A wildlife rehabilitation facility in Central Oregon is under investigation by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The High Desert Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center voluntarily gave up its permit to care for wildlife after a visit from ODFW officials earlier this month.
"When that occurred, we went into the facility and dealt with those animals," said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for ODFW. She said the center was caring for mostly birds or small mammals that were then transferred to other care centers, released or euthanized.
Dr. Byron Maas is a veterinarian and a new board member of the High Desert Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. He says the veterinarian who founded the center, Dr. Jeff Cooney fell ill earlier this year. Maas said that it was Cooney's responsibility to keep up with the requirements of the permit, but recently had not filed necessary, regular reports to the state.
“So there wasn’t adequate responding, adequate reporting and follow-through,” Maas said. "There are a lot of animals to care for, and it just got overwhelming. Jeff’s illness was a big setback. When he wasn’t able to do as much as he used to, that started to have an impact on the facility."
ODFW requires wildlife rehabilitation facilities to track the number and species that come through a facility and to report on the kind of care provided to wildlife. Maas says that the facility was meeting ODFW’s permit minimum standards, but it was the follow-up reporting required by the permit that fell through the cracks.
Maas said the facility needed cleaning and other updates and that it’s likely the center was at capacity for the number of wild animals it could care for. He said the board hopes to reopen the wildlife center under a new permit this fall.
ODFW expects to issue a report later this month with the results of its investigation.
While it's closed, the center has posted on its Facebook page a list of places where people can take injured or sick wildlife. Since 2013, High Desert Rescue has treated 3,182 animals at the volunteer-run center. Maas said this service is becoming increasingly important in the region.
"Everyone loves to be over here in Central Oregon because of nature, but we’re becoming more and more urbanized," Maas said. "So our interactions with wildlife are becoming complicated. We need this resource."