Feature | Ruffled Feathers: In Tracy Aviary’s ballot battle for funding, its injured bird rehab program gets the boot 


nThe call for help came from Envirocare, the radioactive waste repository now known as EnergySolutions. Four pelicans had landed on one of its low-level radioactive ponds in Tooele County. Three of the birds thought better of the decision and flew off. But one remained—for days. n

Envirocare workers traipsed out to the pond with their equipment, and sure enough, they found one hot avian. They scooped up the bird and took it to one of their decontamination baths. Then they called Candy Carlson. n

In her professional life, Carlson is a real-estate agent. But the bird world knows her as Utah’s premier migratory-bird rehabilitator. At least she was. n

Carlson has fallen victim of what appears to be a bureaucratic brain cramp amid an ambitious if critical rebuilding campaign on the part of Tracy Aviary, which severed ties with her and another rehabber earlier this year. n

But, for more than a decade, Carlson has definitely been the go-to person for bird rehab. People would discover injured birds and call Tracy Aviary, but because of a unique and longstanding collaboration with Carlson, the aviary would refer people to her. The aviary, after all, is a park, not a sanctuary or clinic. Its Website calls it “America’s oldest and largest bird park, founded with a private bird collection.” n

That day five years ago when Carlson got the call from Envirocare, she jumped in her Subaru wagon and drove out to Utah’s west desert to a designated drop, off an Interstate 80 exit, between the road and the ponds. Carlson had already called her veterinarian, who advised giving the pelican fluids and antibiotics. n

“The white pelicans come here to breed on remote spots on the Great Salt Lake. Often, it is the young ones that incur injury as they don’t have the flight experience to maneuver around power lines, etc.,” she says. “I took him home early in the evening and stayed up with him until 4 in the morning when he went into cardiac arrest and died.” n

Carlson and fellow rehabber Tazia Vickrey try not to obsess over the problems they see every day. They are consummate believers in making a difference, one bird at a time. n

“What we do probably affects people more than it affects birds,” Carlson says. “We’re not going to keep a bird from going extinct; there are bigger things out there that we have no control over.” n

Radioactive ponds, for instance—and traffic, pesticides, tree removal, high-rise buildings and high-voltage power lines. “Over the years, I have dealt with pelicans that have been electrocuted, that dropped out of the sky onto west-side freeways, that fell through canopies in Sugar House shopping strips while people were getting their hair cut, that landed in people’s swimming pools, or that were just discovered down in an isolated spot after suffering an impact injury,” Carlson says. “I have placed five non-releasable pelicans with Tracy Aviary on educational permits, one with Hogle Zoo, lost two (from radiation and electrocution) and released the rest—about a dozen.” n

When aviary director Tim Brown talks about birds, he likes to paraphrase from Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. It’s about how important it is for children to connect with nature. In an increasingly urban society, we are bringing up a generation of children removed from the natural world, unexposed to the cycles of life. Unless, of course, seeing The Lion King counts as exposure. n

Brown became director of the aviary in 2005 as the park was spiraling almost imperceptibly downward. For most people, the eight-acre parcel perched at the southwest corner of Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park had simply always been there. They knew it was a little run down and its exhibits a bit remote, but visitors had come to expect that. And besides, the aviary was about to open Destination Argentina!, its first new exhibit in 20 years. Good news. n

Then bad news came. In 2006, the American Zoological Association pulled the aviary’s accreditation. The park was guilty of “substandard facilities … deferred maintenance … and insufficient past and uncertain future funding,” the AZA noted. The association also wanted to see evidence of progress. n

Brown and other supporters of the aviary are focused on reaching that progress through a Nov. 4 bond issue. They see the vote as crucial to the aviary’s survival. But it is Brown’s current frustration that bird rehabilitation is somehow reframing the campaign. n

The bond issuance would be enough for the aviary to meet AZA standards. The park would get $13.5 million immediately and another $5 million after it raises $1.5 million privately. The aviary recently secured a $750,000 anonymous donation—half of the amount it must raise in order to qualify for the bond money. But the bird rehab question has become a public-relations nightmare, which Brown is desperate to resolve. n

It was never supposed to be a big issue. However ill advised, the decision to get rid of the volunteer rehab program became entrenched. And, because of the void it left in the county, Brown is now dealing with two problems he never anticipated—the broken rehab effort and the lost accreditation. n

“I didn’t see it coming, to some extent,” Brown says of the accreditation dilemma. “They hired a local committed to Salt Lake City and … never did I look at Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat and say, ‘I want to be a zookeeper.’”
nn

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