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Ogden wildlife rehab center frets about future after eviction notice

By Cathy McKitrick - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 1, 2023

BENJAMIN ZACK, Standard-Examiner file photo

DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler, left, and Erin Adams feed venison with medication to an injured bald eagle at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. The eagle was picked up near the Utah-Wyoming border after likely being hit by a car.

OGDEN — The nonprofit that operates the lone refuge in Northern Utah for nursing injured birds and small wild animals back to health could become homeless by early September.

A certified letter dated March 10 from Ogden City Attorney Gary Williams gave the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah official notice to vacate its current structure in 180 days, a time limit stipulated in its November 2010 agreement with the city.

“We were frankly caught off guard,” WRCNU Executive Director DaLyn Marthaler said of the official notice that set Sept. 6 as the center’s last day on the premises.

But the former animal shelter they’ve been occupying will get bulldozed to make way for their neighbor — the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park — to expand.

And city officials and staff say that WRCNU knew all along that the arrangement was temporary, and that one day they’d receive that notice.

“There’s always been a plan for (Dinosaur Park) expansion,” Ogden City Public Services Director JayLowder said, “and now they’ve raised enough funds for the first phase.”

Angela Horn, who became the dinosaur park’s new director last October, said current expansion plans include new exhibits, more parking spaces and a new maintenance shed.


Marthaler has worked as a wildlife specialist for two decades — a dozen of those years for WRCNU in its current structure next to the dinosaur park.

According to the center’s website, staff there has helped almost 34,000 “patients” since 2009 — first at a small location on lower 12th Street and then in the former Carol Conroy Browning Animal Shelter since 2011.

That building became available when Ogden City switched to contracting with Weber County for those services.

Since taking occupancy of the structure, WRCNU remodeled the education center, put in display cases, installed new carpeting, and replaced three water heaters and HVAC equipment. And it’s been able to function there rent-free.

“The city has done us a favor,” Marthaler said, “and we’re so grateful. It literally is the perfect building for what we do. And we sunk a ton of money into it.”

The 2010 agreement signed with the city aimed to ensure that Browning’s dedication to teaching others about humane treatment of animals would continue. Marthaler views that work as a key component of WRCNU’s mission as well.

In addition to birds that range from robins to bald eagles, she said they also rehabilitate waterfowl and small mammals — such as badgers, beavers, otters, porcupines and squirrels.

“We track very closely what is bringing these animals into us,” Marthaler said. “Consistently over the years, 80% are due to some kind of human impact.”

Those impacts range from cat attacks to car hits, gunshot wounds, outdoor glue traps, poisons sprayed on vegetation and more.

In normal years, the center takes in about 3,000 birds and animals, but last year an outbreak of avian flu forced staff to reject ducks and geese since they can be asymptomatic carriers that could infect the larger patient population.

“We actually took in only about 2,600 last year,” Marthaler said, noting that without their facility, the Division of Wildlife Resources wouldn’t have anywhere to take the animals, so they’d be euthanized.

Their closest counterparts are in Utah County and Price, Marthaler said.


While Marthaler had hoped for more time to either find or build a suitable replacement facility (the latter would involve extensive fundraising), Lowder said the city seems intent on making this move.

“We can work with them a little, but it needs to happen and we’ll try to help them wherever we can,” he said.

For WRCNU, Marthaler said that uprooting by September would mean stopping the intake of birds and animals by mid- to late April since rehabilitation can take months. With no place to relocate her work, she’d have to euthanize what she still has on hand in September.

But Mayor Mike Caldwell sides with the dinosaur park and its need to expand.

“We had to go back to the operating agreement and say here’s where we’re at, here’s what was promised — and we feel we delivered on all of that,” he said.

Still, Caldwell acknowledged there might be some limited flexibility to the 180-day timeline.

“If they communicate that with us and have a transition plan … that might be a consideration,” Caldwell said. “I really do appreciate the work that the rehab center does.”

City Council approval is not required in this situation, but members have been hearing from concerned residents and stakeholders.

Janene Eller-Smith, policy analyst for the City Council, said dinosaur park personnel are scheduled to present their annual report during the Council’s work session next week. The meeting starts at 4 p.m. Tuesday.


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