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Northwoods Wildlife Center has new executive director

September 20, 2019 by Jacob Friede

The Northwoods Wildlife Center (NWC), a wildlife rehabilitation and educational facility in Minocqua, has hired a new executive director. Her name is Mickey Mueller and her roots in animal care run deep.

Mueller was raised on a farm in Mondovi, Wisc., and after attending college at UW-River Falls, where she earned a degree in parks and recreation, she was a dairy farmer in Glennwood City for 12 years. After that she was the Dunn County Humane Society executive director for five years, and it was at the humane society that she found her passion for working for non-profit organizations.

“It was a position that I was kind of asked to take into as interim. but then I got addicted and there was a lot of things that needed to be done and helped with so I was there for five years,” Mueller said. “And I found that very fulfilling, very rewarding, working for a non-profit.”  

Working at the humane society was an inspiring experience that stayed with Mueller even as her career path changed. After her time at the humane society she owned and operated her own dog care/grooming/training business.

“I had owned my own business for about six years but always yet wanting to get back into that non-profit world,” she said. “Timing was never right, because I still had the business. Maybe the opportunity wasn’t right as far as location of what I was looking for.”

After being a business owner, Mueller spent a year and a half with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at the service station in Baldwin.

“Some of it was phones for the call center that’s statewide, and some of it was counter service where you’re selling hunting licenses, fishing licenses, snowmobile registrations, boat registrations, just fielding questions for other biologists and stuff from the DNR,” Mueller explained.

At the DNR call center she took questions from people asking about injured or sick wildlife, and one of the places she refereed them to was the Northwoods Wildlife Center.  It was by researching the NWC that she found out about the open executive director’s position.

The opportunity and location were exactly what she was looking for. 

“This was the perfect scenario because of loving the Northwoods and I’m an avid outdoor, hiking, canoeing kind of person,” Mueller said. “There’s several winters that I would just come up with my dogs up in the Chequamegon and rent a cabin and go skiing in snow that was deep.”

Her fascination with the Northwoods began when she was attending UW-River Falls. While studying there she spent two summers doing an internship in Drummond at the Pigeon Lake Field Station in the Chequamegon National Forest. There she was a teacher’s assistant for a science camp, instructing 60 sixth graders every week for six weeks each summer. 

“It was pretty amazing. It lit the fire for being up north,” Mueller said.

Learning the ropes

Now that she’s up north, Mueller is excited to get to work. She says she’s been in the learning phase, researching everything about the NWC and what it’s accomplished to date, while also setting some preliminary goals.

“I think that there can be more educational opportunities,” Mueller said. “So my goal is to, of course, bring in more finances to increase the educational opportunities. And to make improvements. Necessary improvements with the facility. A lot of networking that I need to do.” 

And she couldn’t be more pleased with the staff she gets to work with at the NWC.

“A very strong team of employees and a very strong board that’s tied to the facility. Very supportive. Both of them,” Mueller said. “I feel that they’ve all been very supportive in answering any questions, giving me information. They’re all fully invested and that’s important because you don’t always see that in all organizations. They’re accessible. They’re invested and they’re just very nice people.”

Mueller has noticed not only the strength of the staff, but also of the community support in the area.

“I do feel that the community is very supportive of the wildlife center,” she said. “And all the people that come in with donations, whether it be donations of materials or our can wagon out there that fills up. So people know we’re here and that’s good and they’re wanting to help. People that call in with an injured animal they usually do follow up calls to find out how they’re doing. A lot of those people who call in and an injured animal comes in on their behalf they also make a donation. So that’s highly important.”

Mueller has only been on the job for three weeks and so far has not been on an animal rescue yet, but has participated in two loon releases, one juvenile and one adult. On both occasions she witnessed the heart and soul of the NWC.

“I think it’s very rewarding to see the light in the interns eyes who have worked so closely with the animals and rehabilitating them, as well as the rehabilitation leaders,” Mueller said. “But its also rewarding for me to see the animal released back into the wild.”

Returning animals back to their natural habitats is especially satisfying to Mueller because she spends so much time outdoors enjoying the company of wild animals. She’s an avid hiker, skier, mushroom hunter, and gardener.

She’s also an artist.

Mueller is a pyrographer. Pyrography is the art of burning decoration into wood or other materials, like leather, with the use of a heated poker.

“I do some wildlife. Owls, bears, deer,” she said.

Now, as executive director, using her vast experience and life-long passion for animals, Mueller is preparing to etch her mark on the Northwoods Wildlife Center.

Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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