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Wash. State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Didnít Tell The Whole Story
About those released deer. Hereís the rest of it.

April 15, 2018

Mule deer are the largest deer in Washington State. Photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Chronicle opinion

By Rex D. Cain

(OLYMPIA, WA.) – You might have noticed in the past day or so a number of newspapers in the region running a nice, feel-good story that some or all of them appear to have picked up and ran with off the website for the Wash. State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife.

The agency titled it, “Owners of wildlife rescue center release deer with WDFW's support.” It was and is a nice, feel-good story.

The owners of a wildlife rehabilitation center in south Thurston County today released 11 young deer into the wild in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), which previously euthanized four animals at the facility due to concerns about their care,” began the news release on the WDFW website.

Claudia and David Supensky, owners of For Heavens Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation, transported eight of the deer from their facility in Rochester and released them on a private thousand-acre land preserve surrounded by wildlands. The other three were released at a nearby location later in the day.”

It goes on to say, in a rather sterile manner that the, “WDFW worked with the Supenskys to coordinate the release, five months after state wildlife managers euthanized three fawns and an elk calf at the facility, determined to be too tame to return into the wild.”

All sounds fairly benign and casual, does it not? Doesn’t sound like a thuggish acting, over-reaching bunch of state bureaucrats over-stepping their bounds with the wildlife rehab center, going off half-cocked and grabbing and later killing those deer without knowing all the facts, now does it?

There’s also nice sounding quotes in there from Claudia Supensky the Director and Founder of For Heavens Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation (FHSARR) about how wonderful Brian Calkins, WDFW Regional Wildlife Program Manager is and how Ms. Supensky appreciates, “Brian Calkins for including us during this process."

The happy family. Or not so happy family

Sounds like a happy family, yes? It’s only when you track on over to the website of For Heavens Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation (FHSARR) that you get another, much different version of the story of those deer that were seized by WDFW and killed. The “back story,” as it were.

And what an interesting one it is. Much more interesting than the somewhat sanitized version of things one gets from the WDFW “news release.” For example, the WDFW release does not tell the story of how FHSARR had to get a lawyer and go after WDFW for the way it came onto the FHSARR property and seized those deer in the first place without, claims Claudia Supensky understanding all the facts or even bothering to talk with pertinent witnesses, like a veterinarian.

In an interesting non-dated letter posted on the website of For Heavens Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation by founder and director Supensky, a far different picture is painted of the actions of WDFW.

The seizure of deer and one elk calf

For example, Ms. Supensky writes that on “November 9th, 2017, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) entered our property, seized three fawn and one elk calf and euthanized them based on a what we believe was a false claim of habituation. This action shook us, the wildlife rehabilitation community and the public to the core. It has been a traumatic experience, one that leaves wildlife rehabilitation centers in fear that there is no due process and almost no recourse to dispute what’s seen as a prime example of government overreach.”

Well. Now that is an interesting angle left out of the agency’s “news release” about the event, is it not? Supensky goes on:

After the seizure, FHSARR hired animal rights attorney Adam Karp and through many weeks of hard work, we came to a mutual agreement with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife that they will not euthanize the remaining 11 fawn at this time. This agreement builds in some protections against further seizure without due process. We don’t expect any other deer to be removed to WSU for a nutritional study or otherwise taken for euthanasia. The story of how this all happened to begin with is long and complicated.”

So. That feel good news story from WDFW has a different look and feel to it now. Supensky went on to explain that:

An individual came into our all volunteer organization through our normal process. We thought this individual was fairly knowledgeable and we saw great potential for this person to further a career in wildlife rehabilitation. During the time this person was here, I became seriously ill with pneumonia and had to rely on the volunteer’s capabilities to manage operations when I could not...we have no idea what the motivations were, whether it was purely due to inexperience or if it were personal, but upon reading all of the documentation released to us through public disclosure, it is my opinion that this person’s intentions were not good. In my opinion, there were some staged photographs and videos taken and as well as those that were misleading (coddling, petting animals, etc.), all of which are prohibited activities clearly stated in our training manual and orientation. Information was reported to a the WDFW rehabilitation manager, a wildlife biologist. Most of the footage that was used was taken out of context, including videos showing elk and fawn approaching this person in an attempt to try to prove habituation.”

Important information, such as the fact that they were still being bottle-fed was left out. In my opinion, there were many examples of things taken out of context or staged to make us look guilty. We were shocked when we saw the 29-page complaint. It was difficult to read these allegations knowing how misleading they were and how much trust and support we had given this individual. Instead of coming to me with these purported concerns, so that the matters could be explained and, if necessary, further addressed, she went behind my back [Note: We have a veterinarian who comes once a week and sees all the animals. She even wrote to WDFW inviting a call to discuss the complaint. She was never contacted for her opinion of the animals or conditions here and our other volunteers were not contacted either.]”

Well well. What does that say about the WDFW’s feel good news release? Just a bit more here from that letter on the rehab center’s website to put the whole story into some context for you:

In short, while I was away at a meeting with the Board of Directors, we received a surprise visit from the WDFW rehabilitation manager and upon entering their enclosure, the fawns and elk calf approached her. They were still being bottle-fed as this was just prior to weaning. During this phase, they are fairly approachable, especially around bottle-feeding times.

Note: during the rehabilitation process, the fawns are bottle fed and stimulated to go potty. They then go to bottles placed in racks, and from there, they graduate to a secure, back pasture with no human contact for the remainder of the winter/hunting season, to be released in February/March when natural food is more abundant. It was during the bottle feeding phase that the WDFW rehabilitation manager determined the fawns were habituated.

We have been following this practice for eight years and never had any objections from Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. There are no WAC s that dictate or suggest precisely when fawns should be released. We have 180 days for all wildlife brought into rehabilitation and can then request extensions when necessary.

We turn in records every year with release dates of the fawns so our practice was no secret. Also of note, was that the concerned volunteer had only been at our facility for three months and had never been through a full deer rehabilitation season with us. This person had no idea what our outcomes looked like by the time we release fawns.

Other volunteers who had been here longer can testify that the fawns are fully wild by the time we release them.”

So what can the reader glean from all this? Simply what every Journalism 101 student learns or should learn and what all of us should remember all the time: take every government or corporate news release with a large grain of salt because behind many of them are many untold facts and back stories as they are never designed to be “pure” news as any journalist might view such an animal.


Did you enjoy reading this new angle to the deer release story? Would you like to see more reporting like this? Then why not bop on over to the Chronicle’s DONATE page and do the right thing to keep indy journalism alive and well in this country.

After all, without folks like us all you’d be left with is official “news” releases from government agencies. And wouldn’t that be just swell?




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