OGDEN, Utah — “It just seemed like a nightmare.”
That’s what DaLyn Marthaler said when she found out the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, where she is the executive director, was given six months to vacate their facility and find a new one.
The nonprofit has occupied 1490 Park Blvd. in Ogden since 2010. The center takes in about 4,000 injured animals annually, including around 150 different species, and has treated more than 34,000 wild animals since its inception in 2009.
Marthaler said six months isn’t nearly enough time to relocate because doing so will involve finding a new property, applying for a commercial loan and making sure the property is zoned properly. Volunteers will also need to find or build a facility that is animal-ready, then undergo a facility inspection for government approval.
“All those things cannot happen in 180 days. It’s just not possible,” Marthaler said. “This isn’t something where we can just get out to a warehouse and be fine. … There’s a process to this, and people just don’t understand that.”
Marthaler first heard about the relocation from Jay Lowder, Ogden Public Services director, at the end of February. Lowder said he was “certain” he could give the center at least a year to move out, Marthaler said.
She asked him for two years, saying it wasn’t possible to safely relocate the animals within just one year.
Then, in early March, the center received a letter giving it until Sept. 6 to vacate the premises. The center will be bulldozed so the neighboring George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park at 1544 Park Blvd can create a 144-stall parking lot and a storage facility.
“We were completely stunned. It just seemed like a nightmare,” Marthaler said. “Why does it have to happen now? Why was this never communicated to us previously that this was coming?”
Lowder said the center’s residency was always meant to be temporary.
“The city gave them an agreement for an interim location in our facility until they could find something more permanent,” Lowder said. “We’re exercising our rights under their agreement. They’ve had 12 years to find something permanent.”
He said the policy has “always” been that the center would only receive six months notice to vacate.
“I’m going strictly by the agreement,” Lowder said.
He also said the dinosaur park has “always” planned to expand, but construction was delayed because of COVID-19. The park has now raised enough funds to start the first phase of their expansion, which is why it is happening now.
Marthaler’s understanding when her team originally signed the agreement was that it was “simply a formality.” She said they were told that these contracts are often made and that after a few years of occupying a building, they would have established residency there.
“Ogden really doesn’t owe us anything,” Marthaler said. “But they’ve allowed us to stay here with that understanding for this long. If they want us gone, that’s OK — we just need the time to do it without animals dying.”
Marthaler said if her team can’t establish a facility for the animals in time, thousands of them will have to be euthanized.
Marthaler is asking Ogden officials to reconsider their timeline, not only for the well-being of animals currently being treated at the rehabilitation center, but also so they don’t have to turn away future animal patients.
April through September is typically their busiest season, she said, with 79% of their patients arriving during those months.
Lowder said a long extension is out of the question, but his committee would be willing to consider a minor change.
“There’s not a lot to do to fight it. They’re completely within their legal rights,” Marthaler said. “Can they do it? Yes. Should they do it? No. Was it done properly? Absolutely not.”
Still, she is asking the public to show support for the center.
“Try to persuade the mayor to change his mind,” Marthaler urged. “Try to get them to put off this parking lot. I don’t see why it has to happen right now, and without giving us time.”