New wildlife rules pose problems for Kenora rehabilitation facility
Kenora wildlife custodian Lil Anderson is fearful that new provincial regulations may make it impossible for her to continue the work she’s found so rewarding over the past 25 years.

By Reg Clayton
for The Enterprise

Saturday January 29, 2005

Wildlife custodian Lil Anderson has 25 years experience in the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned raptors, such as this redtail hawk, for release back into the wild.
Bruce Ranta photo

Kenora wildlife custodian Lil Anderson’s heart soars every time she releases a rehabilitated bald eagle or great grey owl back into the wild. However, she’s fearful that new provincial regulations may make it impossible for her to continue the work she’s found so rewarding over the past 25 years.

“The extent of the regulations have yet to be determined. I will have to see what happens but it will limit my abilities to rehabilitate injured and orphaned birds,” she said.

Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay announced the proposed changes on Jan. 3. The regulations impose new standards for the care and rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife. The regulations include new eligibility requirements for wildlife custodians and standards to prevent the spread of disease from animals to humans and wildlife. There are also special provisions for custodians of rabies carrier species such as skunks and raccoons. MNR licenses about 100 wildlife custodians across Ontario under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

Anderson understands that the new regulations are intended to address “backyard” rehabilitators; people with good intentions but who may lack the training to ensure the animals are cared for properly with respect to medication, feeding and preparation prior to release.

Anticipating the regulation changes, Anderson recently invested time and money to improve her facility. The pens and flight cages were moved further back into the bush so the wildlife are enclosed in a separate area, completely removed from and beyond the view of pets and domestic animals on the property. Public tours are not conducted at the facility to keep human contact with the wildlife at a minimum.

However, she has since learned that the new regulations require wildlife to be completely raised in captivity so they can’t escape until they’re ready for release. The raptors must even be trained to hunt in an enclosed space and the use of raised platforms in the bush called hawking nests to familiarize orphaned birds in a natural setting is no longer allowed.

“The latest standards have changes that would be cost prohibitive to build,” Anderson said, adding that while the facility receives some donations, she pays for most of the operating costs herself.

Another new regulation concerning the release of birds into the wild poses a particular problem for Anderson.

“The problem comes in when we get migratory birds such as owls and we’re required to return them to within a kilometre of where they were picked up which may have been half way along their migration route.”

Anderson explained that the release of migratory birds in the same area they were found is not always safe or appropriate. The location may have contributed to the animal’s injury in the first place or in the case of migratory birds, depending on the season, it makes more sense to reintroduce them to the appropriate geographic location they would normally inhabit at that time of year in order to have a better chance at survival.

“I’m certainly optimistic that everything will work out. I know the intent was to have better and more consistent care and to prevent the spread of wildlife diseases,” she said.

In 2004, Anderson cared for a total of 38 birds and animals, including seven bald eagles, five great grey owls and a number of goshawks and kestrels. While she specializes in healing the injured and raising orphaned raptors, gulls, pelicans, hummingbirds and the occasional beaver, mink and otter have passed through the rehabilitation facility. Anderson operates the centre from the 155 acre property in rural northeast Kenora she shares with husband, Enterprise Outdoors columnist Bruce Ranta.

In addition to being employed as a resource technician at Kenora district MNR, Anderson is also a writer and has chronicled her experiences in the book Tales of a Wildlife Rehabilitator from Eh to Bea.

Story on Lake of the Woods Enterprise website