The Wildlife Waystation, in rugged Little Tujunga Canyon in the Angeles National Forest, has long cared for abandoned, abused and injured wildlife with the help of hundreds of local volunteers. But a succession of county, state and federal license and operating permit battles has drained its resources, officials said. Last month, five of its eight board members quit, apparently burned out over troubles at the beleaguered agency. This week, its $100,000-a-year manager was let go. On Wednesday, Collette laid off half her staff of 48 animal- and groundskeepers. Southern California Edison threatened to shut off power unless the bill was paid Wednesday, Collette said. And an unpaid propane company is scheduled to cancel service next week. SYLMAR – The nation’s largest exotic-wildlife sanctuary could close soon for lack of funds – and leave its 400 lions, tigers and other animals to the care of county animal control, its operators said Wednesday. The 31-year-old Wildlife Waystation is asking for public help to save its 160-acre menagerie of abused and abandoned creatures. “We’re at a critical road: We are $1million in debt, and we have no funds left,” Waystation founder and director Martine Colette said during a news conference in the former petting zoo. “Things as they are today will not continue for the next week, or two weeks, without help – financial help.” Without immediate donations, she added, Waystation animals are “going to become the county’s problem, the state’s problem.” Collette said she would try to prevent such animals as Montana the tiger and Bubba the baboon from being sent to roadside circuses with a reputation for mistreating animals. Or worse, from being killed. “There may be some that may have to be euthanized,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears. “It’s an unthinkable thought. I shall do whatever is in my power to prevent that from happening.” The Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control Department is scheduling an inspection this week of waystation animals. Recent inspections have found its various jaguars, lions, alligators and birds to be in excellent shape. “It’s not sounding good,” said Michelle Roache, deputy director of county animal control. “Our main (concern) is the welfare of those animals.” Roache said that, in the event of a closure, the county would likely be forced to care for the animals on-site and request the state Department of Fish and Game to move or house them. Wednesday’s announcement followed news this month that the waystation hoped to move part of its collection to Palm Springs – a move that Colette said could take up to a year to sort out donor land and permit issues. Other locations are being scouted outside Santa Barbara, Bakersfield or in Arizona or New Mexico. A buyer has offered to pay between $2.5 million and $3 million for 120 acres owned by the waystation, Colette said. Despite its current troubles, financial reports for the waystation show a nonprofit agency solidly in the black. In 2005, it earned $3.2 million in donations and spent roughly the same amount – with nearly $1 million in net assets, according to tax filings. Last year, the agency brought in $3 million and spent $2.7 million on operations, according to a Give.org charity rating report by the Better Business Bureau. A waystation fundraiser was held last October at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles featuring a tiger kitten and such celebrities as Nicolette Sheridan. Colette, who had turned over the financial operations to her board until this week, said she could not explain this year’s loss other than to say the agency had spent $1 million on environmental studies for a county occupancy permit. Waystation officials say fundraising came to a halt in 2001 after it was closed to visitors by the county and ordered to upgrade its sewage system, widen roads and install a water tank for fighting fires. The next year, Colette admitted to nearly 300 violations of federal animal-welfare laws and agreed to a suspension of her license under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates animal exhibitors. The waystation still needs a new land-use permit to reopen to the public. A judge is expected to rule this winter on a complaint by the USDA alleging permit violations. “I saw the books, I’ve listened to individual auditors. It’s always been a hand-to-mouth organization, because the demands were always greater than the resources,” said Scott Smith, a waystation supporter and former employee. “There was never enough money to do anything. That’s why I left.” Philanthropist and businessman Bob Lorsch, a former waystation executive director, stepped down from its board July 1. “Martine wanted control over everything, and that has been problematic in the past,” said Lorsch, a major contributor. “I can’t speak for the others, but it got tiring.” On Wednesday, Colette meandered past scores of chain-link animal cages nestled under a lush canopy of trees planted by a legion of waystation volunteers. She walked past the llamas lulled by 100-degree heat. Past Kiowa the mountain lion, purring at approaching visitors. Past chimps howling and spitting from their cages. And past Katunga, a male lion growling fiercely to defend his pride. “Oh, honey, I know, I know,” Colette cooed at Montana, a 12-year-old white tiger with a gimpy leg who craned his long whiskers for a hose bath. “You want a kiss, Montana? Come over here. “You are such a good boy, such a good boy.” “My job now is to find a solution to this crisis and dilemma,” she said. “And to save the animals at the waystation.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!