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Bird Lovers Oppose Whelan Sanctuary

Times Staff Writer

In a strange-sounding turn of events, the San Diego chapter of the Audubon Society strongly opposes a proposed Oceanside bird sanctuary.

In its letter to the state attorney general’s office, the society said it “unalterably opposes” a plan to carve out a 120-acre avian preserve from Oceanside’s Whelan dairy farm.

Signed by chapter President Harold Wier and member Philip Pryde, the April 9 letter states that the proposed sanctuary appears “inadequate” to meet the needs of the wintering Canada geese it is designed to protect. The letter also criticizes the planned preserve as being drawn apparently without the input of anyone having “specific biological training.”

The letter was mailed to Deputy Atty. Gen. William Abbey, who is defending the state’s interest in the charitable gift of the proposed Whelan Lake Bird Sanctuary.

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Abbey, who has suggested that 120 acres of the 323-acre farm be set aside for the birds, was shocked at the letter.

“I’m a little disappointed that this could be presented to me in terms of being ‘unalterably opposed,’ ” Abbey said. “To get that letter out of the blue, without anyone trying to make contact with us . . . is a little heavy-handed.”

Pryde, who is chairman of the Audubon Society’s Lakeside Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary committee, said the problem with the planned sanctuary, which includes a large pond and much of the surrounding property, is that it does not include enough space for the geese to feed.

Pryde noted this week that geese do not feed on the water where they roost.

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“Unless some of the property is kept as seeding area and possibly farmed” to provide foraging land for the geese, the birds might not return to the lake, Pryde said.

A tentative settlement providing for the 120-acre preserve was reached last month. Although details are still being worked out and must be approved by a probate judge, the general plan provides for an operating endowment to be funded by $500,000 from the sale of the remaining 203 acres.

Because the settlement has not been finalized, Pryde said the Audubon Society hoped that its letter would encourage Abbey to seek to have more land set aside as sanctuary.

The letter is the latest chapter in the bitter dispute over the estate of Ellen Douglas Whelan, a legendary Oceanside dairywoman who died more than a year ago at age 85, leaving two wills.

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In one of the wills, written in 1975, she left nearly all of her assets to establish a bird sanctuary on her 323-acre farm.

But a second will, signed in 1981, at a time when Whelan suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, left nothing for the birds. Instead, it left the farm to her dairy manager, Ivan Wood, and split the remaining assets among Wood, a second longtime dairy employee, a former live-in conservator and the Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside.

Complaints by friends of Whelan prompted the attorney general’s office to contest the later will. Last month, Abbey reached a tentative settlement in the multimillion-dollar estate. But it did not satisfy San Diego Audubon Society members, who claim Abbey should have taken the case to court.

"(Whelan) left all her assets and all her land to the geese,” Pryde said. “That was her intention. The second will was made after she was declared incompetent and had two conservators appointed.”

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Pryde, who called the second will “a rip-off,” said he did not understand why Abbey did not take the matter to court to gain more land for a preserve. “It sounds like he’s involved in trying to avoid a lengthy and costly court settlement,” Pryde said.

Abbey disputed the Audubon Society’s assertion that the planned bird sanctuary was drawn up without professional input. He said a biologist with the state Fish and Game Department had been consulted and that last year his office sought input from the San Diego Audubon Society chapter.

“We talked to (the San Diego chapter) in November or December,” Abbey said. “We wanted to see if they’d be interested in managing a wildlife sanctuary out there. They told us that was out of their area, physically, and to contact the Buena Vista Audubon Society” in North County, which he did.

Buena Vista chapter President David Rorick said the group did not get as much land as it wanted for a sanctuary. The 120-acre preserve includes a 100-foot-wide strip of land bordering Whelan Lake, and Rorick said the society had wanted a strip 600 feet wide.

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