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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: Rehabilitating Adirondack wildlife with Wendy Hall

September 13, 2019
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

WILMINGTON - Wendy Hall walked up to an open-air enclosure housing two ravens, a female and a male. The female squawked. The male sat on a wooden board - motionless - with its beak poking through the cage.

"Hello, baby, are you all right? Are you all right, sweetheart?" Hall said to Ricky, the male.

She rubbed Ricky's beak.

Article Photos

Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center co-founder Wendy Hall feeds a sick, young robin on Thursday, Aug. 29 at the Wilmington facility.
(Provided photo — Andy Flynn)

"Oh, my big boy. What's a matter, baby?"

Ricky is old. He came to the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center in Wilmington because he had metabolic bone disease. Hall explained that some "well-meaning person" gave him food such as bread and Cheerios, and that made him sick.

Ricky just sat there, and Hall wasn't sure whether to worry or not.

"Ricky used to fool around, like playing dead and people would freak out and then he would stand up and fly up, but I'm not sure what this is. This isn't making me very happy. ... Are you just doing that to fun with me?"

Sometimes Ricky tries to make Hall feel bad. Just for attention.

"They get emotional. They're not simply about survival. They're emotional beings. The corvids: the crows, ravens, blue jays."

Hall and her husband Steve operate the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center. It's tucked away, under the pines, between the Springfield Road and the West Branch of the AuSable River, next to a popular trout-fishing spot. It's part zoo, part animal hospital and part education center.

Wendy is a geriatric nurse by trade, and one of her patients left this 50-acre tract of land to the Halls in her will. They moved here in 2000 and began a small rehabilitation center. She got her wildlife rehabilitation license from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and when the animals could not be released into the wild, she applied for permits to keep them for educational purposes. The refuge slowly grew, and it turned into an education center, open to the public for tours. She also takes animals - mostly birds - on the road to events for public outreach.

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Starting young

Wendy Hall has loved wildlife since she was a little girl. She grew up in the Bronx, and her father - who died young of cancer - bought a "house in the country" for the family in the Peekskill area of the Hudson Valley.

"It was very important for him to bring his children to wildlife," Hall said. "He was a city person. He was sick. He was not a well person ever. He had asthma."

Hall said her father, a psychiatrist, thought that some health problems and depression could be linked to a disconnect with nature.

"He wanted his family to be in tune with nature," she said. "So I was tiny when I got involved."

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Feelings about the job

Hall has been rehabilitating animals for about 45 years. She's committed to helping wildlife and teaching humans about what she's finding in the animals she treats. And the more she does this job, the more worried she gets about the health of the planet.

"It's kind of a bittersweet thing," Hall said. "I'm really happy in my little encapsulated wildlife refuge of 50 acres. I'm thrilled. I love it. I have to pinch myself every day I wake up and see these beautiful trees and the wolves are howling and the bears are performing and it's fun and wonderful."

Hall said she feels lucky to live in the Adirondack Park, a protected place where nature and climate seem normal. But it's not normal. The natural world has changed over the past few decades, and she sees it in the animals.

"Right now I'm not liking what I am seeing in the environment," she said. "Because I'm a kind of a curmudgeon with people, I just say to myself, 'How could this happen? How could we, as human beings, let this precious God's green Earth start dying where we're losing species, ridiculously high amount of species?'"

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Wildlife problems

This past year has been one of the busiest for Hall and her wildlife rehabilitator friends in the region, she said.

"For instance, I had at least seven bear cubs that were yearling cubs where they should have weighed 40 to 60 pounds. They'd come in at 9 to 20 pounds with terrible mange, ticks, emaciation and just horrible indicators of an ecosystem and an environment that is not healthy."

She's also still getting baby squirrels, birds and rabbits, which is later than normal. March through August is the typical baby season. Around August, she typically starts to release the young animals back to the wild. But the babies keep arriving.

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Climate change

The strange changes Hall sees in the health of Adirondack wildlife, she said, can be attributed to the changing climate and the shifting of seasons.

"What wildlife rehabilitators see is what they see, and it's very real. Twenty-five, 30 years ago, ticks were not an issue. So there's really no such thing as fake climate change, fake sarcoptic mange and fake ticks. These are all very real things that tie into a changing environment. And this is my most important thing to point out as a wildlife rehabilitator."

Hall calls it "connectivity." If the climate is not normal, then the ecosystem is off-kilter and wildlife is deeply affected by it.

"People are still not admitting climate change," she said. "What we find important, what politicians grapple about, is not the planet. And it should very well be that. So it frustrates me and it makes me unhappy."

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Rehabilitation

When Hall gets a phone call from the public or the DEC about a strange-acting or sick animal, she first assesses the situation. It could be that someone doesn't understand how an animal normally acts, and the animal could be perfectly healthy. She may give advice to people over the phone, such as how to get a bat out of their home. Or there may be a true emergency that needs immediate attention.

The three steps of Hall's job are rescue, rehabilitate and release.

When Hall acquires a sick animal - picking it up or having it dropped off - she takes it to a veterinarian for a check-up. In a perfect world, she'll assess the health of the animal, do what she can to improve the animal's health and then release it back into the wild.

When an animal is released into the wild, that's the end of the journey for Hall. She doesn't check up on it.

"It does not have our protection anymore, and that can be pretty bittersweet," she said. "We're celebrating its release, but we can no longer watch over it. Like having a fawn and watching it go, and knowing that there's a hunting season, that they frequently get hit by cars and that there's all kinds of ways that it can get in trouble. So that is wildlife rehabilitation."

After rehabilitation, if an animal would not survive in the wild due to an injury, such as blindness in one eye or a damaged wing on a raptor, Hall will apply for a permit to keep it for educational purposes.

"And we would use them specifically to raise public awareness about nature, about the ecosystem, the environment and its connection to our wildlife here in the Adirondacks."

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Refuge

Hall has a wide variety of animals that she and her staff use to teach the public about wildlife and the environment: birds such as ravens, bald eagles, different species of owls and hawks, a peregrine falcon, an American kestrel and geese; and mammals such as a fisher, gray fox and porcupine.

The refuge hosts school groups, and Hall travels with animals to give programs about habitat. She's spoken for organizations such as the Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy and Important Birding Areas.

"It makes me happy to see that the animals that we've had here as educational animals are still alive every day," Hall said. "It makes me unhappy to think that if it weren't for zoos, then we wouldn't have big cats or most of the other animals like white rhinos or much of the large beasts. We need zoos."

The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center isn't a zoo, but it feels like one sometimes. It has enclosures for the wolves and black bears that were donated to the facility. They are not rehabilitated animals, but they do help with the educational message. The wolves will sometimes howl as visitors walk along the trails of the property or talk with Steve Hall in the education center.

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Beyond the refuge

Wendy Hall gathers data on the animals she treats and shares it with Tara Miller, a PhD student at Boston University who is also an Adirondack Wildlife Refuge board member. She's using the data to track increases in diseases and toxins that affect wildlife.

"We're working on using wildlife rehabilitation records to look at the impacts of climate change and human impacts on wildlife," Miller said.

Hall hopes to make a difference, not just locally but globally, with her educational message. Eventually, she'll be able to present her findings to people who can make a difference politically.

With all the sickness that surrounds her, the marked changes in wildlife due to climate change, and the constant need for public education, wildlife rehabilitation is a labor of love for Hall. It's not enough to simply help the wildlife of the Adirondacks; she feels the need to help the planet. And while she finds joy in the intimate moments - such as those shared with Ricky the raven - there is little joy when it comes to facing the maladies caused by an environment that is constantly changing.

"It's not fun when people don't understand basic things that they should," she said. "But then again, I say to myself, 'That's why you're here. Just talk to people.'"

 
 
 

 

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