OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) — A wildlife rehab center in Ogden that regularly saves America’s national bird is facing eviction.
Not only does this mean that a handful of bald eagles will needlessly die every year, but thousands of other animals will face the same fate as well. Ogden City mayoral candidates are now speaking out in favor of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, which the city is kicking out of the nest.
Under an educational services agreement, WRCNU has been able to use a facility that was built for animal care for more than a decade. Ogden City owns the facility and a letter from the city attorney gives the rehab center until Sept. 6 to vacate its current location at 1490 Park Blvd.
Over the last couple of weeks, mayoral candidates have toured the facility and come out in opposition to the wildlife center moving out of the facility. On Monday afternoon, Angel Castillo and Chris Barragan were the latest candidates to make a visit.
“The irony of Mike Caldwell being a lame duck mayor and this being a wildlife rehabilitation center is not lost on me,” Castillo said.
Castillo, like many of the other candidates, is supportive of WRCNU and upset with the city’s handling of the situation.
“The reality is that pushing them out is going to be a disservice to all of Ogden City and northern Utah,” said mayoral candidate Taylor Knuth.
Knuth has worked with different nonprofits in the area. He emphasized these types of services have positive social impacts on the communities in which they exist.
“Great community partners and entities are having to compete for the city’s support and that should not be the situation,” stated mayoral candidate Oscar Mata.
Mata also emphasized the idea that Caldwell’s predecessor pushed off a few big decisions at the end of his term in order to allow incoming Caldwell the courtesy of making decisions that would directly impact his first term. Mata told ABC4 that he would hope Caldwell would do the same.
Ben Nadoloski, a current city council member and mayoral candidate, is also a long-time supporter of WRCNU. Over the next few weeks, he said he hopes the community can “convince the mayor and his administration about the importance of this partnership and hope that they come to the table in goodwill and bring opportunities for success for everybody.”
“We need to think about what’s right for Utah, what’s right for our community, what’s right for the animals of Utah and take some time before we just mow this over and build a parking lot,” mayoral candidate Chris Barragan said.
Barragan noted that WRCNU is not only one of the few wildlife rehab centers in the state but that it is an important partner for Utah zoos and similar educational programs. If it is shut down, the effect will be widely felt.
The candidates aren’t just calling on the mayor to step up and do something, they’re calling on the community as well. Castillo urged community members to “personally reach out to Mayor Mike Caldwell and as him to give the wildlife rehabilitation center a year-and-a-half extension. People can make a difference.”
DaLyn Marthaler, executive director at WRCNU, said that the rehab center would have moved the center if the city had been actively communicating its plans to expand a park that sits next door. However, Marthaler said the letter from the attorney came as a complete surprise.
“The timeframe that we’ve been given to make that happen is impossible,” she said. “These are living beings and Utah is better than this.”
There are a couple of small wildlife rehab centers in northern Utah. However, those centers take in fewer animals each year than WRCNU takes in during just the summer. On average, the center helps around 4,000 birds and small animals every year.
WRCNU will have to stop taking in new animals on May 15 now that the eviction deadline is looming. If they keep accepting animals beyond that date, Marthaler said the animals who do not have another licensed facility to go to by Sept. 6 will all have to be euthanized.
The rehab center is being vacated to make space for an expanding dinosaur park.
Marthaler told ABC4 that years ago, she and the former park director talked about creating a living dinosaur exhibit to include WRCNU. Now, that seems to be the furthest thing from happening.
“It’s pretty ironic that living dinosaurs are going to be displaced to make room for a parking lot for the extinct dinosaurs,” said Marthaler.
According to Marthaler, the city may give them a 180-day extension, which the center desperately needs. However, what they really need in order to survive is for one of two things to happen.
First, they would like the city to give them a year-and-a-half extension to secure a temporary location. The center has to meet state and federal specifications in order to house the birds and animals it takes in. This means even a temporary building will need to be retrofitted to meet those specifications.
Second, they would like the city to give them five years at the facility. This would allow the nonprofit time to raise funds and build a permanent home.
There are currently seven Ogden City mayoral candidates. ABC4 reached out to all seven.
At this time, nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition to save WRCNU.