OLYMPIA — A steady procession of wildlife advocates took their turn at the microphone on Friday in order to formally voice their support of For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation while simultaneously expressing their collective displeasure toward the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at a public meeting on the Capital campus.
That large turnout was spurred by recent actions taken by the WDFW at the Rochester rescue facility that left three deer fawns and one elk calf dead. Acting on a tip from a former volunteer and subsequent observations, the WDFW deemed the young ungulates to be too friendly. The animals were confiscated from the rescue facility with the use of tranquilizer darts before they were euthanized.
Eleven other young deer were left at the rehabilitation center after WDFW agents were unable to round them up. The WDFW has stated their intention to reevaluate those deer at a later date in order to determine their fate.
Claudia and Dave Supensky, who run the For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation out of their home in South Thurston County, contend that the fawns and calf were not allowed enough time to acclimate to wild living after being rescued initially and then bottle fed. The Supenskys have noted that the calf was still actively nursing and the fawns had only recently been weaned at the time of the WDFW raid. Typically, the Supenskys release rescued ungulates into a secluded wooded portion of their property once they are weaned so they can “wild up” over the winter.
Dozens of supporters of the Rochester wildlife rescue facility packed the room at the Natural Resources Building as the WDFW Fish and Wildlife Commission listened to a thorough string of testimony from current and former volunteers at the facility and a contingent of fellow wildlife rehabilitation center operators from around the state. After the first of many testimonies on the matter, Commission Chairman Brad Smith was forced to stamp out a stout round of applause from the standing room only crowd, noting that a public hearing is not the appropriate place for such outbursts.
One of those supporters who gave testimony to the WDFW Commission was Jasmine Fletcher Glaze, owner and operator of A Safe Place to Land, a rescue facility she has operated out of her home in Graham since 2015. After the WDFW raid on For Heaven’s Sake on Nov. 9, Glaze was moved to redirect her efforts, so she let her permit lapse with the WDFW and closed her facility in order to focus on advocating for provisions that will protect the rights of her fellow animal rescue workers. Glaze explained that if she were still actively working in partnership with the WDFW, she wouldn’t feel as free to speak out.
Glaze openly rejected any insinuation or assertion, from the state or otherwise, that the deer in question at For Heaven’s Sake were past the point of no return. She also noted the Supenskys extensive track record of successfully releasing rescued deer back into the wild. She added that she has personally seen deer as old as two years with an unhealthy inclination toward human interaction revert back to their wild instincts with proper care in previous cases.
“Habituated is not the same as imprinted, and as far as this case, these were just babies. We expect them to act differently. They’re going to act needy. Their survival depends on that,” explained Glaze.
Glaze added that she was pleased with the strong public turnout that delivered a wave of impassioned pleas to the WDFW commission.
“I didn’t expect that this would get so much attention and gain so much traction so fast,” said Glaze. “Even people who don't agree on anything agree on this.”
At the conclusion of her testimony, Chairman Smith told Glaze, “I hope you’ll consider reopening your facility in the future.”
To which Glaze responded, “I will, as long as I have some assurances.”
Mark Izatt, of Hoquiam, was another citizen who spoke in support of For Heaven’s Sake and other wildlife rehabilitation centers in the state. Izatt is a former board member at a regional rescue facility and spent many years working to rehabilitate assorted wildlife. He says this is not the first time he’s seen the WDFW take undue action against wildlife rescue centers.
“I’ve been witness to these Gestapo tactics for the last 30 years,” said Izatt.
He says accepted protocol within the wildlife rescue community is to release fawns in the spring after they were brought in, but noted that the WDFW has continuously been inconsistent when it comes to their preferred timeline. Despite those inconsistencies within the WDFW, Izatt said he was not surprised to see the department take such swift and irreversible action at For Heaven’s Sake.
“They’re trying to let everyone know who’s in charge,” theorized Izatt, who believes the tactic has backfired. “The public loves rehabs. This is a giant PR mistake by the WDFW.”
Dr. Jan White, from Puget Sound Wildcare, also spoke up in defense of wildlife and the rehabilitation workers who care for them. White has more than 40 years experience rehabilitating wildlife and suggested to the commission that an overhaul of the rescue permitting system is overdue. She said that in her experience wildlife rehabilitation and rescue centers are better off being run on a cooperative model rather than the current system that often puts operators at odds with the state. She insisted that it’s not right for animal rescue workers to live in fear of raids based on anonymous tips.
White also noted that there are currently not enough wildlife care centers in Washington to keep up with an insatiable demand. She warned that the problem will only get worse in the near future with many wildlife workers entering retirement age and others shying away from the work due to concerns that they too will wind up in the crosshairs of the WDFW.
After the public comment portion of the hearing, Claudia Supensky expressed her gratitude to the dozens of supporters who showed up to advocate for her operation and the 11 deer who are left in limbo at her facility.
“I didn’t know if we’d have seven or if we’d have 20,” said Claudia Supensky in regard to the turnout on Friday. “I think this opens the door to change.”
Her husband Dave Supensky doubled down on that sentiment, noting, “It’s just too bad that all of the truth couldn’t get out to the commission. There just wasn’t enough time.”