Wolf Haven fires director after 5 years

TENINO The Wolf Haven International board of directors has fired executive director John Blankenship, saying it's time to find someone with more financial and fundraising expertise to run the nonprofit wolf sanctuary near Tenino.

The unanimous board vote, announced Wednesday, immediately removed Blankenship, 64, from his $68,000-a-year post, a position he had held for five years.

“Since 2005, John has provided the oversight necessary for Wolf Haven to continue its mission of working for wolf conservation,” board President Steve Siera said in a prepared statement. “… The board feels that it is time to move on and focus on different priorities.”

Pressed for more details about the firing, Siera said Wolf Haven needs someone with a stronger financial background and fundraising abilities to keep the nonprofit moving forward in tough economic times.

“I’m a biologist by training,” said Blankenship, a former U.S. Fish & Wildlife deputy regional director. “They’re worried about funding; our investments aren’t doing too well. I think they need a fundraiser.”

Wolf Haven has about 15 paid employees and 70 to 100 volunteers caring for about 50 wolves, including captive-born wolves in need of a home and wolves raised for wild-wolf-recovery programs.

The 2010 operating budget is $830,000, compared with $889,000 in 2009.

Blankenship was hired during a tumultuous time at Wolf Haven stemming from the delayed euthanasia of a suffering, 15-year-old gray wolf named Akela.

In January 2005, Wolf Haven director Susan Sergojan refused to allow the wolf to be euthanized, defying orders from the sanctuary’s veterinarian, according to findings released in March 2010 from a lengthy U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation.

The investigation was prompted by employees who filed an animal-cruelty complaint against her with the USDA. Dismissed from her post, Sergojan countered with her own charges of improper care of animals at the sanctuary. During the controversy, many Wolf Haven employees, volunteers and board members resigned.

The federal investigation led to a $2,750 fine for Wolf Haven, a $2,200 fine for former board member Mike Peters, who paid but did not admit wrongdoing, and a $10,000 fine for Sergojan, who has also denied she violated the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Seira credited Blankenship with restoring employee morale and Wolf Haven’s wolf-conservation reputation.

“I had a good run; maybe it’s time for someone new,” Blankenship said.

The board is negotiating a severance package for Blankenship and has named Wolf Haven conservation specialist Tami Williams the interim director while it conducts a nationwide search for a new executive director.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

What's next

Meeting: The Wolf Haven board of directors will conduct its next public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Wolf Haven headquarters, 3111 Offut Lake Road S.E., Tenino.

About Wolf Haven: It is open to the public in the spring and summer for hourly tours from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday, and noon-3 p.m. Sunday. It is closed Tuesdays.

More information: Go to www.wolfhaven.org.