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Protesters put pressure on Ogden over wildlife rehab center eviction

By Rob Nielsen - | May 25, 2023

Adam Rubin, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Protestors with the Wasatch Wanderers animal rescue group hold up signs on Saturday, May 13, 2023, along Park Boulevard to bring attention to the City of Ogden's planned acquisition of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah to make room for an expansion of the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park.

OGDEN — Pressure is mounting on the City of Ogden to reconsider the decision to evict the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.

In the last two weeks, city officials have seen two major demonstrations of opposition aimed at the decision to evict the wildlife rehab center — which had a temporary lease on its current building — in order to expand the adjacent George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park. The center was initially given six months in March to vacate the premises. An amendment to the agreement gives the center an additional six months but comes with a several conditions, including the securing of a new site by September.

The most recent push has been led by Ogden mayoral candidate Angel Castillo.

“I was invited to take a tour of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, as were all the mayoral candidates,” she told the Standard-Examiner after the meeting. “I got a good idea of what it was about and I, myself, have had two animals brought there over the last few years but I’ve never actually been there inside the facility.”

She said WRCNU is a critical service to the area and was disturbed by what she sees happening to it.

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

Supporters of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah prepare for a demonstration at an Ogden City Council meeting Tuesday, May 23, 2023.

“When I got back from that tour, I posted that this was happening. I had a bunch of people reach out to me just absolutely upset telling me lots of stories (about) how they’d brought animals there and they’re like, ‘What can we do?'” she said.

Castillo helped with gathering and hosting a group called Save Our Wild Ogden.

“It’s not one person driving it; it’s a group of community folks that are very upset that this is happening,” she said.

She noted that the City Council has the option to change municipal code to give the City Council jurisdiction over what happens with city-owned property rather than the status quo of the mayor being able to have sole authority.

“That is way too much power for a mayor to have,” she said. “It is not following our constitutional checks and balances format.”

As a result, the group put out a call for supporters to gather at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. More than 30 people showed up in the council chambers wearing black or shirts with signs and slogans in support of the WRCNU. Several took the time to speak during the public comment section at the end of the meeting in support of the center as well as in support of changing the municipal code to give more power over city-owned property to the council itself.

Each of these supporters was handed a prompt to state, saying, “Speak what is in your heart and end the statement with: ‘You CAN stop this. AS the legislative body, you have the power to change the code and require a council vote to sell, convey or demolish city property. Change the code and save the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.'”

Castillo’s group hasn’t been alone.

On May 13, the Wasatch Wanderers also held a demonstration at the Dinosaur Park entrance.

Adison Smith, president of animal rescue group, told the Standard-Examiner earlier this month that the protest was a success.

“We had a pretty good turnout,” she said. “About 20 people showed up. We had quite a few cars stop, handed out several fliers and everyone we talked to was really just in shock this was allowed to happen and confused about why a parking lot would take precedence over Utah’s wildlife.”

She added that the group is only starting its own campaign.

“During one of the City Council meetings, we’re going to be there speaking during the public commenting period and having protest signs there as well,” she said. “I would encourage the public to keep calling the mayor, keep emailing the mayor, keep calling the Dinosaur Park, keep emailing the Dinosaur Park. The more that we demand this to change, the more that he (Mayor Mike Caldwell) hears it’s the public that matters, not his own opinion.”

Smith said the Monday that after the protest, on the day the wildlife center shut its doors to taking in new animals, Wasatch Wanderers received 10 calls for service helping wildlife and they had no place close by to take them.

“Most people are not willing to drive to southern Utah or central Utah that are in Northern Utah to take wildlife,” she said. “We know of several animals that have already been injured — some have even passed away — that have had nowhere to go because of this non-public decision.

On Tuesday, following the comments by supporters, Caldwell said that there is still a lot of dialogue going on between the city and the WRCNU.

“We’re still under negotiations for what’s going to happen there,” he said. “I’ve read every single email, I’ve listened to every single comment that’s come through and we talk about this in a department director meeting almost every single week. Nothing is in stone, and we certainly haven’t asked for animals to be euthanized or anything else.”

He said that he has not seen a finalized plan for the site — a point echoed by members of the council.

Council Member and mayoral candidate Ben Nadolski said it is frustrating for all parties involved not knowing the full scope of plans.

“I don’t know what we’re operating on,” he said. “I don’t understand why we’re in this situation, frankly. … I don’t see how this is serving anybody being in this situation. I don’t see how this is serving the Dinosaur Park either, but surely there’s a way we can negotiate outcomes that work for everybody. That’s what I’m hopeful for, but the longer it takes, the worse it gets.”

Council Member Marcia L. White said that some caution needs to be used moving forward when it comes to the dialogue.

“I know that there’s a lot of people that think we can change the code, but I don’t necessarily agree with that,”  she said. “I think we’re doing what we can. We’re not conveying it, we’re not selling it. It’s our land. It’s really difficult to change the code to something and I think it’s giving them false hope that we can do something that we can’t.”

No formal actions were taken Tuesday night, but discussion did hint at going over plans for the site on future agendas.


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