Wolftown shrinks its animal rescue program

For The Beachcomber

After about seven years providing animal rescue on Vashon, Wolftown is now only rehabilitating birds of prey and wolves. T Yamamoto, who runs the nonprofit with her husband Pete, said donations to the organization have been down since 2008, and there are no longer funds to support the rescues of marine and land mammals.

“Pete and I have been dipping into our savings since the recession hit in 2008,” she said. “We can no longer do that.”

Wolftown is not supported by the state or federal government, Yamamoto added, which makes community donations crucial.

“Without community support, it won’t exist,” she said. “Slowly parts of the program have disappeared.”

Yamamoto is certified to do rescue and triage, or emergency care, on marine mammals and land animals and is a certified falconer. These qualifications are not easy to obtain, and require up to seven years of training, depending on the species, she said. In order to rescue marine mammals, she said, one must also gain the trust of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and biologists in the area because anyone must get approval from them in order to handle  the injured or stranded animals.

“It would be very difficult for someone to replicate what I have done for this island, for wildlife and for youth,” said Yamamoto.

Wolftown was founded as a multi-faceted organization, but has shrunk in recent years as the Yamamotos have been forced to make cuts. In addition to animal rescue and rehabilitation, the nonprofit does education, offers a land clearing service and is a source for sustainably grown, grass fed lamb. Education used to take place through tours of the property and the animals living there. But due to the lack of funds, Yamamoto and her husband have both taken day jobs seven days a week, and cannot provide tours, she said, and have also made cuts to their internship program. Wolftown also had a role in disease prevention on the island, in that those who do rescue and rehab “are the first ones to see outbreaks,” she said.

Islander Ann Stateler, who runs the Vashon Hydrophone Project and is known by many as Orca Annie, will take over marine mammal transport on Vashon. However, she is not certified to do rescue or triage, so she’ll transport sick or injured mammals off-island.

Before the transition, Wolftown was getting calls about mammals at least once a day, and those calls are now directed to Stateler. Both Yamamoto and Stateler stressed that not all calls result in their intervention — most concerns can be handled over the phone.

However, without Wolftown at the ready to rescue mammals, Yamamoto said it will be more important than ever that islanders and visitors to Vashon follow simple rules related to marine mammals, such as steering clear of baby seals on the beach, which can sometimes seem stranded when they aren’t.

Seals will not come onto the beach to feed their pups if humans are too close, Stateler said. When in stress, seals burn more calories, so it is even more crucial that the mothers be able to feed them. Stateler also noted that this is a molting season for many seals, which often causes them to look diseased or hurt, when they are actually healthy.

“Molting is really a painful process for the elephant seals, so we really need to leave them alone,” said Stateler.

Yamamoto said she hoped to someday resume the rescues, but only with substantial community support. To do so, the community would need to purchase the piece of property Wolftown sits on and raise enough funds to provide them a salary as well.

“We need to have something to fall back on,” Yamamoto said.

Until then, Wolftown will continue to care for the wolves, fox, owls and falcons that already live there. YamLamb Sheep Co. will continue to provide eco-friendly land clearing services and donate grass-fed lamb to the food bank and soup kitchens. The lamb can also be purchased at Minglement and the Farmers Market, and all the proceeds go toward project management.

“People only seem to support the project when they want entertainment or have an emergency,” Yamamoto said. “I am very sad to see this go. I am very sad that the community didn’t support it.”

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