The state's refusal to renew permits for the WildCare animal rehabilitation and education facility will force a one-year shutdown of the organization, officials said Wednesday.
"That's unfortunate, but that's the way it is," said Mike Fraley, president of the WildCare board of directors.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks denied the Lawrence-area outfit a permit required to perform life-saving care on injured or orphaned wildlife and a permit needed to retain animals for education programs.
Chris Mammoliti, chief of environmental services for the state Wildlife and Parks office in Pratt, said the denials were tied to federal concerns about WildCare. The denials meant, Mammoliti said, that WildCare wouldn't be allowed to operate in Kansas "at least for this year."
WildCare's federal permits for wildlife possession and rehabilitation were suspended in September. That resulted from an investigation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers into complaints about the quality of medical care for animals at WildCare's facility east of Lawrence and concerns about the staff's lack of compliance with regulations for operating a rehabilitation program.
One of the two federal permits held by WildCare expired at the end of last year and hasn't been renewed. The other lapses at the end of 2003 and remains under suspension.
Fraley said WildCare volunteers would meet in several weeks to decide whether it would be best to dissolve the organization or to apply for 2004 federal and state permits.
All animals that were under WildCare's control have been confiscated by state and federal authorities for transfer to other wildlife centers or zoos.
Migratory birds -- hawks, falcons, kestrels, owls, song birds -- were moved last year to Operation WildLife, a rehabilitation facility north of Eudora.
Last week, the last animals in WildCare's custody -- a collection of turtles -- were shipped to Operation WildLife.
Diane Johnson, founder of Operation WildLife, said the inability of WildCare to help serve the area would dramatically increase Operation WildLife's workload from March through September. That's when the bulk of injured or orphaned animals are brought in for assistance.
Operation WildLife typically cares for 3,000 to 5,000 animals each year. It's estimated WildCare annually treated 1,000 to 1,500 critters.
"We will be absorbing all of those animals," Johnson said. "We don't have the staff and funding. I need volunteers, volunteers, volunteers."
Operation WildLife doesn't charge fees for its assistance of wild animals. It relies on membership dues and private donations.
Johnson said state and federal agencies likely would raise standards for obtaining wildlife rehabilitation permits. Problems at WildCare helped spur that movement.
WildCare would have to acquire the two state and two federal permits before resuming full-scale wildlife rehabilitation work, Fraley said.
"It is a Catch-22," he said. "If you don't have a state permit for rehabilitation, you can't have a federal permit."
Janell Suazo, chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife migratory bird permit office in Denver, wasn't available to comment on WildCare's case.
The federal permits had been issued to WildCare under the control of Nancy Schwarting, who was serving as the organization's director.
Schwarting and WildCare were investigated 10 years ago and were found to have violated federal law by transporting animals across state lines. No disciplinary action was taken at that time.
WildCare subsequently was evicted from its animal-care headquarters on the Kansas University campus. It re-formed as a nonprofit organization and relocated to land near Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence.
In 2001, the most recent year for which records were available from the Kansas Secretary of State's Office, Schwarting of Eudora, was listed as WildCare's lone board member. Joe Collins, Lawrence, was president; Carol Bonebrake, Perry, was secretary; and R.A. Krueger, Lake Quivira, was treasurer.
The documents showed WildCare had about 700 members.