National Volunteer Appreciation Week (Debbie Silcox – NVADG)

IMG_3220The week we want to celebrate National Volunteer Appreciation Week, by profiling a few awesome OWCN volunteers.  Today, we have Debbie Silcox, who is part of the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG).  For those of you not familiar with NVADG, you can check out their website by clicking here, to learn more about the group’s mission of helping animals during emergencies and disasters.  Below is Debbie’s perspective on volunteering:

I started volunteering with animals in 2011 at the amazing Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care shortly after Little Smokey was rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild (Mission – Our mission at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care is simple: We give mother nature a helping hand by raising and rehabilitating orphaned and injured wildlife so they may be released back to the wild).  I went thru the weekend training and have volunteer there every Spring  – Fall, at both the facility and as part of the transport team.  Unfortunately I can’t get up there near as much as I would like but whenever I’m IMG_3221there I fully relax.  There is nothing like working with animals that need you.  All the troubles in your life seem to go away for that short time.  A friend of mine had heard about my volunteering and recommended that I join the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG).  NVADG was started in 2002 and its mission is – Working with emergency services to educate the public about disaster preparedness, and assist in sheltering and evacuation of animals during a disaster.  I’ve been a volunteer with NVADG since 2015 mostly as part of the Evacuation team.  I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing people in the Valley Fire, Saddle Fire and the Oroville Dam/Spillway response.  In addition to the yearly training I’ve had the opportunity to attend various trainings which include working in the shelters, radio, dispatch and evacuation.  The year I joined NVADG, they also became a member of OWCN.  This too was something I was interested in and immediately signed up and have been a volunteer since 2015.  I had the opportunity to volunteer for 3 days at the Refugio response in San Pedro and the recent full deployment drill in Quincy.  These were invaluable opportunities for me to both learn so much in a variety of areas and meet some amazing people.  IMG_3223I continue to increase my knowledge and have attended as many trainings as possible.  Towards the end of last year NVADG needed a new volunteer coordinator between NVADG and OWCN so I have taken that role on.  Needless to say I keep myself busy with the various volunteer agencies along with work and my love of travel.  But my volunteer activities are a passion and I can’t wait until I retire and have even more time to learn and assist even more!

Thank you Debbie – your hard work does not go unnoticed!  Stay tuned as we post additional volunteer profiles this week, and thank you all for being such amazing volunteers!

– Becky

Basic Responder Training: Redwood Style

Washroom Team for the PPE activity during the Arcata Basic Responder Training

Last weekend, Scott, Greg, Curt and Nancy headed up to Arcata to offer our northern-most Basic Responder Training for the year. As always OWCN responders from “remote” locations showed a special commitment to travel longer distances to attend. For this training, we had folks traveling from Crescent City, Redding, the Bay Area and even two “southerners” who trekked over 550 miles from Bakersfield to Arcata!

Beautiful redwoods just outside the Marine Wildlife Care Center at Humboldt State University

This training was also notable for the diversity of Member Organizations and Affiliated Agencies: Humboldt State University Marine Wildlife Care Center (Thanks Tamar for your hospitality!), Bird Ally-X, North Coast Marine Mammal Center, Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, California Academy of Sciences, Peninsula Humane Society, The Marine Mammal Center, International Bird Rescue, Noyo Center for Marine Science, National Park Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response, US Department of the Interior (Land Management) and US Forest Service.

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It was an amazing opportunity to network and we had many interesting discussions that we used to share a wide diversity of experience. Having access to this wealth of knowledge was particularly helpful when we were problem solving during the simulated drill. And what a drill it was! Twenty-five miles of oiled riverbank, plus oiled ducks and BEAVERS and potentially endangered tiger salamanders and western pond turtles. Oh my! At least we didn’t recover any bears! Yet even with these curve balls, our amazing teams set to work and developed sound equipment and staffing plans for Hazing, Wildlife Recovery, Field Stabilization and even a mobile Primary Care Center.

THIS IS A DRILL! Map of the Kangaroo River Oil Spill Drill for the Arcata Basic Responder Training

So the OWCN staff would like to thank all the participants for taking the time to attend the Basic Responder Training. We are NOT looking forward to a spill, but are really excited to know that those of you who just completed the Arcata training will be joining the ranks of responders who are ready to grab their Go Bags and help save wildlife in the event of a real spill. Thank you for your dedication, expertise and willingness to help!

If you belong to an OWCN Member Organization or Affiliated Agency and are interested in attending a future Basic Responder Training, please check your Responder Profile for more information. If you have further questions please contact either Becky Elias ( or Stephanie Herman (

Happy training!



A Rookie at an Oil Spill Drill


By Justin Cox

When I got word that the Oiled Wildlife Care Network would be hosting an oil spill drill up in the Feather River Canyon outside Quincy, CA, I immediately asked the team if I could come along for the ride. They happily set aside a seat in the van and looped me into the operation.

As the communications lead for the UC Davis One Health Institute and the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, my efforts are spread across many programs and projects. I’m familiar with a ton of amazing work that’s happening around the world, but only occasionally do I get to immerse myself into one program for days at a time. The drill in Quincy was a chance to do that with the OWCN, and it impressed me from top to bottom. It was a chance to get a glimpse of the gravity and seriousness of a spill without the chaos and real stakes of an actual disaster.

I spent part of the drive up dialing in a couple of cameras I would use to document the trip, but I put the gear away as we crept into the Sierras and the drive became increasingly scenic. We pulled into Quincy around noon and ate some packed lunches that had been ordered prior to our arrival. That might seem like a subtle detail in this blog post, but it’s very much part of the larger equation: in the event of a spill, the dozens of folks arriving to respond would need to be fed. That’s not supplemental to the larger operation; it’s essential. An OWCN drill has people dedicated to such logistics.



The next four hours involved the construction of a tent city at the Plumas County Fairgrounds in Quincy, which is where the bulk of the drill was hosted. In coastal spills, much of the oiled animal intake and cleaning would happen at designated facilities within the network, but that’s not the case inland. There are far fewer facilities because the threat of inland oil spills only began to skyrocket in the last few years, prompting an expansion of the OWCN’s coverage territory. That expansion, as regular readers of this blog surely already know, has come in the wake of increased inland drilling and fracking in the United States, which has resulted in more oil moving across the continent by train and pipeline.

Because there aren’t fully functional, pre-established oiled wildlife facilities scattered across the center of the state, the OWCN must be ready to rapidly erect its own upon arrival. So that’s the first thing we did in Quincy after we downed our sandwiches. Large metal cases were rolled out of trailers and four giant heavy-duty tents were unpacked and snapped together.

We held a casual open house at the site when we were finished for any locals and emergency managers in the region who wanted to know about spill risk in the area and the OWCN’s role in response. After that, we grabbed dinner and headed back to the hotel for some sleep, as the next day was going to be an early and busy day.

The next day, OWCN Director Mike Ziccardi kept the circumstances of the “spill” a secret up until the moment it began, at which point he took the stage as puppet master, a role he seemed to deviously enjoy. Everyone had a job, from the people washing the animals (stuffed ones for the purpose of the drill) to drivers transporting them from the derailment site to the fairgrounds. Not only would the team, with its various roles assigned, act upon the initial release of information from Mike, but they would have to react on the fly to animals being “captured” in the field (with their medical findings accompanying them in their carrier boxes) as well as curveballs (or injects) being introduced throughout the day as well.


That included me, as one of the main people charged with communicating the details to the public. It was clear from the get-go that internet connection would be spotty (to put it lightly), not only for me and my attempts to blog and tweet, but also for responders transmitting data about oiled animals and teams working to order equipment, arrange laundry, and book hotel rooms on the fly.

My role in the day was interesting in that I was there in part to document the drill for future storytelling, but also to be a part of the real-time simulation. Communications is a massive part of an oil spill, because not only can you count on news media to descend upon the site when a spill happens, but also unsanctioned responders with good intentions are inclined to get involved, many without proper training. Haphazard exposure to oil is dangerous for animals and people alike, so one of my injects was to draft a blog post laying out the dangers and explaining how people could proactively help without getting in harm’s way.

I haven’t mentioned yet that it poured rain for much of the drill, which added another layer of unscripted challenges. It dumped so hard at one point that I packed away my Canon for a few hours and stuck with a waterproof GoPro for photos. That’s an inject Mike Ziccardi can’t take credit for. Or can he?


I found the whole drill experience to be incredibly impressive. The OWCN breaks its mission into four “Rs,” one of which is Readiness. (The others are Response, Research and Reaching Out). Massive oil spills that affect wildlife don’t happen daily in California, so it’s not like our team is scrambling around the state chasing spills in a constant tizzy. But spills do happen frequently, and in many cases the effects are massive and require many months of devoted attention. Oil spill readiness and response requires quickness and coordination which is only achieved through intensive planning and practice. Drills offer the opportunity to test out the planning and to practice a response.

As a first-time participant in a drill, it was awesome to watch as more than 80 people suspended reality for two days to mobilize and respond to a disaster that wasn’t actually happening. We’ll all be better for it when a disaster actually does happen.

Wildlife Rehab’s Bright Future

At the beginning of March, I spent an excellent week in Williamsburg, Virginia at the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Symposium.  The NWRA Symposium is a national conference for wildlife rehabilitators; with an extensive roster of daily talks, workshops, and social events. Attendees include agency representatives, veterinarians, and lots and lots of rehabilitators. There are home rehabilitators and center rehabilitators, paid and volunteer, single species and multispecies. Some attendees have been working in the field for decades upon decades, and some are preparing to apply for their very first rehabilitation permit.


I brought a friend back! This is Opus, my new desk mascot.

Of course, it is always amazing to see friends and colleagues from all across the country–especially since it’s been years since some of us have run into each other.  And I love meeting and helping other rehabilitators by teaching in the lectures and labs, not to mention having a chance to learn from others’ experiences and grow my own skills.

But this year my favorite thing was the program of speakers. It seems like the programming has gotten better and better over the 10 years that I’ve been attending the NWRA symposium (my first was 2008 in Cherry Hill, NJ–woot woot!).  This year especially, I was struck by the knowledge and professionalism represented by the speakers.  I know a ton of work went into the symposium (as is always true), and that really showed.  I also think it reflects on how wildlife rehabilitation has grown and matured over the years, and hopefully this is just a glimpse of where we’re headed.

As a group, wildlife rehabilitators are already making a difference all over the world. But we’re also finding ways to move forward, by bringing new science to light, finding new ways to apply natural history to our care protocols, and incorporating solid ethics into our programs. With every step we take, we’re able to help more animals, and do a better job of it too.

I left Williamsburg full of hope and pride. I still see the long path in front of us–never be satisfied, right?–but I also see how far we’ve come. It gives me confidence that we’ll keep moving in the right direction, no matter what else is going on in the world.  I’m really excited to be looking forward into that future alongside so many exceptional wildlife rehabilitators, many right here on the West Coast.

I hear that next year’s Symposium will be in California’s very own Orange County–if you have the chance to go, I think you’ll find it a fun and educational time!

Take care,



This new Rosemary Mosco comic came out in March, and since I love black skimmers and all their tiny-legged weirdness, I just had to share 🙂

Jackalope spotted in Quincy Drill! Film at 11

When you are an oiled wildlife responder, people often ask what you do between spills – like they assume you are watching old episodes of the Simpsons or reading War and Peace because you have nothing else to do. I expect firemen or EMTs get the same sorts of questions and I am sure they too at least chuckle to themselves and perhaps can’t suppress a minor eye roll. I can only speak for the responders on the OWCN Management Team at the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center within the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, but we manage to keep pretty busy and it seems like I am way behind on my reading of the great books.

March has been especially busy. Last week we had meetings of the OWCN Scientific Advisory Committee as well as the OWCN Advisory Board. This week started with our annual OWCN Full Deployment Drill and will end with the Annual Meeting of the One Health Institute. We have a lot going on. Too much to cover in one blog so I will just tell you about one of these events the Full Deployment Drill and leave the others for a future blogger to report on.

On the road to Quincy

On the road to Quincy

The OWCN Full Deployment Drill occurs every year. It is a “peacetime” way that evaluates our readiness to respond when animals are impacted by oil spills in California. Each year responders from many (often more than half) of our Member Organizations participate on the ground. Last year it took place in Morro Bay and this year in Quincy – tucked in a beautiful valley up in the Sierras halfway between Reno and Redding. They are opposites in many ways, but both are fairly quiet this time of the year and each offers unique challenges for a drill. We chose Quincy because it is right next to one of the five areas designated by OSPR as high risk for a spill involving oil by rail in California, and it is a perfect place to identify some of the challenges that inland response will hold for California and the OWCN. We have spent considerable time planning for inland response but this was our first live drill since we were given that responsibility. To maximize the value, we decided to hold an Open House on Monday the day before the actual drill. Our aim was to provide Quincy with a sense of both what we do as well as how it might play out in their community. That added a bit of pressure as we had to travel to Quincy and get everything set up by 4 pm, but great team effort from the OWCN Management Team and participants from many of the Member Organizations got everything in place in the nick of time.

set up Quincy

Facility Set Up at the Fairgrounds

The time pressure from the Open House also gave us new insight into just how much “people-power” will be required to get our five Western Shelter tents and all of our equipment up and running when we are deployed for a spill.  If we already have animals that need care when we arrive, that will definitely be challenging.

OWCN Sprinter & Hazing Trailer

OWCN Sprinter & Hazing Trailer

The drill itself took considerable planning, with Mike Ziccardi leading the development of the scenario with lots of help from OSPR personnel familiar with the area to help make it realistic. The Wildlife Recovery and Hazing Groups set up with the Sprinter and the Hazing Trailer at the Spanish Creek Campground – close to to the “scene” of the “release”. Field Stabilization was 10 minutes away at Hough Ranger Station, which was still about 10 minutes from the Primary Care Facility established at the Plumas County Fairgrounds.

While we don’t use live animals in the drill, we did have more than just our imagination. Stuffed animals, each with cards bearing information about their condition, were captured, transported, processed, and examined. Later some of them went through the cleaning and conditioning processes, so participants in each area were challenged to think about how they would handle a variety of inland species including river otters, bald eagles, giant garter snakes, beaver, skunks, and many more. We tested our still developing digital record keeping system using the Wildlife Recovery iPhone app and OWRMD, and found that although while many people talk about internet everywhere, there are still some places that have spotty or NO SERVICE.


Otter Exam

When the drill wrapped up mid-afternoon, we all gathered to share lessons learned. We talked about the internet problems, the challenges of working in tents compared to the roomy purpose-built centers we have along the coast from San Diego to Arcata. We talked about the challenges of the weather and evaluated some of our new inland species equipment and what we still need to acquire. But the thing that stood out the most was that, despite the rain, wind and pretend animals whose lives were not really in danger, everyone played their role with all their heart, taking it all seriously but with a smile on their faces, working together to make California better prepared in the case of an inland spill.


Lessons learned


Oh, and did I mention there was even a jackalope?  Well, maybe that was not so realistic.
Everyone knows they don’t occur west of the Sierras.




Tristan da Cunha Oil Spill – Six Years After

Today marks the 6th anniversary of one of the world’s most remote wildlife rescue operation on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic.

Tucked away in the South Atlantic Ocean, mid-way between South Africa and South America, and a little east of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, lies the Tristan da Cunha archipelago and nearby Gough Island, home to 85% of the global Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi population.

The archipelago comprises three main islands: Inaccessible, Nightingale and Tristan da Cunha itself, with Tristan being the only island with a permanent settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Nestled at the base of the volcano on the island’s north-west coast, the village is home to about 270 inhabitants – the Tristanians. Gough Island, 380 km south-southeast of the Tristan group, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (together with Inaccessible Island) and the only breeding site for this penguin south of the Subtropical front.


Northern Rockhopper Penguin – photo by Antje Steinfurth

The penguin’s bobbing yellow hairdo and braying call is a familiar sight and sound for the Tristanians. Since people settled on Tristan in the early 19th century, the pinnamins, as the locals endearingly call their penguins, have played a key role in the island’s traditions. However, a 90% decline in the population since the 19th century, combined with the penguin’s small breeding range and vulnerability to land- and sea-based threats, meant that when the Northern Rockhopper was recognised as a full species in 2008, it was immediately listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Just three years later, the species’ precarious conservation status was driven home when the cargo ship MS Oliva ran aground off the north-western coast of Nightingale Island on 16 March 2011. Approximately 1500 tons of fuel and heavy crude oil escaped from the ship, encircling Nightingale and nearby Middle (locally called Alex) islands, breeding sites to almost half the world’s Northern Rockhopper population. Devastating reports of oiled wildlife and coastlines quickly made the international news. What followed, however, was one of the most remarkable wildlife rescue operations ever undertaken.


MS Oliva aground off Nightingale Island on March 17, 2011 – photo by Kristine Hannon

Mission Pinnamin

Within hours of the spill, a small army of Tristanian volunteers orchestrated an ambitious rescue operation to try to save their penguins. Nightingale Island, where most of the penguins were caught in the oil, has no fresh water or facilities for cleaning penguins, posing a serious challenge to treating the oiled penguins on site. Penguins had to be transported to Tristan da Cunha, across 30 km of often tumultuous seas, for washing and rehabilitation. Hundreds of clean Rockhoppers were carefully corralled on Nightingale, Middle and Inaccessible to decrease the risk of them becoming exposed to the oil while oiled birds were captured and transferred by dinghy to the MV Edinburgh, a lobster fishing vessel operating in the archipelago that, overnight, was transformed into a penguin rescue hub. On 23 March the first fragile cargo of 473 penguins was brought to Tristan and taken to a makeshift rehabilitation centre set up by island’s Public Works Department.

One For All and All for One

Just about everyone on the island got involved in this operation. While the islanders’ heroic actions however were successful at averting the worst-case scenario of the spill, the price of living in splendid isolation is that help is a long way away. Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island are accessible only by ship, with the closest harbour being in Cape Town, South Africa. And when I say “closest”, it means 7 to 11 sailing days away. While the first salvage vessel left Cape Town one day after the MS Oliva ran aground with one seabird rehabilitation expert and enough stabilization supplies on board for the preliminary treatment of 500 penguins, the much-needed equipment to set up a full cleaning and rehabilitation centre only arrived 18 days after the catastrophe.


Oiled Rockhopper Penguins on Nightingale Island – photo by Trevor Glass

Luckily, the oil spill happened at a time when most of the penguins had already moulted and left the colony for their winter-feeding areas, so the worst-case scenario was fortunately averted. Nonetheless, of the approximately 3700 oiled birds that were collected for rehabilitation, only 10% survived to be released. Probably many more penguins got trapped in the oil slick at sea and hence, these numbers underestimate the actual impact of the pollution.

Lessons Learnt?

Six years after the oil spill, the long-term effects of the oil spill on the population are still unknown. Given that the islands are the strongholds for the Northern Rockhopper this disaster, however raised serious concern as any changes in the islands’ population would have a substantial impact on the global status of this species.

This devastating event taught us once again that disasters can and do strike the most remote places and Tristan da Cunha, renowned as the most isolated human community on Earth, is remote by any standard. The 2011 MS Oliva oil spill highlighted the challenge of getting equipment and medication to the islands when it was critically needed.

The increasing number of ships passing close to the archipelago each year creates a growing risk of chronic oiling as well as further catastrophic spills. Having learnt the lesson, Estelle van der Merwe, a specialist in rehabilitating oiled wildlife, was appointed in 2014 by the Tristan da Cunha government to write an Oiled Wildlife Preparedness and Response Plan for the islands that will enable the Tristanians to be prepared if a disaster should strike once again.

Next Steps

Even though the oil spill had nothing to do with past population declines nor might it be responsible for the fluctuations that followed, what the catastrophe did reveal and highlight in a most striking manner was how little is known about this Endangered species, and that basic but vital information on the species’ general ecology has been almost totally lacking.

It goes without saying that regular surveys carried out by the Tristan Conservation Department have been providing an important and valuable tool to estimate annual population sizes, but are of little help identifying and understanding factors that are driving population trends and dynamics, which is crucial for any decision-making and design of an adequate conservation programme. Hence, there has been a growing need for baseline data and long-term monitoring datasets.

As part of an effort to fill the gap, in 2015, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) partnered up with the Tristan Conservation Department, the British Antarctic Survey, the Zoological Society of Scotland and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to propose a comprehensive Rockhopper monitoring scheme to the UK Government’s “Darwin Plus” Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund. In March 2016, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the oil spill, funding was awarded and Project Pinnamin was born.

For more information see

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWritten by guest blog by Antje Steinfurth, Conservation Scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Cambridge, UK


Good news for marine wildlife

There hasn’t been much good in the news lately, so I thought I would highlight a couple of happy developments that I’ve read about recently. Last month was the World Ocean Summit, in Bali (hey why wasn’t I invited?), and during that event, Myanmar announced a new comprehensive plan to protect marine resources. The plan addresses the needs of fisheries, marine mammals, and sea turtles, and aims to assist stakeholders in making decisions that promote sustainability. Most of Myanmar’s ocean waters are unprotected, despite being home to rare species such as finless porpoises and dugongs. Their plan is a first step in ensuring that marine resources are protected.


At the same event, the host country, Indonesia, announced that it would allocate one billion dollars every year to reducing plastic pollution in the ocean. Their goal, according to Inhabitat website, is to reduce plastic pollution by 70% by 2025. That’s an ambitious goal, but the benefits to ocean life would be immeasurable.

A little closer to home–okay a LOT closer to home–Island Conservation reports that last month Canada extended protection to marine waters surrounding some of Vancouver’s coastal islands. These islands are key homes for many seabird species such as Cassin’s auklets, and this protection will safeguard important feeding areas just offshore.

Thanks Myanmar, Indonesia, and Canada for taking action to protect our oceans and their wildlife. In solidarity, I pledge to use one less piece of plastic this week! Anyone want to join me?