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Refuge must give up birds, USFWS decides

Wendy Hall of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge lets Jonas, a red-tailed hawk, perch on her arm in May 2018 at the Big Green Shin-Dig event in front of Lake Placid High School. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

WILMINGTON — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied requests from the co-owner of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge to let the organization keep some of its birds for exhibition purposes.

USFWS said in a news release Thursday that after reviewing AWR co-owner Wendy Hall’s request for the agency to reconsider its denial of her previous applications, the agency has “determined that reversal of its decision is not appropriate” because the refuge continues to violate state and federal laws.

“This is not a step we take lightly — which is why we’ve been working with Ms. Hall since 2014 to remedy these ongoing compliance issues. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in this case,” Scott Johnston, acting assistant regional director for the service’s migratory bird program, said in a statement.

“Hall is required to release to the wild any healthy native animals that have completed rehabilitation, transfer animals needing care to another licensed wildlife rehabilitator in the state, and surrender migratory birds that are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, since she is no longer authorized to possess migratory birds for rehabilitation and exhibition,” according to a news release from the USFWS.

Hall now has 45 days to appeal the USFWS’ decision to reject her applications to keep some of the refuge’s birds. She said she does plan to appeal, but with the intention of handing off the business to a new wildlife rehabilitator, who currently works there.

“It is time for me to pass the torch,” she said Thursday. “The refuge will go on, and it will be in young hands now.”

“Ongoing violations”

A spokesman for the USFWS, David Eisenhauer, said the violations of state and federal law are primarily related to “maintaining accurate records on the intake of migratory birds for rehabilitation purposes; the period of time such birds were within her care (not to exceed 180 days); the final disposition of those birds; and not reporting to the (USFWS) within 24 hours that bald eagles were submitted to the facility.”

“Based on the violations, we don’t believe any animals were endangered,” he said.

Hall has conceded that she hasn’t kept up with required paperwork.

“There’s no excuse for me not keeping up with what I need to do,” she said Wednesday.

On Thursday, she said in a phone call that she has “never kept healthy birds” after they were successfully rehabilitated, and the refuge has been known to celebrate the release of healthy birds back into the wild.

Hall’s federal migratory bird rehabilitation and exhibition permits expired in November 2018. The state Department Environmental Conservation revoked Hall’s state rehabilitation license Nov. 25, 2019, after notifying her of its intention to do so on Oct. 31, 2019. Both actions, according to spokespeople from both agencies, were related to the ongoing violations of state and federal law. The DEC and USFWS have been working closely on this case.

Wendy Hall and her husband Steven Hall have said the catalyst for the license being revoked was an injured, unlicensed bald eagle that was found by the DEC and USFWS during a spot inspection.

DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said that ever since Wendy Hall’s federal permits expired, she has been “in illegal possession of her previously licensed migratory birds and has since taken in additional migratory birds without license authority.”

Wendy told the Enterprise Wednesday evening she was unaware that her federal permits had expired until her applications to keep the birds were denied recently.

“The person that I paid to do it, unbeknownst to me, didn’t put them in the mail,” she said. “I didn’t know that until I started looking to why I didn’t get the renewal.”

Still open, looking ahead

The current employee the Halls have chosen to take over the rehabilitation side of the AWR — while they focus on education — has been waiting a month to get approval for her work from the USFWS, according to Steven Hall. He said Wednesday that the USFWS and DEC have been difficult to get in touch with, and they are now working with representatives of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s office on this issue.

The news of Wendy’s state license revocation, first reported in the Enterprise Jan. 22, was met with an outpouring of support from those who have visited the refuge over the years. The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, first established on Springfield Road in Wilmington 20 years ago, welcomes some 50,000 visitors each year as well as students from many local schools, according to Steven.

Wendy has traveled with the refuge’s animals to put on programs about wildlife and habitat. She has spoken for a variety of organizations, including the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy and Important Birding Areas.

The refuge remains open at 977 Springfield Road. As of this past September, the refuge hosted birds such as ravens, bald eagles, owls and hawks, a peregrine falcon, an American kestrel and geese, but it also has mammals such as wolves, a fisher, a gray fox and a porcupine.

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