Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary founder DeEulis dies

by TOM GROTE

The woman who converted 35 acres of isolated land near McCall into a refuge for injured and orphaned animals died lastweek. Linda DeEulis, 65, died on Nov. 13, afteLInda and Baby Geat Horned Owlr a long battle with cancer at her home at Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary east of McCall that she founded in 1989.

Her life ended just as Snowdon was beginning to reach a sense of normalcy after a devastating flood in 2010 caused extensive damage to the sanctuary.

DeEulis worked without pay for the nonprofit organization to care for the animals brought to her for healing. "Returning injured or orphaned animals back to the wild in good health is one of the most rewarding things you can imagine," she said in an interview recorded for a grant application. "There is nothing like seeing a black bear cub tentatively peek from his crate, then finally race across a meadow to freedom," DeEulis said. "Or a hawk or owl circle the sky above you before flying free."

No Electricity

DeEulis and former husband Doug Holden started the sanctuary by ferrying materials across Lake Fork Creek on a cable car. There was no electrical service to the land, a fact that is still true today. "We dragged an old trailer across the river at low water level," DeEulis said in the grant interview. "This was our home for the first two years." Soon a bridge across the creek was built and facilities where slowly developed over the years.

The first animal to be rehabilitated was a badger from New Meadows, said Mary Allen, a friend. Since then there have been song birds of all types plus larger birds including eagles, osprey, kestrels, owls and multiple varieties of hawks. Waterfowl like ducks, swans and grebes have also been turned in to be treated and released, and there have been several cougar kittens rehabilitated, collared and released from Snowdon. Wolves were housed for short periods of time during the late 1990s. Red foxes have been regular patients as well. Small animals also get treated every year, including squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and even mice. Larger animals such as deer and elk have been rehabilitated, and every year there is a regular parade of fawns who are turned in to Snowdon.

In the past few years, Snowdon has become the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's preferred location in the state to care for weaned black bear cubs because of the natural habitat the enclosures provide. This summer, Snowdon received Boo Boo, a bear injured in a forest fire near Salmon that became a national celebrity.

Education Important

Public education was nearly as important to DeEulis as healing the animals, board member Vandy Leonard said. Over the years, DeEulis talked to literally hundreds of school groups accompanied by her long-time companions Maizie the fox, Mariah the kestrel, and Ollie the owl. She had a passion to educate children and adults about how wildlife fits into different cultures, former board member Joyce Sisson Gamez said. "She really hoped that if people had a better understanding of wildlife, they would not only do more to protect them and their habitats, but also they would live along the edge of this wild place with much more respect," Gamez said.

In August, DeEulis enlisted a Snowdon board member to take her and Ollie on a seven-hour trip to Hope in northern Idaho, where she gave her final owl program for a large group, board member Caroline Walpole said. "Although she was ill, she wouldn't consider canceling the engagement," Walpole said. "Linda believed in the power of education and believed that those she reached would carry on her message and her love of Idaho's wildlife."

In 2009, a visitor and education center was built just outside the main sanctuary grounds where visitors can view displays and materials about wildlife. The center is an important link to the work and the wildlife the sanctuary supports since the public is not allowed to view the animals under the sanctuary's care.

DeEulis also began an intern program, where college students work at Snowdon without pay to gain hands-on experience caring for wildlife as part of their goals to become veterinarians and biologists. Many colleges have allowed the experience to be included as a credited course.

In June 2010, the Brown-Cruzen Dam collapsed after heavy rainfall, sending a wall of water down Lake Fork Creek and over the sanctuary. DeEulis, an intern, and several animals escaped in a daring river rescue, but the intern cabin caught fire and burned, and extensive damage was caused to the holding pens and other facilities. Repairs were made, but nearly exhausted the facility's cash reserves, even with extraordinary contributions by volunteers. Snowdon sued the owners of the dam and a trial is scheduled to begin in February.

Her friends recalled the determination of DeEulis after the flood. "She was angry, but energized to make things work again," Leonard said. "She was truly heartbroken, but in true Linda fashion, she got on the phone and started lining up people and equipment to help fix things up," Gamez said.

DeEulis was diagnosed with colon cancer 4-1/2 years ago, and the cancer spread to her lung and brain. Despite her illness, DeEulis was dedicated to her work, said Gamez, who worked at Snowdon as an intern before becoming a board member. "She was out in the snow with me, fixing pens, handling animals, and making sure that nothing fell through the cracks," she said.

But DeEulis and the Snowdon board began planning for the sanctuary's future before she became ill. In 2006, the Snowdon land was placed under a conservation easement to prevent the land from ever being developed.

Operations at the sanctuary will be handled by two interns this winter, and the search for a new director will begin in the spring, Leonard said.`

Originally Published November 21, 2012 in:

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In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary, P.O. Box 2004, McCall, ID 83638 or via PayPal at left