OTTAWA-CARLETON WILDLIFE CENTRE ANNOUNCES CLOSURE OF REHABILITATION FACILITY AND HOTLINE SERVICE
OTTAWA, Nov. 29, 2002 – The Board of Directors of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre (OCWC) regret to announce that they will be closing the Moodie Drive wildlife rehabilitation facility, and its Conflict Resolution telephone hotline service. The Centre finalized its decision at its annual general meeting November 28.
The Board blames actions by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and a lack of support from the City of Ottawa’s Emergency & Protective Services (EPS) staff for the loss of what has been a widely used and valued community service for the past 15 years.
“I am extremely disappointed by this news” said Ottawa Councilor Alex Munter. “The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre has offered humane, compassionate care for animals that has always been a good deal for the taxpayer. There is no question this decision, if left unchanged, will lead to extra costs for the city.”
The Board’s decision follows a four-month battle with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, which escalated on September 12 when the government department raided the Centre, seizing 34 young healthy raccoons and one skunk. The Ministry also introduced restrictions that make it impossible to offer a humane and responsible wildlife rehabilitation service in Ottawa, or anywhere in Ontario.
“No volunteer organization should be expected to operate under such conditions,” says Centre President Donna DuBreuil. “They have intimated our staff, and frightened our volunteers. The Board simply could not guarantee that wildlife brought in by the Ottawa public for care would not meet the same fate as those animals that were seized.”
“This is a very sad day for Ottawa,” says OCWC Board Member Debbie Lawes. “The Ministry’s actions have resulted in the loss of a valuable community service, one that has been recognized as one of the most progressive wildlife programs in North America. The other victims, of course, are the animals themselves – the ones that were seized by the Ministry and taken to a research facility – and the thousands of baby animals that will be left to die because responsible wildlife rehabilitation has effectively been outlawed in Ontario.”
The Ministry has made three erroneous decisions this year that have forced the closure of the OCWC. They are:
· The 1 km Rule: The Ministry revoked the Centre’s exemption that allowed it to release orphaned baby wildlife beyond one kilometer of where they were found. Since most orphans come in alone or in pairs and are placed together, this regulation would require us to separate animals that have bonded together and return them, alone and terrified, back to a busy and inappropriate site where it would have no chance of survival. No one can provide humane or responsible wildlife rehabilitation under such absurd regulations.
· Rabies High-Risk Zone: Expanding the rabies high-risk zone into Ottawa is not justified. To make matters worse, the Ministry is also prohibiting any care for raccoons, skunks and foxes. Turning away these animals would be irresponsible, leaving a compassionate public no choice but to care for wildlife themselves, thereby creating more serious human health and safety issues.
· Unwarranted Seizure: The seizure of healthy young animals and the high-handed manner in which volunteers and staff were treated this summer has seriously eroded the confidence and trust of the public seeking help for wildlife and that of volunteers and staff at the Centre in working with the Ministry in the future. There is grave concern on the part of many people that the animals taken will never be returned and that they are being used for research purposes.
Ottawa-Centre Liberal MPP Richard Patten, who has been a vocal supporter of the Centre’s cause at Queen’s Park, says the loss of such an essential community service will jeopardize the government’s efforts to build more public-private partnerships between the voluntary sector, government and industry.
“For a provincial government that promotes volunteerism as an important and cost-effective alternative in delivering needed community services, based on the atrocious mishandling of the Wildlife Centre debacle, it has shown that it is much better at dismantling volunteer programs than building them,” says Patten.
A lack of support from the city’s EPS unit also contributed to the Board’s decision to close the Wildlife Centre. EPS staff has resisted efforts by the Wildlife Centre to work cooperatively on proactive education campaigns that would reduce the number of human-wildlife conflicts in the city.
The actions of EPS staff appear at odds with Ottawa City Council. On September 25, City Council reiterated its support for the Centre and directed staff to work with OMNR and the Centre to seek a resolution to the dispute. Council said Ottawa should continue to benefit from a cost-effective essential service “which reflects only a small portion of the financial burden the city would bear if it were obliged to provide such services directly”.
Rather than mediate a resolution, EPS staff recommended that municipal funding for the Centre’s telephone hotline service be eliminated. According to internal documents leaked to The Ottawa Citizen, the EPS plans to take over the hotline service. Last year, the hotline received nearly 6,000 labour-intensive calls from local residents. With 75% of its budget subsidized by volunteer support and private donations, the Wildlife Centre was able to provide the hotline service for less than 20 cents per capita. Having the City of Ottawa provide an equivalent service could cost 45 cents per capita or more.
“Residents have a right to expect help with wildlife problems in that extensive development is responsible for habitat loss and human/wildlife conflicts in the first place,” says DuBreuil. “While it will not be delivered as cost-effectively, it is reassuring to know that the City has a plan in place to take over the service as of January 1st, 2003. Community volunteers and residents will be watching closely to ensure that the progressive wildlife response that residents have come to expect and that has been so hard-won over so many years is continued by the City.”
It’s highly unlikely, however, that the City will choose to provide a wildlife rehabilitation service, which leaves residents with nowhere to turn when they find an orphaned or injured animal. The OMNR has advised that residents who find an injured or orphaned baby raccoon, skunk or fox must leave it alone, or take it into a veterinarian to be euthanized at their expense. The Board of the Wildlife Centre describes such advice as irresponsible and inhumane.
“The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre may cease to exist, but as concerned residents, we will continue to make our voices heard on behalf of humane solutions to wildlife issues,” says DuBreuil. “If this responsibility falls on the City of Ottawa, then it will be incumbent upon them to offer the same level of service residents have come to expect from a not-for-profit volunteer organization.”
Established in 1987, the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre has provided local residents with a progressive wildlife rehabilitation program and telephone response hotline. The Centre has assisted over 50,000 area residents with wildlife problems while caring for nearly 15,000 orphaned and injured wild mammals during the past 15 years.