair of them (Cromie and Alex Hall) to be branded with this, and they should be allowed to apply for licenses,” Wendy Hall said.
In April 2021, the DEC wrote to Wendy Hall they planned to revoke her license to collect or possess state-regulated wildlife and her license for exhibiting endangered or threatened species. Steve Hall does not possess these DEC licenses, nor does anyone else working there.
“Currently,” a statement from the DEC read, “there is no pending action against Steve Hall.”
Wendy Hall requested a hearing and the DEC held one on July 13, but she didn’t show and neither did any other representative from AWR. Instead, before the hearing, Wendy Hall surrendered her licenses.
Her husband later said she was acting on the advice of an attorney, but the Halls later felt it was a mistake.
In his hearing testimony, Therrien said the DEC is not pursuing any fines against the refuge. When a DEC lawyer asked why not, Therrien said that had been tried already; the DEC even tried increasing the fees to bring AWR in compliance.
“That’s had no effect whatsoever whether the notices, the orders or the violations,” Therrien testified. “The main focus is, again, removing these licenses with revocation and removing these animals from the facility.”
In an agreement with the DEC, Wendy Hall and AWR staff have until Oct. 25 to relocate two wolves, two American black bears, two coyotes, a red fox, a gray fox, a fisher, a North American porcupine, a bobcat, and an Eastern box turtle. So far Pippin, the red fox, has been placed at Abbe-Freeland Animal Sanctuary in Allegany County.
The refuge has been closed to the public since this summer.
In an April 30 letter, DEC officials highlighted Wendy Hall’s years of noncompliance and repeated possession of wildlife without proper licenses. Steve Hall dismisses this as bureaucratic and complicated paperwork. The DEC called Wendy Hall’s violations “further evidence that you lack the requisite degree of care and trustworthiness to hold State wildlife licenses.” The letter lists 17 instances of noncompliance from January 2015 through June 2021.
The letter, signed by Anthony Wilkinson, director of the DEC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, includes whistleblower reports from two former AWR volunteers. The report revealed that a bobcat named Yayo had escaped from the refuge.
“One volunteer overhead you and a staff member discuss whether to report the escape or to falsely report the bobcat as deceased to the DEC,” the letter read. “On July 27, 2020 you reported to the DEC that Yayo had died and had been buried at the facility. Falsely reporting the death of a bobcat in your possession instead of its escape is also a further violation,” of the license.
Steve Hall said the people DEC referred to “are witnesses that would never get past the door in a public court for very good reason.” One witness, he said, was a former employee who crashed a truck in Adirondack Wildlife Refuge’s driveway and refused to pay for any damages. The other was that employee’s girlfriend and also a refuge employee. He called them “two people who wanted to get revenge on us, and boy, did it work.”
Wilkinson also revisited in his letter the two black bears that had escaped AWR twice. The second time they escaped was at the end of June.
“Pictures and your description of the missing black bear on social media showed you nuzzling the bear, Stephen Hall hugging the bear, and a statement that the escaped bear is ‘completely harmless,’” Wilkinson wrote. “Additionally, you reported through social media that unlicensed members of the public assisted in the recapture of the escaped black bear and you publicized a photo of an unnamed person face-to-face with the bear in the wild.”
Wilkinson said these were further violations related to housing requirements for the animals so they cannot escape and safeguarding the public from attack, and prohibiting direct contact of an animal with the public.
Steve Hall said this was a DEC tactic to make the bears appear dangerous.
Fraser is picking up the pieces. His nonprofit, which he started in 2011, is taking on the fundraising role in lieu of Adirondack Wildlife, Inc. Adirondack Wildlife, Inc. is a nonprofit that the Halls founded in 2011 to keep fundraising tax-exempt from the private company, which is the AWR. But the Halls have split off from the Adirondack Wildlife board of directors.
“We had tremendous problems with them,” Steve Hall said. “They developed an attitude with Wendy and we ended up breaking up.”
John Thaxton, past president of the Adirondack Wildlife Inc. and writer of Adirondack Explorer’s bird column, said he did not know that the Adirondack Wildlife had split from AWR. He said the original arrangement was that all the money and donations that went through the wildlife refuge would then go through Adirondack Wildlife so it wouldn’t get taxed.
Thaxton was aware of some of Wendy Hall’s violations, but was not aware that the DEC had ordered the refuge’s animals placed elsewhere.
That’s where Fraser is stepping in, though with a full-time job and running his nonprofit from Massachusetts, he said it’s “brutally difficult.” He is hoping for “a miracle” from the state, some sort of pardon or reconsideration to allow current AMR staff to become licensed.
While he has identified homes for many of the animals, Fraser said he’s not revealing the proposed destination. He said he would disclose locations once the animals are at their new homes or if he obtains a license for the refuge.
Fraser would like to lease the refuge from the Halls and keep it running for the thousands of school children who visit each year, in addition to all the tourists that come. The Halls, too, recently took out a $140,000 loan to build a perimeter fence at the refuge before finding out that the DEC had planned to revoke Wendy Hall’s licenses. Steve Hall said even if all the animals end up getting new homes, he’ll keep the refuge open. He has plans to house goats, chickens and cattle and teach groups about the origins of livestock, something he thinks doesn’t get enough attention.
The Halls started rehabbing and caring for injured wildlife about two decades ago. Wendy Hall has also been a volunteer for North Country Wild Care, a wildlife hotline that pairs rehabilitation professionals with people with injured birds and animals. Fraser said he empathizes with the Halls and doesn’t want their life’s work to get destroyed.
So far, Fraser said, the state hasn’t responded to his business plans.
“The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge shouldn’t end this way,” Fraser said.
Stephen Hall says
The rules Wendy violated are themselves confusing and hard to follow. For example, one rule says that the rehabber can not mix animals under rehab with animals who are permanent residents. 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.
Stephen Hall says
But… the animal is not reclassified by the vet until both states, sending and receiving, approve the transfer, so while that barred owl is officially in “rehab”, everyone knows that the animal is no longer in rehab, but waiting for a new home with a different wildlife education center, and when all approvals are met, the owl is reclassified as educational..
Steve Hall says
“Joseph Therrien, a wildlife biologist in charge of DEC’s special licenses unit, testified before DEC Administrative Law Judge Richard Sherman on July 13 that he believed the public’s safety was at risk given AWR’s history of animal escapes.” There are about 8,000 black bears in New York State, half of them in the Adirondacks, and hunters kill about a quarter of New York’s bears every year. Black bears have killed one human being in New York State in the last 150 years. Imagine how many thousands of encounters involved people and bears during that period. “Public Safety”? Every year, New Yorkers are electrocuted by their toasters, drown in their bath tubs, and are killed by lightening or falling trees. Others are killed by dogs, by deer in auto accidents and by bee stings. Granted that bears are very powerful animals who could be potentially dangerous, does it make sense to shut down the one education facility which not only lets you see bears up close, and learn all about their roles in nature, but how to behave around bears in the wild, and how to prevent attracting bears, to minimize the chances of a physical encounter? The irony is that when the DEC wanted to know if someone has a wolf illegally in New York, they called me to look at the animal. When they wanted someone to do educational presentations at their campgrounds about wolves, bear and moose, they called me. At what point does the DEC consider what is good for the citizens of New York, never mind the Adirondack hotels, restaurants and businesses which benefit by having 50,000 people visit the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge every year? http://www.adirondackwildlife.org/Bears.html
Carl C says
This is exactly the point. The DEC and the local economy benefits from having the AWR around. I’m sure the DEC would love to have a local place to help them place rehab cases and organize public education. It is solely because of the AWR and the complete inability to do the most basic tasks to keep operations legal that you are having these issues. Not because anyone is out to get you. Why is it that you are the only rehabber that can not stay on top of your paperwork and then get a free pass after years of multiple violations?
Stephen Hall says
Every school and college within a hundred miles of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, including many from Canada, have sent their students and classes to the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, and many do it multiple times in any given year. Obviously, the wildlife and biology professors and teachers in the Adirondacks see great value in the Refuge. Scouting groups, church groups and civic organizations also send their members. At what point does the DEC consider what is good for the citizens of New York, never mind the Adirondack hotels, restaurants and businesses which benefit by having 50,000 people visit the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge every year? https://www.mynbc5.com/article/wildlife-center-invites-public-to-see-wolf-pack-in-action/3325126
Stephen Hall says
Another odd violation concerns the bears. We were charged with not having a DEC issued ear tag on Luvey, our brown phase black bear. Ear tags identify bears the way in which leg bands identify individual loons, a useful tool in understanding and learning about species. Bears engage in rough play, and Luvey lost her ear tag while tussling with Ahote.
Bears have to be anesthetsized to attach the ear tags. State law forbids the Refuge from have the anesthetsizing drugs on hand, so the DEC must anesthetsize the bear and attach the ear tags. We are wary of anesthetsizing any animals unless their life may be at stake, as overdoses, negative reactions and deaths do happen. Why would the DEC would hold us responsible for not being able to attach a new ear tag. Can they produce an email in which they request to come by and attach a new ear tag?
Stephen Hall says
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, At what point does the DEC consider what is good for the citizens of New York, never mind the Adirondack hotels, restaurants and businesses which benefit by having 50,000 people visit the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge every year?
Stephen Hall says
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. Again, At what point does the DEC consider what is good for the citizens of New York, never mind the Adirondack hotels, restaurants and businesses which benefit by having 50,000 people visit the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge every year?
Stephen Hall says
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. The DEC, public employees, working at their usual glacial pace, have been sitting on this request for two weeks. 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.
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 need do to allow the Refuge to remain open, and allow citizens, tourists and students to continue benefiting from the ongoing education the Refuge provides, is 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, if the current collection of ambassador animals are not rehomed by October 25th, the DEC will “dispose” of them, a politer way of saying they will euthanize them. We have already found a place for our bears to be transferred to, with the mixed blessing of a larger enclosure, but no trees to climb.
All the past violations have been fixed, and we challenge Joe Therrien to come out and do an inspection, this time with a member of the media present. We welcome a public discussion of these affairs, and a response from the DEC.
Stephen Hall says
By the way, with regards to the ambassador animals being rehomed, many have been here for many years, and are not only accustomed to their handlers, as well as being displayed for educational purposes, but a change at this time of their lifes might be lethal. When the regulators forced Wendy to start rehoming her birds of prey, we warned them that many of the older raptors would die, and half of them did. How are these judgements by the regulators fair not only to the public, but to the animals themselves?
M Thompson says
A travesty and an injustice to the animals they are supposedly removing to be protected. It’s a sad display of power over people and their lives, a do anything it takes death sentence to exact their own vendetta regardless of who is hurt. It’s heartless and shows deep uncaring for those animals and out community. No one should be held accountable for another’s actions and I’m sure if the situation were reversed it wouldn’t be happening. With all that has now been invested and new people taking over there should be no good reason to issue the licenses and keep those animals home and safe. To do anything otherwise is only a show of selfishness and unnecessary spite and uncaring for the very thing they are in office to protect. This is a good example of why people are tired of being pushed around by those in government who are only there for self benefit and not that of the people as it should be.
Heidi Morgenstern says
Sounds like a witch hunt. The article states that thousands of children walk through those doors. The amount of good this place does outweighs the incidents. Much worse has happened at many large Zoo’s. If anything were in the best interest of the animals, the state would work more closely at finding solutions rather than taking licenses, and spending more on making it difficult for others to become licensed.
Brandon Cooke says
Its not like a lion or tiger escaped these are local wild animals and we live in the woods, I saw a wild black bear near fish creek, it was scared and running away. I live in Tupper lake and a wild Fischer cat ran through my yard 2x this summer no biggie…The law enforcement in the state needs better discretion. Really? Cmon DEC shes not housing exotic animals! Go back to checking boat registrations
Joel Rosenbaum says
From what I read about this controversy on the AWR, the DEC is unwilling to
compromise on anything re the keeping and maintaining of wildlife in NY State.
Therrien, and his handlers at the DEC in Albany, clearly want the AWR to disappear.
That’s really too bad, because the AWR provides some real benefits, and no great
dangers, to Adirondack society. The DEC should send construction crews to help
the Halls build whatever is necessary for housing and keeping their animals enclosed, and then quietly drop into the background. That is what bureaucrats should be doing if they are acting in a positive manner.
Joel Rosenbaum, Professor of Biology, Yale University
Stephen Hall says
Bureaucrats are typified by being completely unable to see the big picture, by what might be good for the citizenry as a whole. The irony, Joel, is that Adirondack Wildlife is not going anywhere. Every wildlife rehabber we know in NY State is bullied by these bureaucrats, who treat wildlife rehab like it’s some kind of privilege for those involved it it.
If you want to shoot a bear in NY, the license is $22. If you want to rehab bears in need, who typically suffer from starvation and mange, you are rewarded by constant micromanagement by DEC bureaucrats who know much less about these animals than we do. I believe there were three rehabbers working with bears in New York, and one of those recently died, leaving Wendy who not only had her license lifted, but is herself dying. That leaves one bear rehabber in NY, which is okay with the DEC, which generally just shoots bears, just as they shot that young bull moose in the west branch of the Ausable ten years ago, claiming it was suffering from brain worm, which an autopsy failed to confirm. I suggested in an email that they use mare urine to encourage the moose to turn around. (Bull moose have been shown to be attracted to mares in estrus). Naturally, my suggestion was met with silence.
Nature Walks Conservation Society, our 501c3 non-profit, will help us reinvent AWR, whether we have wildlife regulated by the DEC or not. If not, they will have no power over us at all, and we will adjust our education programs from Adirondack mammals and raptors to livestock. My second book, “Wolves, Humans, Dogs and Civilization, and how that happened” spends a great deal of time considering how some wolves domesticated our ancestors, leading to dogs at the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution. Working with wolves and domesticating horses about 5,000 years ago placed us at the beginning of the Anthropocene. I believe that for the first three quarters of our relationship with “dogs”, they were just gray wolves, who found it easier to make a living helping us.
Our long relationship with some wolves may have much to do with why homo sapiens are the last human being on earth, and why Neanderthals disappeared about 40,000 years ago. We take livestock completely for granted. For example, few consumers understand that cows and cattle are descended from an incredibly dangerous ungulate called an aurochs. It would be fascinating to understand how our ancestors started with aurochs, and ended up with Bossie the cow, standing in a stall, being milked by a machine.
Similarly, all goats are descended from Ibex. Chickens go back 20,000 years and were developed out of 4 species of jungle fowl. The history goes on and on. Livestock is a fascinating topic, and if the DEC thought they could get rid of us by lifting those two licenses, guess again. In fact, my next book may be about the DEC, and the experiences of rehabbers working with these bullies.
Stephen Hall says
The really sad part. As indicated in my replies above, all mammal enclosures have been rebuilt to ZAA standards. Even the bear enclosure has been fixed by installing an electric fence. Add in the new perimeter fence, and even if an animal can figure out how to get of their enclosure, there is no leaving the AWR grounds. We spent $200,000 fixing all violations, and the DEC waited until we had done this to pull the collect and possess license.
Instead of working out issues and revamping animal recovery facility. it becomes too political and infighting, its about preserving what wildlife we can and people seeing and enjoying. Too many politicians need to shut-up and listen to experts, not run their mouth and sound stupid as usual. system needs to be fixed and thats not likely to happen!
People need to write Joseph Therrien and revisit what Steven Hall has mentioned above. Some thing isn’t right, here. I’ve been a visitor to the Refuge in Wilmington its educational & amazing! There must be a better alternative then closing it down. Come everyone lets write our letters!
Vanessa B says
Potentially unpopular opinion time! This is newsworthy, but as a publication who has published lots of the parties involved here, I’m not sure the Explorer is the correct venue to hash all of this stuff out. This is NOT a knock on Gwen’s reporting, to be clear.
But editorially speaking, is investigative reporting on this of all topics really in good taste? Like it’s not bad reporting, but it’s not easy to be unbiased either.
Given that one of the subjects of the article is battling a serious illness, and is not the party with a lot of institutional power and for both of those reasons – perhaps not in the best position to clarify her role in all of this – I dunno, I would have given this one a pass.
Imo journalism should always punch up, not down. FOIAing someone with cancer? Meh, I dunno. Doesn’t sit super well.
Nicole D says
I believe Wendy and Steve have their hearts in the right place, but my god they are not responsible enough to care for these animals. Most of your birds had bumblefoot. Ive seen rehab bear cubs covered in their own feces. Way too many cases of releasable animals being handled in a way that makes them too accustomed to people. You can’t just cuddle your releasable animals and have them on display 2 feet away from the public. You can’t have a zoo and a rehab facility in one, it’s counter productive. They have had years of warnings, no matter if the paperwork is “bureaucratic” it still needs to be done. You don’t get a special pass to do whatever you want. All other facilities in NYS and federally have to comply with these laws, and so why would the AWR be the exception? The DEC isn’t picking on you, shame on you for placing the blame and riling up the public for your own missteps. A lot of your violations are literally federal, not local. Also, the AWR is constantly claiming that they have “experts” on the property and they are the most qualified to care for these animals. Who at the AWR has a degree in wildlife sciences? Anyone? Self authored books and taking trips to Alaska doesn’t make you an expert in wildlife. Loving wildlife, even if it’s your life’s passion, unfortunately does not just make you an “expert” in that field.
If after the third, fourth, fifth, etc warning you guys learned to do your paperwork or fixed your violations this wouldn’t be happening. Surely you were warned well ahead of time that noncompliance would result in the loss of Wendy’s licenses.
Much love to Wendy and Steve, I’m sure it’s horrible what you are both having to go through in many ways. Especially with Wendy’s illness. I know you love the animals. But maybe it’s time to reflect on yourselves instead of blaming every single thing on the dec, difficult paperwork, and “rogue employees”.
Stephen Hall says
The main issue is whether the DEC does what is good for the citizens and students of New York. 50,000 people visit the Wildlife Refuge year, which translates as hotel rooms, seats in restaurants, and a place where virtually all schools, colleges, scouting groups, church groups send their members. What is it they know that you ignore? The DEC behaves as though their rules trump every other consideration. They are clearly not interested in any economic or educational factors.
In the real world, the world of commerce and private enterprise, you fix the problem, not the blame. Is there an easy way to fix these issues, so that not only the DEC, but the citizens of New York, as well can move forward? In fact, we’re already there. Wendy is dying and is no longer responsible for interfacing with the DEC, but the DEC insists on throwing out the baby with the bath water, even after we spent $200,000 this year fixing all enclosure and escape issues.
I made a series of very specific claims above about our relationship with the DEC, their rules, and our impact on education and the local economy. Which of those claims were inaccurate? How, for example, can we be held responsible for one of our bears losing its ear tag, when it is the DEC that puts the tags on the bears? You made a series of claims for which you have no evidence beyond a declarative statement.
The DEC sits on request for information, rulings and license issues for MONTHS at a time. They’re doing it right now! Can you imagine how well that would work in private enterprise? We DO HAVE email evidence of this. In fact, most of the rehabbers we know are terrified of the DEC tactics. The DEC encourages the cruelest outdoor human activity, trapping, even having a mentoring program for children, while doing all they can to discourage rehabbing. Wendy has rehabbed eagles and owls snared in traps set for fox.
Apparently, all the professors and teachers for schools and colleges within 100 miles of the Refuge do not agree with your assessment of our expertise, as they all sent their students and classes there. An expert is a person that has demonstrated mastery of the subject through practical experience and excellent results, not someone who can wave a degree with no practical experience behind it. But as long as you’re going to play the degree denigration game, our oldest son is a veterinary cardiologist, and our general manager does in fact have a degree in wildlife science.
By the way, I’m very proud of the all the articles I’ve written for the Almanack, the books I’ve written and sold, and the wilderness travels I’ve made, and what I’ve learned and passed along. I challenge you to use your real name (none of us knows a “Necole D”, and we’d love to know what special qualifications you have.
As for a few negative reviews, when you have literally hundreds of reviews, it’s not very challenging to find a few negative reviews. Trip Advisor constantly rates us as number 1 or 2 in Wilmington, while competing with Whiteface Mountain.
We never denied that Wendy was not very effective as an administrator of paperwork, which is why she’s had nothing to do with that work, or the DEC for the past year, but the DEC refuses to transfer the licenses to very qualified individuals who have been rehabbers and educators for many years. The DEC has many fine employees, and we count many among our friends and supporters, but the Special Licenses department, is a prime example of your tax dollars at work, figuring out how to turn a Win-Win into a Lose-Lose.
Sarah M. says
Do you really expect people to believe this is just a problem of paperwork? This is a really outrageous claim knowing you had multiple violations across many years. You’re trying to rally the public up based on inaccurate claims and misrepresentations. It’s a really dishonest way to behave. Go out gracefully. Don’t parade false facts to a gullible public. The DEC isn’t transferring the licenses because it is literally the same affiliates, including the nonprofit with your son on the board of directors. It sounds like they gave you a lot of chances and you are being shut down for good cause. It doesn’t matter about Trip Advisor. You weren’t following the laws which are in place for good reason. You deserve to be shut down.
Nicole D says
Sarah, I couldn’t have said it better myself. “Don’t parade false facts to a gullible public.”
This is exactly what’s going on here.
Nicole D says
You said it yourself, 50,000 people visit the refuge. Why would you be surprised that you don’t personally know me and accuse me of using a false name?
I have my masters in Wildlife sciences, specifically raptors, and it was plain to see that your birds were being poorly taken care of. Sorry I didn’t post photographic evidence in an articles comment section of your birds’ Bumblefoot, but there must be a reason they were removed from the facility before any other animals that can’t just be pinned on poor paperwork practices.
Bizarre again that you jump to talking about trapping, and mention snaring, which is not even legal in NYS. You had pelts and skulls on display at the AWR right? Did these not come from hunted/trapped animals? I personally support ethical hunting and trapping, so I’m not going to be put off by a straw man argument like that.
I’m not saying the DEC does every single thing right and every decision they make is perfect, but we also only have the Adirondacks because of them. They manage and continue to grow our available public lands. I don’t believe if it was a private enterprise that we’d have that land, especially when the only motivation for a private company is profit. It is concerning to me that you complain about public enterprises and wasting of tax dollars to do things by the book, I certainly hope the animals at AWR weren’t treated as corporate assets to bring in tourism. Are you not also tax exempt, if not trying to become tax exempt? What portion of those AWR visitors came solely because of the refuge as opposed to visiting because they were already on a hiking vacation in the DEC managed public lands?
They are probably refusing to issue the licenses because of the repeated infractions of the AWR “enterprise”. How many total local and federal strikes have you garnered in the past 5 years? Maybe we can throw out one or two for being bureaucratic, but that still leaves a couple unaccounted for. Even if other rehabbers are ‘scared’ of the DEC, why are they not the ones being denied new licenses? Something isn’t adding up here.
Once again, I know your passion is the animals and your books may be wonderful, but solely hands on experience doesn’t make you an expert. The biggest difference is that when you are formally educated other certified experts in your field are constantly fact checking your work and hypotheses. Very rarely is expert used in a broad term, are you an expert in wolves? Bears? Just every bird and mammal that can be found in the Adirondacks? If I spent a couple of days at the AWR and self published a book about it am I now an expert? It’s wonderful your son has those qualifications, but the issue is your son doesn’t even work there part time and it is you who is always claiming to be an expert and you who has always run the refuge.
Steve, spend some time with your wife and less time angrily commenting on every single post. Despite the hundreds that will inevitably blindly rally around you, this finger pointing and total lack of any personal responsibility is childish.
Stephen Hall says
Nicole D says “Most of your birds had bumblefoot. Ive seen rehab bear cubs covered in their own feces. Way too many cases of releasable animals being handled in a way that makes them too accustomed to people. You can’t just cuddle your releasable animals and have them on display 2 feet away from the public. You can’t have a zoo and a rehab facility in one, it’s counter productive.” A popular debating tactic is to portray the exception as the rule. Some birds of prey can develop bumblefoot. We don’t know any orgs doing raptor rehab for whom this is not an occasional problem, but notice the use of the word “most”, which is inserted to prejudice the reader. What is true is that when the regulators forced Wendy to rehome her birds of prey, we warned them that many of the raptors were not only non-flighted, which is why they were educational animals to begin with, but they were of advanced age and would die if forced into unfamiliar circumstances, handlers, etc. Half of them did.
Necole, give us an example of a releasable animal who was being made accustomed to human contact, or of any releasable animal who was not released. As indicated in my comments at the top, the devil is always in the details, which are often driven by odd classification rules (see “Barred Owls” comment above). You give your prejudice away when you say visitors can get within two feet of animals, when all enclosures have fences which prevent visitors from getting within 4 feet of any animal enclosure.
The violations were never about the care or health of the animals. In fact, during one inspection which resulted in some of these violations being cited, we overheard two regulators saying that the problem was not about the enclosures or about how the animals were cared for, which they endorsed, after which I stepped right into their conversation and asked them to explain at what point the actual care of the animals was a factor in their judgements. Their response was to glare at me.
She never saw any bear cubs covered in their own feces, as the only bear cubs we ever had in rehab were born to a sow who was successfully recovered from mange and starvation, and gave birth to two cubs while hibernating in January and who were released with Mom the following Spring (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OtEWbFh-FE&t=16s). Once a bear is recovered, our only contact is to feed them through a chute, while locking them into their den once every few days to clean out their enclosure. For information about the seasons of a bear’s life go to http://www.adirondackwildlife.org/Bears.html.
Rehab and education displays are not counter productive, and we know many orgs which do exactly that. Now that almost all of our animals have been rehomed, and to dispel her innuendos about animal care, we invite any member of the public to inspect our animal enclosures, almost all of which have been rebuilt inside an escape proof perimeter fence, which we had to borrow $140,000 to build, only to be told after the money was spent on construction that they were going to pull Wendy’s collect and possess license anyway.
This was not about the DEC trying to fix the problem. This was about punishment, pure and simple, which ends up depriving the citizens and students of New York the opportunity to learn about these animals and their roles in Adirondack habitat. .
Sarah M says
Why did you give the DEC opportunity to punish you in the first place? That’s the question you keeping skirting. Why not follow the rules or correct the problems years ago? It’s obvious to people who actually take the time to look into the situation you are just deflecting blame. They tried fines over the course of years, which you just ignored. Of course they wanted you to build a perimeter, because you kept letting two bears escape! Someone could have gotten killed or injured, if even in a car accident! And the bear would have had to be put down if it injured someone because of your poor care. Why not take an ounce of accountability? Your indignation and lack of remorse probably also had a lot to do with the revocation of Wendy’s permits. This continued finger pointing is a really bad look for you and speaks more to the DEC’a case than to your own. You continued to take in more and more animals, even after violations with the animals you had!? It seemed evident that it was profit motivation. Furthermore, you lied about other escapes of a bobcat. Why should we believe anything you say, when you have lied to state regulators? You want the public to believe 17 violations are just made up forms of retaliation? How stupid do you think we are? You claim you have value in education, but what a terrible example you set with your lies and failure to accept responsibility?!
Sarah M. says
I am actually wondering what more reporting might reveal. They continue to receive donations. I would be really curious to find out if the owners also dipped into their funds for their own personal benefit or some other misuse of nonprofit status. Usually a facility and owners with these many problems might also have been a little loose with the finances. Something about this just doesn’t feel right. Why, if you are a legitimate rehab facility, would you allow the violations to accumulate to the point you have to be shut down? Wouldn’t following the law be really important to you? I’ve seen the facility with my own eyes. It was not what one expects from a rehab facility. It was better characterized as a zoo. The owner is just bizarre he keeps mentioning that he has finally, after violations, update the facilities to meet zoo standards. Great, but zoo standards are not very high, so it is really not impressive. You were supposed to be running a refuge, not a zoo. Why did you, as a refuge with over 50 acres of land, as i understand it, not have better facilities to begin with that were more in line with what one would hope and expect for a refuge? Why did you keep collecting more unreleasable animals including cats, when you had trouble with the animals you already had? I felt very sad for the pacing animals, the bears in a pit with no scenery, lifeless foxes, birds locked in the tiniest of cages looking out onto the beautiful adirondack mountains without being released. The explanation for why some of those animals were there seemed flat out not truthful. It seemed like such a jail. I agree with the multiple yelp and google reviews describing the filthy and small conditions these animals were subjected to as inhumane. I wonder if they should have not been shut down years ago, and maybe it is their friends in the local area who allowed them to remain open. I find the dialogue from the owners to be particularly weird, attempting to craft a story for the public in an effort to remain open instead of just reflecting on what has gone wrong over the course of many years and recognizing they are not the best people to care for animals. I just feel so bad for those animals. The owner Stephen Hall does not seem like he is having a normal response to this either, evidenced by his multiple comments here and elsewhere. There were also reviews online that he would argue with customers over the donation they gave in a really aggressive manner. It seems this is all about the money. Not about the animals. And this brings me back to wondering about the financial aspect of mismanagement of this facility. Maybe we will never know. But if we did, what would we discover? The excuses, fabrications, and reported need for whistleblowers among volunteers are all very troubling and not to be taken lightly.
Stephen Hall says
Slander… real classy. The Wildlife Refuge has never made a profit, Sarah, but did it ever occur to you that successful people might have more than one business, one to pay the bills, the other to pursue a passion?
Sarah M. says
No Stephen, it’s an opinion and a question. Which people are allowed to have. You operated a nonprofit, open to the public, which likely collected hundreds if not thousands of dollars from people under the name of a refuge, and that in fact is continuing to collect money in this new effort to not be permanently shut down. Mainly, this is questionable to me because from my own view of the facility, and from other reviews, this was a zoo. You put animals on display that could have been released, according to DEC violations. It doesn’t sit well with me that there are reports that lies were told to regulators and there were volunteer whistleblowers who alerted regulators about more violations. I just find it curious that multiple people witnessed poor conditions for the animals, as evidenced by actual reviews on your facility across years. The DEC also found multiple violations. So one begins to wonder where all the donations were going across this time and why you continued to take in more unreleasable animals (what would be the purpose other than economic benefit?) if all of these changes needed to be made to make the place livable and safe for the present animals. I do find it strange that there are multiple reviews from people claiming that they were charged donations they never agreed to pay after visiting your facility and others that you argued with them over how much they were willing to give. All of this added together makes me wonder about the financial management of this nonprofit.
Stephen Hall says
So many claims, so much nonsense and deception on your part. We explain that we had to borrow money to achieve what the DEC insisted on our doing, a claim which is easily proven and you still accuse us of theft.
At no time were visitors shown animals who were actually in rehab and/ or scheduled for release. I suggest you give a specific example, and then reread my comment above about barred owls. You seem to believe that all government departments are by definition infallible, and that their only aim is service to the public.
Of course we’re continuing to collect donations, and our supporters are more than willing, as they support what we do, and have a very different view of our value to the public. They realize that as we rehome animals, we have to first find education centers who are willing and able to take animals. The animals have to be fed and transported, and those who are in the middle of this process also have to be fed and cared for, just as utilities such as power and internet are required to enable this activity. Our employees are quite dedicated and we are determined not to lay them off, as they have much to contribute, and if need be, I will pay their salaries out of profits from our main business.
You continue to represent wild exceptions as if they were the norm by cherry picking examples. When you have hundreds of positive reviews, it’s not real challenging to find a few negative reviews that embrace your type of hatred. Some of the comments above are from doctors and professors, including a biology professor from Yale, but your approach, to make claims without credible evidence, as though you believe anyone who disagrees with you must be stupid or ill informed.
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge is not going anywhere. We’re simply rehoming those animals which the DEC has jurisdiction over, after which we will reopen with different educational goals. You don’t seem to get that we own this land, we are also entitled to free speech and free enterprise. We will be teaching visitors how livestock were developed out of wild animals, why homo sapiens are the last human being on earth and why that happened, as well as continuing to do presentations on and off site about the animals in the Adirondacks and what their roles are. We were doing that long before we had many of the animals people have seen here over the years, and these are activities over which the DEC has no control.
Finally, we challenge you to come and visit the Refuge and see for yourself what has been accomplished here. This is not, and never has been a zoo. When did you last visit? We can’t locate you in our visitors log, and we suspect that you’re commenting under a fake name. In any case, as much as it may sting your determination to hurt us, we will always be here and we will always be open to the public, and we will continue to be successful in delivering education to the public.
Stephen Hall says
Just for the record, Sarah, we spent $200,000 last year on enclosure rebuilding and constructing the perimeter fence the DEC insisted on. $140,000 of that had to be borrowed from a bank in order to achieve this (so much for your nasty claim that we are embezzling), and the DEC went ahead and pulled Wendy’s license anyway, which is why we have challenged the DEC to reinspect, with a member of the media present, and why we invite any member of the public to come and see for yourself what we achieved.
We are not the side who is trying to hide anything. Again, who benefits from keeping Adirondack Wildlife from rehabbing wildlife and educating the public? Its clearly not good for the wildlife (see http://www.adirondackwildlife.org/Wildlife-Refuge-Wildlife-Releases.html), the college and school students who visit every year, or the hotels, restaurants and merchants who benefit from an additional 50,000 tourists a year. This is about punishment, and fixing the blame rather than the problem.
Sarah M. says
Wild exceptions? Actually I always look at negative reviews. These are usually a good window into what a place may really be like vs. a bunch of positive reviews from tourists who enjoyed the zoo because their children got to see all these cool animals up close. And these negative reviews are not just minor, they are serious, describing mistreatment, filthy conditions and strange behavior by you.
And I love how you keep implying how people who disagree with you must have never visited and are uneducated. I did visit your facility. I am a professional with multiple advanced doctoral degrees. I came to your facility hoping to see a refuge with my family. Instead, I left after a few minutes. It made me extremely sad. Animals pacing is a sign of distress. That’s what I witnessed. I was particularly troubled by the bear enclosure which was a bear pit. They couldn’t even see the outside except for walls. It was worse than some zoos in my opinion. I saw the bald eagle, which was also striking because it was in a tiny cage I wouldn’t put a cat in. It looked visibly dirty. Turns out you weren’t even supposed to have a bald eagle. But oh yea, that’s more paper problems, right?
And again, you keep bringing up this enclosure fence. This is supposed to be impressive or some sign you did your job well?? You had multiple animal escapes. Apparently you had people from the general public handle the escaped animals. Of course they wanted you to build a perimeter! You seem to suffer from some kind of complex where the rules don’t apply to you and everyone who asks questions is just a hater! The majority of the public doesn’t keep captive bears on display by choice. If you want to operate that way you have to play by the rules. No one told you to continue to add more animals to your displays at what was supposed to be a refuge, clearly exceeding what you could afford. It is a shame because it doesn’t sound like any of the money actually went to those poor animals. And you indicate you had to take out a loan for this, giving you even more monetary incentives.
I am always troubled to hear a nonprofit or refuge that is being deceptively managed and not complying with rules. It deserves much more reporting, but unfortunately investigative journalism is limited. All the nonprofits I have worked for have made this a top priority, because public trust is so important. That’s why it’s strange how little you seem to care that you violated federal and state regulation again and again, along with animal protection laws. People give expecting their money to go to good use and be properly managed. You are so angry not everyone is buying your story, but you’re not just a private citizen. You claimed to operate a “refuge”.
And your plan to now use farm animals is even more troubling. Farm animals are the most abused creatures on earth, so congrats on finding a loophole where you can continue to mistreat animals since there are very few regulations you’ll need to comply with. Maybe instead of a refuge you should more honestly market it as a petting zoo.
Sarah, way to kickem while they are down! People are losing their life long passion. On top of that Wendy is dying of cancer. Along comes Sarah and publicly accusing them of embezzlement! Love your style!
Sarah M. says
I have no sympathy for people who mistreat animals, and especially those who do so under the guise of helping animals. Someone’s illness is very sad, but it doesn’t make animal abuse right nor does it absolve them of violating the law. These people are busy right now rehoming some of their animals to ZOOs, according to the posts on their facebook page. Tourists donated to this place and many people visited under the guise this was a “refuge.” It is honestly a disgrace and so typical of some of some of the operations in this area. Such poor management and dishonest. You don’t want anyone asking questions, I get it. And lucky for you, no one probably will. They’ll probably let this zoo reopen down the line anyway, because bad people always win and the animals always lose.