Adirondack Wildlife Refuge surrenders license amid allegations
Wilmington Shelter Seeks Ways To Stay In Business
By Gwendolyn Craig
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge finds new homes for the majority of its animals after the operator surrendered two of its remaining wildlife licenses that the state planned to revoke after years of allegedly misleading and inappropriate information about the animal farm of Wilmington.
Records obtained by Adirondack Explorer through a request for information, the Department of Environmental Conservation lost patience with the operation. DEC has attempted since 2015 to bring operator Wendy Hall and the shelter into compliance after repeated violations, but to no avail.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service denied Hall’s federal license renewal in November 2019, also citing multiple violations. In addition to housing educational animals with those in rehabilitation intended for release, DEC files cite reports from whistleblowers of “discussions with staff to deceive regulators about illegal activities at AWR” and reports of “false statements”. DEC staff also highlighted three cases 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 the DEC Special Licensing Unit, testified before DEC Administrative Law Judge Richard Sherman on July 13 that he believed public safety was at risk given AWR’s animal escape history. Adirondack Explorer obtained the transcript of this hearing. Therrien has worked at DEC for almost two decades.
“Any of these animals that come out of their enclosure is going to be in a strange environment,” Therrien said. “If they meet the public, they will be surrounded by people they don’t know, they will be stressed, anxious and could easily react in a way that could very harm the public. We would therefore see this facility with the animals housed there as a risk to public health and safety in the region. “
Steve Hall, Wendy Hall’s husband and co-founder of the shelter, said Wednesday his wife made mistakes and admitted some of the violations. He called the surrender of his licenses by Wendy Hall a “terrible mistake”. They are complying with DEC’s order to find new homes for their animals, he said, although they hope it doesn’t come to that.
The Halls have partnered with a nonprofit called Nature Walks Conservation Society. Executive director Mark Fraser said he was finding the animal homes, but also trying to get properly licensed staff at the Wilmington shelter. He hopes the shelter can remain open and that some animals, especially wolves, can stay. Fraser lives in Massachusetts.
“My number one goal is to make sure every animal in the facility is safe, bar none,” Fraser said. “My long term goal, assuming every animal is saved, is the hope of saving this important educational gem for the northern Adirondacks. “
Two AWR staff members – Hanna Cromie and Halls son Alex – applied for the licenses Wendy lost. Steve Hall, who sometimes writes for Explorer’s Adirondack Almanack, and Fraser said DEC does not license them. Steve Hall and Fraser both believe Cromie and Alex Hall qualify.
In an emailed statement, a DEC press secretary said at least two people associated with AWR applied for DEC licenses, but the many violations involved occurred while those people were working there.
“This summer, DEC’s comprehensive review of permit applications and their role in past AWR violations resulted in the denial of applications for permits to continue to possess DEC-regulated wildlife in the summer. ‘installation,’ the agency’s statement read.
Fraser said there were two more license applications, but he has yet to learn whether the state has considered those requests. Meanwhile, Wendy Hall, who was diagnosed earlier this year with pancreatic and liver cancer, read a statement for the shelter posted on YouTube Wednesday.
“It’s unfair of them (Cromie and Alex Hall) to be tagged with this, and they should be allowed to apply for licenses,” said Wendy Hall.
In April 2021, the DEC wrote to Wendy Hall that they were planning to revoke her license to collect or possess state-regulated wildlife and her license to display endangered or threatened species. Steve Hall, nor anyone else working at the shelter, has these DEC licenses.
“Currently,” a DEC statement read, “there is no action pending against Steve Hall”.
Wendy Hall requested a hearing and DEC held one on July 13, but she did not show up and neither did any other AWR representative. Instead, before the hearing, Wendy Hall surrendered her licenses.
Her husband later said she was acting on the advice of a lawyer, but the Halls later felt it was a mistake.
In her hearing testimony, Therrien said the DEC is not asking for any fines against the shelter. When Sherman asked why not, Therrien said it had already been tried; DEC even tried to increase fees to bring AWR into compliance.
“It had no effect, whether it was the notices, the orders or the violations,” Therrien testified. “The main objective is, again, to withdraw these revocable licenses and remove these animals from the facility.”
In an agreement with the DEC, Wendy Hall and AWR staff have until October 25 to relocate two wolves, two American black bears, two coyotes, a red fox, a gray fox, a fisherman, a porcupine North American, a bobcat, and an eastern box turtle. So far, Pippin the Red Fox has been placed at the Abbe-Freeland Wildlife Sanctuary in Allegany County.
The refuge has been closed to the public since this summer.
In an April 30 letter, DEC officials pointed to Wendy Hall’s years of non-compliance and repeated possession of wildlife without proper permits. Steve Hall dismisses this as bureaucratic and complicated red tape. The DEC called the Wendy Hall violations “further proof that you lack the degree of diligence and reliability required to hold state wildlife licenses.” The letter lists 17 cases of non-compliance from January 2015 to June 2021.
The letter, signed by Anthony Wilkinson, director of DEC’s Fish and Wildlife Division, includes whistleblower reports from two former AWR volunteers. The report revealed that a bobcat named Yayo had escaped from the refuge.
“A volunteer above you and a member of staff discuss whether to report the escape or falsely report the bobcat as dead to DEC,” the letter read. “On July 27, 2020, you reported to DEC that Yayo had passed away and was buried in the facility. Falsely reporting the death of a bobcat in your possession instead of escaping is another violation, ”of the license.
Steve Hall said the people CED was referring to “are witnesses who would never walk through the door of a public court for very good reasons.” One witness, he said, was a former employee who crashed a truck in the driveway of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and refused to pay for any damage. The other was this employee’s girlfriend and also a shelter worker. He called them “two people who wanted revenge on us, and boy, it worked.”
Wilkinson also revisited in his letter the two black bears that had escaped AWR on two occasions. The second time they escaped was at the end of June.
“Photos and your description of the extinct black bear on social media have shown you snooping on the bear, Stephen Hall hugging the bear and a statement that the escaped bear is ‘completely harmless’ Wilkinson wrote. “Additionally, you reported via social media that unauthorized members of the public assisted in the recovery of the escaped black bear and posted a photo of an anonymous person face to face with the bear in the wild. . “
Wilkinson said these were other violations related to housing requirements for animals so they cannot escape and protect the public from attack, and prohibiting direct contact of an animal with the public.
Steve Hall said it was a DEC tactic to make bears look dangerous.
Fraser picks up the pieces. His non-profit organization, which he created in 2011, takes on the fundraising role in place of Adirondack Wildlife, Inc. Adirondack Wildlife, Inc. AWR. But the Halls have parted ways with the Adirondack Wildlife board.
“We had huge issues with them,” said Steve Hall. “They developed an attitude with Wendy and we ended up breaking up.”
John Thaxton, former president of Adirondack Wildlife Inc. and writer of Adirondack Explorer column of birds, said he was unaware that the Adirondack Wildlife had separated from the AWR. He said the original arrangement was that all money and donations that went through the wildlife sanctuary would then go through Adirondack Wildlife so it wouldn’t be taxed.
Thaxton was aware of some of Wendy Hall’s violations, but was unaware that the DEC had ordered the animals at the shelter to be placed elsewhere.
This is where Fraser comes in, although with a full-time job and running his Massachusetts nonprofit, he said it was “brutally difficult.” He is hoping for a state “miracle”, some kind of pardon or reconsideration to allow current AMR staff to obtain a license.
Although he has identified outbreaks for many animals, Fraser said he is not disclosing the proposed destination. He said he would disclose the locations once the animals are in their new homes or if he gets a license for the shelter.
Fraser would like to rent the Halls refuge and make it work for the thousands of school children who visit each year, in addition to all the tourists who come. The Halls also recently took out a $ 140,000 loan to build a perimeter fence at the refuge before finding out that the DEC had plans to revoke Wendy Hall’s licenses. Steve Hall said that even if all the animals eventually find new homes, he will keep the shelter open. He intends to house goats, chickens and cattle and teach groups about the origins of cattle, which he says does not get enough attention.
The Halls began rehabilitating and caring for injured wildlife around two decades ago. Wendy Hall has also volunteered with North Country Wild Care, a wildlife helpline that matches rehabilitation professionals with people with injured birds and animals. Fraser said he sympathizes with the Halls and does not want their life’s work to be destroyed.
So far, Fraser said, the state has failed to respond to its business plans.
“The Adirondack Wildlife Sanctuary shouldn’t end this way,” Fraser said.