OWCN in Bangladesh: Day 0

Hello all-

Been awhile since I have blogged. Not that I love the OWCN any less since the Macondo/Deepwater Horizon spill, but it seems as if things just keep getting busier and busier for us here in California.

Oil slick line the banks of the Shela River (AP Photo/ Khairul Alam)

Oil slick line the banks of the Shela River (AP Photo/ Khairul Alam)

Speaking of which, as a brief update, I was activated this past week with a colleague from NOAA Office of Response and Restoration and the US Coast Guard to assist in the UN-led effort to support the clean-up and assessment activities in Bangladesh after the oil spill that occurred there on December 9th.

If you have not read the latest, the Guardian recently wrote on the UN effort.

As there may be little internet access where I will be, I am not sure I will be able to give updates as I go. However, I look forward to giving out information on what I see and the work that we are doing as soon as I am able.

These events in other regions of the world truly make me thankful for the systems, facilities, and people that we have in place to help wildlife in California. So, for now, I hope that everyone in the OWCN has a wonderful holiday season ( I plan on trying to put some tinsel on a mangrove…stay tuned).

Thanks again for all that you do!

- Mike

The Fantabulous New Database


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Excitement continues to run high here at OWCN headquarters as more and more of our affiliates create profiles in the new OWCN Responder Database.   Why so excited?  Well, here are just a few of our many reasons:

  1. Easy to update, personally managed profile.  Moved across the state?  Spent the last 3 months completing a sea turtle rescue internship?  Got a new phone number?  Update your contact information and experience profile with just a few clicks!
  2. No more waiting for approval to take webinars!  Once you’re in the system, you’ll be able to access our webinars on a whim, day or night.  We expect the streamlined process to be much more convenient for our responders, and poor Becky won’t have to approve each registration by hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  3. Log in to view and sign up for upcoming in-person trainings & events.  Your saintly over-worked OWCN Contacts will no longer have to forward training announcements to you.  Signing up for trainings & events will become a consistent, easy process.
  4. Reduced email frequency.  Who doesn’t wish their inbox was a little calmer?  You’ll have more control too – just let the system know whether or not you’d like a reminder email the day before a training, and rest easy in the knowledge that your wishes will be done.
  5. View qualifications/training status at any time – no more wondering whether you have completed the prerequisites for a staff position or upcoming training!  No more trying to track down what trainings you have completed!

So, how can you be a part of this wonderful program?  Well, start by creating your profile.  By now, the majority of you should have received your sign-up invitation.  If you haven’t, check in with the OWCN contact at your member organization.  It should be on its way in the next week or so.

Remember that unless and until you create a profile in this new system, you will not be able to participate in OWCN trainings/events, nor will you be called on as staff or pre-trained volunteers in the event of a spill.  We don’t want to lose anyone during this transition, so please don’t wait to create your profile!  We will be switching completely to this new system on January 4, 2015.

We’ll be sending out more information on how to use your shiny new responder profile, including how to sign up for events and make sure all your qualifications are accurately represented, in the not-too-distant future.

So here’s to our wonderful new database system – and here’s to you, our wonderful responders!


Small Children Take Over OWCN!


A trivia/memory game on spill response – photo by Justin Cox

Okay, the kids didn’t really take over, but there was a lot of them, and they came in waves, not unlike a zombie apocalypse, albeit a very enthusiastic and well behaved zombie apocalypse!  Last week OWCN had the privilege to host a group of 60 students from Cobblestone Elementary in Rocklin, California at our office building on the UC Davis campus.


Using maps & computers to figure out the predicted trajectory of a spill – photo by Justin Cox

This was a very unique outreach for us, as we usually go to schools and have limited space to work in.  Instead of a short presentation and a handful of quick activities, we took advantage of a large lobby in our building (and a very gracious set of helpers from the One Health Institute), and hosted a wider array of hands on activities.  The kids were able to visit up to 10 stations to learn about oiled wildlife response, and earn enough “punches” on their activity card, to get a small prize on the way out.


Looking at damaged vs. undamaged feathers under a microscrope – photo by Justin Cox

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Tim monitoring the application of proper PPE – photo by Christine Fiorello

We had some of our old favorite kids activities, such as washing feathers and Tim’s famous safety section, where kids get to try on PPE, not to mention our “lard glove” station, where kids learn about insulation in non-furred marine mammals.  However, this time around we were able to add in many more stations, including looking at damaged vs. undamaged feathers under a microscope, field stabilization trivia in our MASH, and using maps and computers to project the trajectory of an oil spill.

In all, this outreach was our most successful to date, and hopefully we will have more opportunities to host this type of outreach at our office space.  Additionally, a number of kids informed us that we will be seeing them as volunteers in 6-7 years when they turn 18!


Dodging Bullets

Many news headlines these days are not very happy: turmoil in Afghanistan, the expansion of ISIS, protests in Ferguson and Oakland over the indictment of Officer Wilson, and then more “pressing” news such as what to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner, what is the best stuffing recipe EVER, and how to get along with family members during the upcoming holidays. If within the last day you watched or read the news from KCR Sacramento or News 10 ABC (see link), you will have heard about the Union Pacific train that derailed yesterday and plunged into the Feather River Canyon, just east of Belden and 50 mi. northeast of Lake Oroville, an important reservoir that supplies many Californians with water. Fortunately, the train was carrying only corn, but these are the same rail tracks that each week transport 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil from Montana and North Dakota to refineries in California. Now if that isn’t scary enough to give you nightmares, here is some more fuel for your nighttime dreams: these rail cars that carry Bakken crude are also not very safe and need major retrofitting or replacement.

So why does this all matter? As citizens, it should matter a lot, for the safety of all the people whose lives are at risk when rail cars with highly explosive crude passes by our towns. It should also matter, especially to the OWCN community, because since June of this year, the OWCN’s mandate has expanded to include wildlife response for inland spills. This means that if a train derails or explodes, resulting in a petroleum product being released into a waterway and impacting wildlife, we will most likely be responding.

So, yes, we have dodged the bullet for now, but this news story should be a powerful reminder that we should constantly stay on our toes and be ready for more of these events happening that might call on the OWCN to respond.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And remember to steer clear of discussing religion or politics at the Thanksgiving table. Just saying.


Field Stabilization Level 2 Training at WildCare

I want to thank and congratulate the talented group of 21, highly motivated rehabilitators who traveled to San Rafael this past weekend to participate in a Field Stabilization Level 2 training hosted by WildCare. Folks had the opportunity to work on teams with staff, volunteers, RVTs and veterinarians from four different organizations: (Bird AllyX, International Bird Rescue, NOAA, and the Peninsula Humane Society). As you might guess, such a wealth of experience & diversity fostered many interesting discussions which added to the good time that was had by all.

Field Stabilization Level 2 training at WildCare. Fun in the classroom! Photo credit: Melanie Piazza

Field Stabilization Level 2 training at WildCare. Fun in the classroom! Photo credit: Melanie Piazza

I also want to send special thanks Melanie Piazza and her wonderful staff & volunteers for providing Starbucks coffee to start the day off “right” and for the yummy chips and salsa that provided a much needed energy boost in the late afternoon.

Completion of Field Stabilization Level 2 training is  required for all people that will be working at a mobile Field Stabilization (FS) Center during oil spills and for those assigned to management level positions at brick and mortar facilities. This training focuses on familiarizing personnel with paperwork and organizational schemes for the MASH (Mobile Avian Stabilization Hospital), so they will be able to provide efficient and consistent stabilization care to hundreds of oiled birds even given the restrictions in space and resources that are inherent to working out of a trailer. If you are interested in becoming a Field Stabilization responder and you belong to a Member Organization or Affiliated Agency, please contact Nancy Anderson for further information (nlanderson@ucdavis.edu)

Field Stabilization Level 2 participants posing with the MASH (Mobile Avian Stabilization Hospital). Photo credit: Melanie Piazza

Field Stabilization Level 2 participants posing with the MASH (Mobile Avian Stabilization Hospital). Photo credit: Melanie Piazza

Inside the MASH. Photo credit: Melanie Piazza

Inside the MASH. Photo credit: Melanie Piazza


Restoration of the Gulf

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported today that the state of Louisiana has selected five projects that it will ask the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to fund. The Council is made up of federal and Gulf Coast state officials, and they have the ability to fund restoration projects using the fines paid by the companies involved in the 2010 Gulf spill. Other states and Indian tribes will also be submitting proposals.

It’s always interesting to me to read about restoration projects, since they sometimes seem far removed from the original problem. For example, the projects Louisiana are proposing include  creating dunes and reefs. Dunes and reefs weren’t directly removed by the oil spill, but we can’t necessarily “fix” the specific harm caused by a spill. Restoration projects instead are designed to simply improve the habitat.

Restoration projects are an important way that we can help the environment–and by extension, all the species in it–that are degraded by our activities, whether they be disastrous but discrete incidents like oil spills, or just every day, gradual insults such as erosion, overfishing, or climate change. For this reason, during an oil spill response we need to be assiduous in collecting evidence (i.e., processing oil-affected animals) because it is this evidence that allows the government to levy fines and raise funds for restoration projects.

It’s unknown yet which projects will be selected for funding, but I’m sure all of them are worthy attempts at restoring the beautiful and fragile Gulf ecosystem. As humans, we often cause environmental damage, but we can also attempt to ameliorate it. Let’s hope that in the decades to come, the restoration projects tip the balance!


Thank you PWC!

IMG_2122Recently, Becky, Stephanie, Tim, and I descended on Morro Bay to do some hands-on OWCN training for our fabulous volunteers on the Central Coast. Marcelle, Jeanette, and the rest of the folks at Pacific Wildlife Care were incredible hosts, and we had a great time.

Marie from Bird Ally X joined us to teach a Pre-release Conditioning lab. We also had my extern, University of Pennsylvania veterinary student (and long-time rehabber) Michele, assist me with the Avian Intake & Processing and Seabird Necropsy labs. Stephanie taught her first Pre-wash Care lab outside in the tent. Tim, of course, helped out in a variety of ways, including putting up the tent! Becky spent most of the day in front of a couple of laptops, getting volunteers into our the new OWCN responder database.

Rain was in the forecast and given the drought, we couldn’t hope that it *wouldn’t* rain! But we were relieved when the rain did not in any way disrupt the training :-). IMG_2104

One of the best parts of the day was seeing several marine mammal volunteers jumping right in to learn about avian response. Birds may not be their “thing,” but as dedicated wildlife responders, they explained that they want to be trained to help wherever they are needed. That is the OWCN spirit!

Marcelle organized a delicious lunch and the entire PWC staff was incredibly welcoming, even though they were overwhelmed with grebes and working harder than ever. Thanks to everyone who participated, and a special thank you to PWC’s staff and volunteers. We love the Central Coast!