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History of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge

“Throw me to the wolves &
I'll return leading the pack”

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Cree Howling, pastel by Wendy Hall

Cree Howling, pastel by Wendy Hall

Cree & The History of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge

As we said goodbye to our wolf pack leader, Cree on April 5th, 2020, it occured to us that his history is pretty much the history of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge. Cree was born in early May of 2006, and came to us about a month later on June 9th, a wolf hybrid pup of 75% gray wolf and 25% malamute. There had been a 2 year stretch since we last had wolves, and Cree lived with two adopted mutt brothers, Roscoe and Sammy, who were about 3 years old, and an older Pug named Rosie, who actually served as Cree’s surrogate mother.

Ausable Lodge FrontAusable Lodge, rear

We’ve owned the 60 acres which became the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge  since January 2000, and lived up here since October 2002. The only structure on the property when we moved up here was the house we live in, Ausable Lodge, above, and our only dog was a wolf hybrid named Chino, who had returned from Alaska with us in 1990.

ChinoChino on River Bank, Whiteface Mountain in BackgroundChino in 2000
Chino was about the calmest, friendliest hybrid we'd ever met, hiked all over the High Peaks with me, and got along well with other dogs. We adopted a couple of mutt brothers, Sammie and Roscoe, both of whom had sweet dispositions, ran free, swimming in the west branch of the Ausable with Chino, and running around the property, which consisted mainly of red and white plantation pine, several drainage streams and sloughs, a few bogs and meadows, and plenty of wildlife. Chino died in 2004 when he was 14 years old.

Cree as a puppyRosie and CreeCree as a pup tumbling with Roscoe and Sammie10 month old Cree chasing Sammie on the frozen AusableCree with Ruthie and Creamcheese

We adopted Cree in 2006. Cree lived a fun filled, rough and tumble life with Roscoe and Sammy, who weighed about 60 pounds each, and even as a small pup, Cree never hesitated to scrap with the much larger brothers, as well as with our two female cats, Ruthie and Creamcheese, both of whom delighted in baiting and tormenting the hapless canids. Rosie the pug was always a close companion of Cree’s and seemed to mother him, but also never took any nonsense from him, barking and snapping at him when he’d bat her small pudgy body around.

Wolves are pretty much full grown within 9 months, as mammals are born in the Spring and better not be small when Winter returns, and Cree quickly outgrew his companions, and their roles reversed with Cree physically dominating the brothers, who grew to resent Cree’s ascendency. Cree, in turn, resented their unwillingness, with their roles reversed, to play rough, and when Cree was about six months old, it became clear, with deer, porcupine and coywolves fairly common on the property, he’d need his own enclosure.

Cree, Wendy and AbieWendy and AbieAbie, Cree and Sammie

He lived outside with Sammy for a few years, and as he became more acclimated to the sounds and smells of the Adirondacks, he became more reluctant to come inside the house. At the same time, it grew increasingly clear that he needed a companion to share his time and enclosure with. Sammie was worn out with having to live with the rough play of a wolf, and Cree had made friends with a raven we called Abie, who had come to us for rehab, and was in an enclosure near Cree’s, and we discovered them hanging out, performing duets with Cree howling and Abie doing those wonderfully diverse chortles ravens do.
Zeebie as a pupCree with puppy Zeebie playing in the Wolf Meadow, phot by Terry HawthorneZeebie and Cree by Terry HawthorneZeebie submitting to Cree

In June 2009, we adopted four week old Zeebie, a pure gray wolf pup. Cree quickly fell into the role of surrogate father, but as he experienced what it was like for him to raise a wolf pup, he became much less aggressive in his play, and more protective of Zeebie, like going from being a carefree teen to a  Dad with responsibilities.

Wendy and Alex and I were always exploring and hiking all over the property every day, and first Cree, Rosie, Roscoe and Sammy, and later Cree and Zeebie would accompany us. Photographer friends as well as visitors to the Refuge, would accompany us on what came to be called the “Wolf Walk”, and  a tradition was born. Kiska, a young female wolf and the only survivor of a litter of five wolf pups, joined us in 2014, and the Wolf Walk, visitors following us with the wolves, who were on long chains, through the woods and meadows, and along the sloughs, became too popular and too crowded, and the DEC expressed their unease with visitors walking with wolves.

Rehab CabinWendy working with bald eagleDr. Kate Donis and Alex with injured bear cubKestrel Chick

Meanwhile, Wendy was becoming more and more involved in rehabbing of wildlife, something which started out as a weekend hobby 35 years before. When you rehab wildlife, anywhere from 50 to 60% will recover and end up going back into their habitats. Maybe half of the remainder will die, and the other half will survive if we feed them, but their days of making a living in nature are basically over. This last group, of course, become the ambassador mammals and raptors visitors to the Wildlife Refuge get to view and learn about. There is important information, and many lessons learned from this process, and we built a dedicated cabin for Rehab, above.

The wolves and bears are captive bred animals, who aid us in teaching visitors about how nature works, wolves because they are what are called keystone predators, heavily involved in helping to maintain the balance of nature, and the bears because they are indicator species, whose health, knowing what they eat, teaches us about what is working in their habitats and what is not.

Bear Rehab Recovery BuildingBanabelle emaciated and mangy in sept 2017Barnabee in early NovemberBarnabelle and one of her cubs

We've rehabbed and released wild bears for about 8 years, working with the NY Department of Environmental Conservation. We fix 'em, and they help us release them. Our most famous bear release was Barnabelle Bear, shown before and after in the 3 photos above to the right, who not only survived a terrible case of starvation and mange, but recovered enough to give birth to two cubs in January about four years ago. Bear sows have an interesting feature called delayed implantation, where they mate in the Summer, but don't get pregnant until November, and Barnabelle was released with her cubs the following May. We never let visitors meet wild bears, yet bears are a great introduction to how nature works, as they are an indicator species, meaning their challenges surviving often tell us what's lacking in their habitats. The green Bear Rehab building on the left is where we rehab bears, and that's off limits to visitors.

Educational Bear enclosureAhote and Luvey, black bear sows
We adopted two bear cubs in January of 2017, to use as educational ambassador animals. Ahote and Luvey are the ones you meet when you visit the Wildlife Refuge. They famously escaped briefly in the Spring of 2018, making an amusing media splash. In a major anti-climax, Luvey followed me and Hanna home for 4 miles through the woods. Two days later, Ahote, who had become separated from Luvey, followed Hanna and Caroline home one mile through the woods . Our wandering bears had to live in the bear rehab building for a month, while we performed the necessary renovations to prevent future escapes.
Sylvia as a juvenile eagleSylvia in adult plumage by Deb McKenzie

Sylvia, above, one of our flightless bald eagles became key to Adirondack Wildlife Inc. becoming a non-profit, as U.S. Fish and Wildlife wouldn’t allow us to house eagles or use them for education purposes without becoming a non-profit. Adirondack Wildlife is actually two organizations. Adirondack Wildlife Inc. is the 501c3 non-profit. Adirondack Wildlife Refuge LLC is the "contractor" who does all the Rehab, Education, etc., and which turns over all donations to the non-profit. We had to set up this way, as everything the Refuge does is carried out on land owned by Wendy and Steve, which, if we were also the non-profit, would be a conflict of interest violation in the eyes of the IRS. This is why when you make a donation to Adirondack Wildlife, the acknowledging receipt comes from Adirondack Wildlife Inc.

Anyway, after months of work by board members and employees, and several go rounds with the IRS, we earned our non-profit status effective August 6th, 2010, and there has been incredible growth at the Refuge since then. Recall that we are a tiny organization on a shoestring budget, lacking the millions of dollars in grants that larger orgs like zoos routinely garner. 80 to 90% of our income still comes from visitors making donations, so like all small companies struggling during the pandemic, it’s tough to make payroll.

Big Picture School VolunteersBig Picture Kids around the campfireBig Picture Kids in the Bear Enclosure
Back to the wolves, we could see plainly that the wolves required a larger enclosure, which would allow us to do educational presentations for the much larger groups that were showing up to see the wolves and other animals. One of our former board members secured a grant from a family fund to build the new wolf enclosure, and the South Burlington Big Picture High School volunteered about twenty teachers and students (above) to stay with us for several days, helping us build the new enclosure, even returning in Spring of 2019 to help us renovate the newer black bear enclosure.
Wolf Caretaker CabinTool shed

The idea of the wolves living up in their new, larger enclosure without human supervision and protection, seemed like a bad idea, as in the evening, while we're sleeping at Ausable Lodge on the river, 1/4 mile further down the driveway, anyone could drive down to the Public Fishing Access easement parking lot on our property. The fact that the wolves often howl in response to smells, sounds or sights in their habitat, or because they just feel the urge, sometimes draws curious travelers. To protect the wolves, we decided to install a pre-built, one room log cabin to serve as a place for an employee to spend the night, and later added a tool barn, which also included freezer and refrigerator for wolf and bear food. The "Public Fishing Access" has caused us some amount of confusion and conflict, as now and then, we get a visitor who mistakenly believes the easement makes the Refuge state owned land, while the easement legally pertains only for licensed fishermen to access the trail down to the Ausable River, which is on our land, and for which we reive no payment from New York State or the DEC.

Cree hoeling on the wolf walkWendy with dogs on frozen AusableZeebie checking out tree with AlexIn the Wolf MeadowWhiteface from the moose slough

Today, there are two miles of cobwebbed trails traversing the north half of the Refuge, bringing Refuge visitors hiking access to meadows, sloughs, bogs and the Ausable River. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing on the frozen Ausable River is a fun activity in Winter. Some hikers get lucky and see moose, black bear, beaver, porcupine, weasels, raptors and coywolf. Not to worry, the wild bears and coywolves you could see at the Refuge fear people because, while hunting is not permitted on Refuge Property, bears and coywolves fear people because of the hunting seasons, and the weapon of choice is the camera, but you better be quick as these animals flee. The few moose sightings were in the moose slough, and as long as you don't approach, moose tend to keep browsing, and occasionally just look at you. 

Welcome CenterWelcome Center where it meets wolf enclosureWolf WalkSaranac School Kids in the Welcome Center
In December of 2017, we began the construction of the Welcome Center, above, whose four wide plate glass windows fronted on the Wolf Enclosure, permitting visitors to see the wolves up close, even in cold or rainy weather. This was a huge step forward, as we could still exercise the wolves on the two miles of trails north of the Welcome Center and wolf enclosure, before visitors arrived in the morning for the wolf presentations, and we could accommodate much larger groups of visitors for the presentations, and starting two years ago, the bear presentations. We never allow visitors to meet wild bears in rehab, as they must remain frightened of humans if they are to have a successful release. The two bear sows visitors meet are captive bred bears, used strictly for education.

Kiska by Terry HawthorneKiska and ZeebieKiska by terry Hawthorne

One of the most interesting things you discover when working with higher mammals like wolves and bears is that they’re exactly like people in the sense that they all have unique personalities, complete with different likes and dislikes, and different skills and liabilities. Cree raised Zeebie as though he was Zeebies’ alpha male, which can be another name for “Dad” in a wolf pack, and Zeebie in turn raised Kiska (above), a good thing, as Cree has never particularly liked Kiska, a complicated wolf who is harder to work with. At the same time, key handlers like myself, Alex, Hanna, Mike and John, spent a great deal of time with the wolves since they were days old, allowing the wolves to imprint on us and learn to trust us, important considerations when working with large animals which could conceivably hurt you.

It’s a system that works, as in 30 years of working with wolves and wolf hybrids, we’ve never suffered any injuries or dangerous confrontations. Cree, Zeebie and Kiska behaved very much like a small pack, with their handlers being alphas when they are present.

By two years ago, Cree was showing signs of arthritis, and we were seeing some bullying by the younger wolves. Cree had dominated the younger wolves for years without being obnoxious about it, and often, when the younger wolves wanted to rough house or steal food etc., Cree would bare his teeth and give a low growl which was persuasive enough to get the younger wolves to back down.

On the one hand, there are great similarities between the structure of a human family and a wolf pack. My book, “Wolves, Humans, Dogs and Civilization”, argues that creating dogs out of those wolves, probably omega wolves who found it easier to make a living by hanging around our ancestors camp fires and stealing food from us, to such an extent that for three quarters of our history with so-called “dogs”, they were just gray wolves.

Wolves, Humans, Dogs and CivilizationTooth and Claw - Adirondack Mammals by Steve Hall

During the Agricultural revolution, which began roughly fifteen to ten thousand years ago, we switched from being wandering nomads and became more tied to the land, our lives becoming much more complicated, and that meant not only did people have to learn new tricks, so did our wolves, and we began breeding wolves with specific skills to help us in our new roles as farmers and livestock keepers, and just as working with wolves gave homo sapiens a huge advantage over other humans who basically went extinct 30,000 years ago, during the Agricultural Revolution, tamed and trained wolves enabled humans to dominate and control other animals, and ultimately, dangerously today, nature itself. On the other hand, family politics in a wolf pack are a lot less subtle, and when you’re an alpha, there are times when you need to remind other pack members who the decision maker is, and who’s in charge, and that usually works.

The problem we faced with the three wolves was this: we always considered Zeebie our “wildest” wolf, slow to trust you and more anxious to maintain his distance. Cree, on the other hand, was like everyone’s favorite uncle, more accepting of other people, and uniformly pleasant and affectionate. Cree was always the town crier, alerting the other two wolves to the presence of dogs or other wildlife, by beginnng and ending howling, which is just more language. With Cree’s gradual descent into old age, we thought Zeebie might try to take over, but Zeebie is not a leader, and Kiska has figured out how to dominate Zeebie when there is something important at stake, such as access to food. What to do….

We decided to separate Cree out from the others in May 2018, but right next door in an adjoining enclosure, so that they could still interact, where the younger wolves would not be able to coerce or control Cree, unless the handlers were present, which of course immediately changes the power relationships anyway. So Cree continued to be walked with the other two wolves, who were quite respectful of Cree. In addition, when John is here from May through early November, he’d walk Cree by himself three days a week, so Cree was actually getting more exercise than the younger wolves, sometimes going out on the trails twice a day.

One difficulty with the new Welcome Center at the Refuge was that it was also supposed to serve as an education center where we’d give classes on wolves, bears, rehab etc., but last year 50,000 people visited the Wildlife Refuge, and it became impossible to do the classes in the wide open single room of the Welcome Center, where visitors are registering for a visit, or browsing through sweat shirts, photographs and coffee mugs.

Kayla Hanczyk and Kiska, pastel by WendyMark and Annette Hanczyk and their familyfamilyThe Kayla Hanczyk Learning CenterThe Kayla Hanczyk Learning Center under construction

One family’s tragedy led to a solution for the education center, when a brilliant and beautiful young graduate of SUNY ESF, the Ranger School, Kayla Hanczyk, died of bile duct cancer, and her shattered family decided to raise money on FaceBook for a memorial to their daughter, who was a wolf lover. They asked for $1,000 on FaceBook, and the Public responded with $20,000, to which Kayla’s employer Northline Utilities donated another $10,000. The Hanzcyks are one of these large, closely integrated families with lots of love, and everyone is so talented, they all built their own houses. They knew we needed a new Learning Center, and they decided to provide the labor, and working as a team, build the Kayla Hanzcyk Memorial Learning Center, a structure that will probably be ready by late May, located down by the ambassador Eagles enclosures, with a nice view of the mountains and river.

About two months ago, we noticed a fairly dramatic slow down in Cree’s mobility. A blood test added kidney failure to the arthritis, and by late March 2019, Cree would try to howl and could not do so, and about a week later, it became clear that he could no longer walk with us, and there was some evidence of vision failure, as he appeared to be trying to locate me with his nose, when I was standing right next to him. We all know death is inevitable, particularly in these scary times of pandemic. but even when the problem is that your old body is worn down, and there is no reverse, nothing to delay what is happening, our memories of good times keep us from letting go.

We all found ourselves individually weeping on and off, with Cree, always a gallant soul, trying to comfort each of us, placing his head in your lap, and trying to look at you, like he knew there was nothing to do other than wait for the end, which came at 5 PM on Friday, shortly after Alex arrived. Over his 14 years, Cree introduced thousands of visitors to the interesting world of a keystone predator, and how the role of wolves helps drive the balance of nature, and eventually led to man's best friend. We loved having so many of you meet Cree, and we're gratified that you have always supported the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, and what we do.

We separated from the 501c3 Adirondack Wildlife Inc. on September 4th, 2020, and now work under Nature Walks Conservation Society, a much stronger and more qualified 501c3.

Steve Hall

AWRR Reorganization

Alex waits while the boys discuss politicsWendy and Steve Hall by StaceyAlex Hall and Hanna Cromie, general managersCree howls, listens for response
Alex, Zeebie and Cree; Co-owners and co-founders Wendy and Steve Hall, by Stacey; Alex Hall and Hanna Cromie, general managers, Cree howls, waits for response, with Steve

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein

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Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge & Rehabilitation Center

Steve & Wendy Hall
PO Box 555, 977 Springfield Road, Wilmington, NY 12997
Toll Free: 855-Wolf-Man (855-965-3626)
Cell Phones: 914-715-7620 or 914-772-5983
Office Phone: 518-946-2428
Fax: 518-536-9015
Email us: info@AdirondackWildlife.org