Wildwoods Wildlife Rehabilitation, which suddenly had to quit caring for wild animals in October, has a permit to resume operations — but there’s a hitch.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is only permitting Wildwoods to have 10 people assist wildlife rehabber Valerie Slocum in hands-on work with the animals, said Jessica LaBumbard, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Outside of LaBumbard, the remaining seven people on the paid staff do work directly with the animals, she said. But many volunteers fill in as well, and they are available only for limited hours. That means the facility, which cared for 1,730 wild animals last year before ceasing operations on Oct. 17, needs to have more people able to work with animals to be open as much as it was in the past.
She wants the DNR to approve 30 hands-on shelter assistants, and she’s asking the public to help her lobby the state agency for that approval.
“Without that number … we’re going to have to limit the time that we’re open to the public and limit the number of animals we can take,” LaBumbard said Thursday in the house that serves as a front office at 4009 W. Arrowhead Road. “And that’s really hard.”
That’s how Wildwoods has operated in the past, LaBumbard said.
Heidi Cyr, wildlife rehab permit coordinator for the DNR, expressed surprise about that in a telephone interview. She said 10 is the ceiling for hands-on assistants.
“They had never requested a variance before,” Cyr said Thursday. “So if they had more people working for them, we weren’t aware of it.”
LaBumbard and Cyr agree that the DNR already has approved a variance this year for Wildwoods. That’s because the state regards Slocum, although she has 20 years of experience working with animals, as a “novice” wildlife rehabber. That means that without the variance, Slocum would be allowed only five hands-on assistants.
Cyr said Slocum is considered a novice because little of her experience involves rehabbing wildlife.
The DNR’s concern is for the animals, Cyr said.
“You know with such a large clinic, we … want to make sure the animals are taken care of in the way that they need to be,” she said. “And so they may need to cut back a little bit.”
Wildwoods’ previous rehabber had a “general” permit, making 10 assistants the normal limit. It was that employee’s departure in October that forced Wildwoods to stop caring for animals, LaBumbard said, because the permit is granted to the individual, not to the organization.
Slocum’s hiring in January and her obtaining of the permit is paving the way for Wildwoods to reopen, LaBumbard said.
The community continuing to support Wildwoods during the shutdown testifies to its importance, she added.
“There is nobody in the area that has stepped forward that’s able to do the work that Wildwoods has done, and the volume,” LaBumbard said.
Cyr said several people in the Duluth area have applied for wildlife rehab permits since Wildwoods closed, and some have already taken their exams. Also, she said, a rehabber is already working in St. Louis County.
That would be Heather Flikke Griffith, who operates under the name of Crippled Critters Ranch in Babbitt. Griffith is permitted as a general wildlife rehabber, but she’s not looking for 10 assistants or even five.
“It’s just me,” Griffith said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I don’t have any volunteers.”
Griffith cared for 85 animals last year, she said, including seven baby trumpeter swans at one point.
Clearly, Wildwoods operates on a larger scale. A tour Thursday of an outbuilding that’s normally off limits to the public revealed different rooms set aside for different critters.
“This is our quiet room,” clinic manager Bri Klennert said at one point. “This is where we keep all of our bunnies.”
The room contains a small CD player on which nature sounds are played when its tenants are in residence. It’s for animals that are easily stressed out, Klennert explained. That means bats and adult songbirds as well as rabbits. “We try to keep talking to an absolute minimum in here,” she said.
Another room is only for fawns, and another is labeled “Pigeon Park.” Pigeons can’t be mixed with other birds, LaBumbard said.
Details will be announced later, but Wildwoods plans to have an open house on March 8 so the public can tour that building, LaBumbard said. She hopes to reopen on March 21. She hopes the DNR will have relented by then.
In the meantime, staff have been doing a deep cleaning and answering calls, and volunteers have been transferring injured or orphaned wildlife to other facilities.
They want to get back to doing what Wildwoods has done for 14 years, LaBumbard said. But they need to be prepared.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t open until we are 100% ready to open,” she said. “That we have the staff that we need and volunteers that we need, and that we’re able to care for every animal that comes in the door. So that’s why we have to be really careful about how we do this.”
To learn more
If you find a wild animal in need, you can call Wildwoods even though they have not yet resumed caring for animals. The number is 218-491-3604.
Information on contacting the Minnesota DNR about the Wildwoods permitting situation is on the organization’s Facebook page at facebook.com/wildwoodsrehab/