The state's Department of Fish and Wildlife has revoked the Santa Ynez Valley-based Animal Rescue Team's wildlife rehabilitation permit due to numerous violations, including possession of prohibited animals and failure to separate domesticated and wild animals.
The operation's permit was revoked effective Jan. 18, according to a letter sent to executive director and co-founder, Julia Di Sieno, on Jan. 3.
The letter, from the department's rehabilitation coordinator Nicole Carion, stated several violations were found during a Nov. 4, 2018, inspection, including possession of prohibited animals including two gray foxes and a coyote, and failure to keep wild and domestic animals separated on the property.
The organization has been in operation since 2007, and is located at 875 Carriage Drive in the unincorporated area outside Solvang. Its permit, which authorized the rescue and rehabilitation of injured, orphaned and displaced native wildlife in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, was renewed July 5, 2017, with several restrictions due to prior violations, according to the letter.
"I haven't slept since I found out," Di Sieno said of the letter Friday, adding there are no wild animals at the shelter now.
"Typically this time of year, all wildlife has been released," she said. "We have some birds that were hit by cars."
The team may file a written request for an appeal to the Fish and Game Commission no later than 30 days after receiving the notice, according to Jordan Traverso, communications director for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Di Sieno said Friday she plans to try to get her permit reinstated.
"It's going to be devastating for local wildlife and for the vineyards," Di Sieno said of the revocation. "Hopefully someone else will take over, but I doubt it -- no one has the commitment or willingness to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Traverso said in an email Friday that the commission "indicated they have not received an appeal at this time."
Di Sieno, who has been in and out of court over the last year as a result of confrontations with her neighbors, was placed on informal probation in June after being convicted of unlawful firearm activity and court order violations, and was placed on formal probation in October for disrupting her neighbors -- who she was ordered to have no contact with -- the day after her sentence.
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Di Sieno maintains the letter is part of a campaign to shut her down, which was started by her neighbors, who brought in another neighbor to make claims against her.
The Animal Rescue Team focuses on large mammal rescue, and also rescues and rehabilitates raptors, birds, reptiles and fawns. The team has operated with one Fish and Wildlife permit, which allowed it to rescue multiple species, according to Di Sieno.
The team also has been rescuing coyotes for the last six years, after receiving an amendment to their permit, Di Sieno said.
The letter ordered the team to surrender or release any wild animals in their possession on Jan. 18; failure to comply could result in criminal violation charges, the letter said.
Regarding the separation of animals, the letter noted:
- Four large dogs were loose in the yard in an area where a scrub jay and woodpecker were housed.
- A bird cage with two parakeets was placed atop a small, blanket-covered animal crate containing a great horned owl in the garage.
- A large cage that housed a wild scrub jay, one wild woodpecker, and two wild passerine birds also contained domesticated birds, including ring-necked doves, one hen pheasant, cockatiels, and other tropical birds.
Two dog puppies were also found roaming near the rear of the property where a turkey vulture, gray squirrel, hawk, chipmunk, two long-tailed weasels and six raccoons were housed, according to the letter, and "your yard contained a complex of cages that contained another dog and the gray fox described above."
Additionally, the team failed to maintain written rehabilitation records for the following animals: the male gray fox, the long-tailed weasels, the chipmunk, the gray squirrel and at least five of the six raccoons, the letter said.
The letter also states that hundreds of rehabilitation records from 2013, 2017 and 2018 "omitted 1,575 required items," and the state noted that the Solvang Animal Rescue Team's records have become "more incomplete each year.
The letter ordered the team to remove any instructions/signs on their property instructing the public how to drop off wildlife at their location.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office confirmed Thursday that police reports regarding the new allegations against Di Sieno have been forwarded to the county's Probation Department for further review.