Thunderbird Wildlife Rescue’s application has won support from Fort William First Nation, Friends of Chippewa Park and city government.
THUNDER BAY — A closed wildlife exhibit at Chippewa Park may soon serve as a haven for injured birds of prey, as Thunder Bay City Council considers an application from a local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation group.
Parts of the Chippewa Park Wildlife Exhibit, closed to the public in 2017, would provide an ideal setting for the volunteer efforts of Thunderbird Wildlife Rescue, founder Jenn Salo said.
“The existing infrastructure in Chippewa is perfect for what I want to do,” she said. “It’s already there, when it costs tens of thousands of dollars to build a facility…It’s what I desperately need for eagle rehabilitation, because right now, I don’t I just don’t have the space.”
The wildlife exhibit is slated for decommissioning and demolition, but a city government report recommends preserving three sections requested by Salo and renting them to his organization.
The proposal appears feasible and would not conflict with city operations, staff concluded. As recently as last year, the park was still home to a small number of animals that could not be relocated after it closed in 2017.
City Council will vote Monday on whether to approve the recommendation to lease land to Thunderbird.
Fort William First Nation and Friends of Chippewa Park expressed their support.
Thunderbird, which is approved by the province to carry out raptor rehabilitation work, currently operates in Salo Yard, where it works to care for the birds and return them to the wild.
Given the necessity of her job – she has collected more than 40 birds in each of the past two years – and the public interest, she said a larger facility was needed.
“I never wanted to organize a rescue from my backyard,” she said. “It started off with just taking one or two birds, then after about a year my phone wouldn’t stop ringing and I just couldn’t keep track of how many birds I was. [being asked] to save.”
His claim covers the old bird motel, flight enclosures and deer yard. These represent a “very small part” of the installation, she said.
The operation would be closed to the public, but Salo said she plans to provide educational opportunities at Chippewa Park.
She once had to send eagles to wildlife rescues in southern Ontario due to a lack of the required 100-foot flight enclosure.
Thunderbird’s work is funded by donations and sometimes out of his own pocket, Salo said. She is in the process of applying for charitable status.
In a report, city staff proposed charging between $3,500 and $5,000 a year to lease the three sections of the facility. Salo said she didn’t ask for a discount, but would welcome any support.
As for the duration of the arrangement, Salo said it was uncertain.
“I think we’re just going to have to see how it goes — let’s put the first year under my belt,” she said. “Fixing the place up and setting it up to meet wildlife rehabilitation standards is going to take time and money.”
Part of the long-term uncertainty lies in Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins’ expressed desire to see Chippewa Park land returned to his community.
The park is part of 1,600 acres of FNW reservation land expropriated by the federal government in 1905 for use as a railroad terminus, which forced community members to relocate.
The First Nation settled with the federal government over 1,100 acres of this land in 2016, not including the park. Collins called on the city to return the remaining land, calling it a step towards reconciliation.
Salo sought approval from the FWFN board, knowing that the site is on their traditional lands (her use of the facility will not affect the First Nation’s claim, she said).
In a letter of support for Salo’s proposal, FWFN said his work was badly needed.
“We feel there is a disproportionate neglect of the injured wildlife population recovered in northwestern Ontario who, unfortunately, have little or no recourse but to end up in the freezers or Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry fire pits, only because none of these rehabilitation services exist in this area today,” Bess LeGarde, Consulting Liaison, wrote.
The Fort William First Nation Economic Development Division has also agreed to help Thunderbird with set-up costs, including obtaining liability insurance.
Salo noted that the public should exercise caution around any injured or dead bird they see, given the recent discovery of the H5N1 strain of bird flu among poultry farms and other birds, including a buzzard. red-tailed, Ontario.
“We don’t yet know how bird flu will affect our local populations – that remains to be seen,” she said.
Although H5N1 is not considered a significant public health or human food safety issue, Salo urged residents to contact the local health unit or the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources if they see a sick or dead bird.