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

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Late last year, Carlson began to prepare to renew her state permit through the aviary. At first, she was told she’d need to get a master rehabilitation certification—something not offered or required in Utah. Last December 4, Carlson opened an e-mail from a veterinary technician and intern coordinator at the aviary. n

“Sorry for the delay in responding to the e-mail you sent regarding the ‘master rehabber’ test. After much discussion among the senior staff, I think at this point we are looking to no longer carry sub-permits. …It sounds like you should have no problem passing the exam and with all the years experience you have it shouldn’t be a problem. We will maintain you on the Federal permit until 2010 so you don’t have to worry about that for a few years. …” n

Carlson saw an immediate problem. Federal and state permits have to be in sync. She couldn’t operate with only a state permit if the aviary held the federal permit separately. It can take six months or more to process a federal permit. She’d also thought that the aviary had obligated itself to the program until the federal permit ran out. n

“When they gave us two weeks’ notice to be done, we were done,” Carlson says. “There was nothing I could do in that short a time to be up and running.” Besides the permits, she says she’d need to get nonprofit designation and do fund-raising on her own. n

“It was a very low blow,” Carlson says. And it wasn’t until she had her lawyer in tow that she first talked to Brown. n

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Carlson was acting on the belief that aviary staff told people she refused to take the nonexistent test, among other things. Worried about her reputation, she warned Brown that he was slandering her. Carlson also believes the implication is that the rehab program was a casualty of poor finances that could be helped with the bond passage. n

Brown, however, holds the line that the rehab program was simply too risky to continue—even though there had never been a complaint. “Being the permit-holder, we have a responsibility to provide a level of oversight, which we haven’t been doing,” he says. “They invest their souls; they’ve spent time and money to go to remote houses to accommodate injured birds. I’m saddened by where we’ve arrived, but if we are responsible for them, you should have some institutional procedures. We have so much to do here that we have to prioritize our time, and spending time with rehabbers doesn’t meet our top priorities.” n

The aviary has been 70 percent complete for years, and Brown is firm that piecemeal reconstruction won’t happen. Bad for the birds; bad for the visitors. n

Meanwhile, birds are still hitting widows, being shot, landing in sludge ponds and being electrocuted in Salt Lake County. The Ogden Nature Center is taking most of the cases, as the nearest facility with a permit to care for injured birds. n

“Now we have a massive influx of people from the Salt Lake Valley, says DaLyn Erickson, the center’s wildlife specialist. “It’s about doubled our numbers. We’re a small nonprofit rehab facility, and there’s not a lot of funding for that.” n

Volunteers are trying to step in, she says. Still, it is illegal to transport even a little finch without a permit. Owen Hogle, owner of the Wild Bird Center in Holladay, called Brown at the aviary to make a personal appeal for the terminated rehabbers. “I felt this decision was handled very poorly,” Hogle says. “If they had set a timeline so Candy and Tazia could prepare, they could have handled this so much better.” n

The Wild Bird Center gets 10 to 12 calls a week from people with injured birds, Hogle says. That’s just a fraction of the total number of bird injuries, however: Multiplied throughout the valley, that number would be huge. n

Hogle himself has been trying to come up with some alternatives, as have other organizations. n

An emotional meeting that Brown arranged ended disastrously in mid-October. Brown offered to work toward a solution outside the aviary—to write rules and standards, address recruiting new rehabbers and coordinate training—and still plans a Nov. 10 meeting. Carlson feels he just wants to delay resolution until after the bond election, and that he fundamentally misunderstands the program. The two rehabbers had been working under federal standards, recruiting and training for years, although few newcomers stuck with the demanding program. n

And while Brown has now determined that AZA frowns on rehab activities, the original decision—made by a staffer—was simply to terminate without transition. n

Meantime, Brown has been getting calls in “strong opposition” to the bond based on the bird rehab controversy. And he’s incensed at the connectivity of the two otherwise unrelated issues. n

“It’s about the need for us to have more indoor space … so the revenue stream doesn’t drop between September and May,” Brown says of the bond. “It’s a business plan. It’s not about rehab.” n

Carlson—a bird with an injured wing—can agree with that now. tttt

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Katharine Biele

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