The Descent is Always the Trickiest!

As Chris and Scott noted in the last two blogs, OWCN held the first Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit in Davis Oct 14 & 15. Although no one really knew what would happen, everyone showed up ready to participate, share their opinions about the the strengths and weaknesses of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, and brainstorm and propose ideas on how we can improve it. We discussed how to make activation of the wildlife facilities used in an oil spill response smoother, make responses greener, clarify use of protocols, provide better first response, build our skills for inland species, and untangle the web that is chain of custody. chain-of-custody-summit-10-16img_0835

It was a day that truly reflected the founding vision of OWCN as a group of energetic, dedicated, and creative organizations and the individuals that make up those groups. It was a meeting of people who are leaders – in their thoughts, their organizations, their communities, and their actions.

But the true measure of the success of the Summit will not be clear for months. The true danger of climbing a summit, after all, is often on the descent, when you are taking pride in your accomplishment and not focused on making it home safely.


Conquering the summit will not be finished until the conceptualized products our discussions are complete, after many hours of toil by the members of each workgroup. However, we have full confidence that success will occur, based on two primary things: because I know the strong dedication and high work ethic of nearly every person involved, and because I know the history of oiled wildlife response and wildlife rehabilitation here in the Golden State.  As someone born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, it sometimes pains me to admit that California holds a very unique position within the profession and community of oil spill response. It is a leader and has been since before some of us were putting gas at 25 cents a gallon into our cars.  One reason is because the oil industry generates a huge amount of money by extraction, transport, and refining and selling petroleum products here. Another is because of the depth and breadth of the natural wonders in California and the passion that they elicit in people to protect and defend them. That combination has lead to a state that literally puts it money where its mouth (and its heart) is.

And this fact is not just because of money generated by taxes on oil. Long before the Exxon Valdez and American Trader oil spills that sparked the legislation that would require oiled wildlife response as part of the clean up, the public and the wildlife rehabilitation community in California were doing their best to rescue and rehabilitate oiled wildlife as well as other injured and orphaned wildlife that were found every day of the year. Organizations like Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Monterey SPCA, Peninsula Humane Society, and of course International Bird Rescue Research Center all were caring for oiled wildlife during the 70’s and 80’s. If California was not the birth place of wildlife rehabilitation and oiled wildlife response, it was surely the nursery where it grew from diapers to overalls, scrubs, and lab coats. Events like this year’s OWCN Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit, past year’s Oilapaloozas and the just concluded Symposium of California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators (which was held last weekend in Fresno) prove the strong belief in environmental responsibility and stewardship and willingness of divergent people coming together to strengthen and improve that stewardship.  These kinds of events never fail to energize and inspire as well as remind me how thankful I am to have the opportunity to learn from and work with all of you who are so dedicated to mitigating our impacts and making the world a better place for humans and non-humans living in this state and on this planet. I am confident you will all make sure we remain leaders in our field. Stay tuned for the progress reports over the coming year.


A successful summit

This past weekend we hosted at the first OWCN protocol summit. About 50 people, representing over 20 member organizations, met in Davis on Saturday and Sunday to talk about OWCN protocols and procedures.

On Saturday we listened to short presentations from various organizations on issues they identified as important to them. We split up into break-out sessions to discuss those issues, and then presented them to the larger group. Then everyone voted on the issues they felt were of highest priority. Volunteer working groups were formed to address each issue. We were so efficient we even finished a bit early!

Director Mike Ziccardi then spoke a bit about full deployment drills and there was a general discussion about how they work and what their goals ares. The day finished up with a reception.

On Sunday, we met at OWCN’s storage area, so that member organizations could see our response equipment and supplies. Lucky for us, the rain held off until about 11 o’clock!

I want to thank everyone who came and participated – many of you drove a long way in the rain! It was a productive meeting, with time to catch up with friends and talk about animals and emergency response. We even used it as an opportunity to practice signing into Better Impact, which qualifies it as a drill🙂. Oh yeah, and there was beer . . . . what more could anyone want?




OWCN Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit

After much preparation and anticipation, the very first OWCN Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit is finally happening this weekend!  We are very excited to be hosting over 50 participants from our Network, including representatives from 22 Member Organizations plus a handful of affiliated agencies, including CDFW-OSPR and USFWS.

We briefly mentioned this new event a couple months back via a blog post but as a reminder, the main goal of the Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit is to assist in identifying areas of focus within OWCN protocols and procedures that will help move oiled wildlife response forward. Sunday will afford OWCN staff an opportunity to showcase our equipment storage facility with an emphasis on familiarizing participants with response equipment available to the Network during spill response.

We will gladly share a Summit update after this inaugural event.

Looking forward to a successful weekend of Network collaboration and enhancement.


Volunteer Program at OWCN

With the announcement of our new training program, I thought I’d take some time to explain the three types of Volunteers within the volunteer program of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

(1) Spontaneous Volunteers


In medium and larger spills we may ask the public for their help

Spontaneous Volunteers are not affiliated with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network prior to a spill. These are members of the public that see an ongoing spill in their area, and want to contribute to the effort. If there is a spill and we need volunteers, OWCN would send out announcements via OSPR and the media, and then sign Spontaneous Volunteers up for volunteer shifts. Typically, Spontaneous Volunteers have no prior experience working with animals or in spill response, but can provide a valuable service by helping with non-animal care activities, such as cleaning cages, administrative tasks, and preparing animal diets. Additionally, dedicated Spontaneous Volunteers may get on the job training to help out with animal care if needed. Normally we only utilize Spontaneous Volunteers in medium or larger size spills, and only after we have tapped into the OWCN volunteer pool.

Spontaneous Volunteers sometimes do have animal care experience, or are even volunteers with one of our Member Organizations, however, they have not registered as an OWCN volunteer in our database. Remember that it if you volunteer with one of our Member Organizations and want to participate in oiled wildlife response during an oil spill, you need to register as an OWCN volunteer before the start of a spill (contact the primary OWCN contact at your Member Organization for details on how to sign up).

(2) Affiliated Volunteers

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]

OWCN Member Organizations

Affiliated Volunteers either work or volunteer at one of our 30+ Member Organizations around the state (check out our map by clicking here), and have registered in the OWCN Responder Database. These volunteers receive valued hands-on training just by doing their normal staff or volunteer work at their Member Organization. These people are easily identified for potential spill response because they are listed in our database, and will have the opportunity to sign up for volunteer shifts during active spill responses.

Typically, our Affiliated Volunteers do not choose to participate in our optional training program, or they take only some of the basic online classes. They are still very valuable to us during spill response, especially because they are pre-identified as potential responders in our database, allowing for quick communication and mobilization into a spill volunteer role, and tend to have animal care experience.

(3) Pre-Trained Volunteers


Volunteers wash birds during the Ventura Oiled Bird Incident

Pre-Trained Volunteers, like Affiliated Volunteers, work or volunteer at one of our 30+ Member Organizations around the state, and have registered in the OWCN Responder Database, making them easily identified by us as potential spill responders. They also gain valued hands on experience just by doing their normal work with their Member Organization. Unlike our Affiliated Volunteers, our Pre-Trained Volunteers will have completed both our Core webinar series and our upcoming new Basic Responder class. These extra trainings give our Pre-Trained Volunteers added experience and knowledge of how the OWCN operates during spill response. As a perk for taking our training courses, Pre-Trained Volunteers will have the opportunity to self-assign themselves to volunteer shifts during spill response, rather than waiting to be selected to volunteer like our other volunteers. Additionally, our Pre-Trained Volunteers will have the opportunity to take our advanced level training courses, where they will become eligible to respond as staff during a spill, if we need to fill positions.

If you have any questions about our volunteer program, or are interested in participating further, please email me at


Announcing…A New Training Program!

We are thrilled to introduce our new training program! Now, I know that not everyone is as thrilled as we are with this new program; mainly because – let’s face it – we have changed training and qualifications quite a bit in the past few years.  However, we like to think of it more as an “evolution” rather than as a “change” as we have gone through several staff changes within the UC Davis management team – each person bringing with them new ideas on how to make our response team even better.  Within the past year, we have been working hard to standardize and integrate our training program within all areas of wildlife response (versus each stream having their own pre-requisites and different standards for response).

This new training program has the following general goals:

  1. Develop a team of oiled wildlife responders that have the knowledge, skills, experience, and attitude (cohesion, trust, confidence in each other and the team) needed to provide the best achievable capture and care in an oiled wildlife response organization.
  1. Promote enthusiasm and continued engagement and commitment of individuals from all OWCN member organizations.
  1. Train each individual to the level which they have set for themselves, to the best of their potential and interest.

OWCN’s new stepwise approach to training for wildlife response.

With these goals in mind, we developed a step-wise approach within both field as well as animal care operations.  Each step is designed to build upon the previous step, in terms of knowledge, development of skills, and experience.  The program is built upon the understanding that there are many common concepts and skills across the different streams (hazing, wildlife recovery, field stabilization, and care and processing). With this in mind, more introductory trainings can be attended by both field-focused as well as animal care-focused responders, rather than separating each stream into different tracks.  By capitalizing on common concepts, we believe that this accomplishes 2 main goals:

  1. Makes training more efficient (instead of each stream lead teaching the same information to each separate group).
  2. Contributes to a more unified training program overall, as well as helping to develop cross-training and networking between the different stream members.

Training program roll-out schedule

Earlier this month Curt announced the roll-out of the new Core Webinars that are
available for watching through your Responder Profile in Better Impact.  These 3 Core Webinars are interactive and present new information, with only the first  (Overview) being a review of past material.  As such, we are giving credit for this first new offering to those responders that have already taken the old Overview and Effects of Oil on Wildlife webinars.  We do ask, however, that you watch the other two webinars, as they contain new information and provide a foundation for understanding the next levels of training.

The next tier of trainings, entitled Basic Responder, is a one day in-person training. We will begin those trainings in 2017, and plan on having several throughout California.  In addition, we will also be delivering the Oiled Wildlife Response Specialist training, which is a two day in-person training. The final tier in this new training system will be a Manager Training, which we plan on also rolling out in 2017. We will be giving you more information on each of these trainings soon!

Thank you for your continued support, involvement, and patience as we roll out our new training program.  Stay tuned for announcements of the in-person trainings in your area starting in early 2017. Hope to see all of you at a future training!


Into the Belly of the Whale: Preparing for Large Marine Animal Evidence Collection

Two weeks ago Mike, Scott, Greg, and I traveled to Shepherdstown, West Virginia for the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Network Conference. In addition to three days of excellent lectures and wetlabs that provided state of the art training on the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals & sea turtles, this conference was unique because it was the first to include a half – day drill on all aspects of oiled wildlife response, including data collection for Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA).


The National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website ( defines NRDA as “… the legal process that federal agencies like NOAA, together with the states and Indian tribes, use to evaluate the impacts of oil spills, hazardous waste sites, and ship groundings on natural resources both along the nation’s coast and throughout its interior.”

This means that during oil spills, OWCN, our Member Organizations, and Affiliated Agencies need to collect evidence from the animals that we rescue not only for the investigation and response needs, but for post-spill assessment activities as well. For live marine animals, this typically means taking photographs of the animal before it is collected and obtaining external samples (such as hair or skin swabs) that can be tested for petroleum contamination as soon after capture as it is safe to do so.

OWCN personnel collecting external petroleum sample from elephant seal during the Refugio Incident near Santa Barbara. Photo by Gyle Uyehara.

OWCN personnel collecting external petroleum sample from elephant seal during the Refugio Incident near Santa Barbara. Photo by Gayle Uyehara.

When animals are found dead, in addition to photographs and external samples, internal samples are needed. For animals that are small enough to transport, full necropsies (animal postmortem examinations) are performed in a laboratory at a Primary Care Center (or Processing Facility if set up in a different location). Often hundreds of samples are collected including internal organs, blood, bile, urine, gastrointestinal tract contents, any abnormal tissues, etc. Often each type of sample must be collected in triplicate and preserved by several methods (formalin, frozen, for petroleum testing, culture, etc.). It is quite a task to just complete a necropsy, much less document and keep track of all the samples.

Field Processing team simulating performing a field necropsy at the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Conference.

Field Processing team simulating performing a field necropsy at the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Conference.

When animals are too large to move, such as is the case with baleen whales, elephant seals, and large sea turtles or seal lions, the necropsy must be performed by a Field Processing team on the beach where the animals stranded. As you can imagine, there can be many difficulties performing such a delicate and involved procedure on a windy beach, particularly if the weather is inclement. One of the biggest obstacles is getting all the required equipment to the site. In addition to all the tools needed for the sampling, there is the equipment that is needed to get access to the inside of the whale and to keep personnel safe.

Field Processing team discussing their approach to a field necropsy of simulated dead whale at the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Conference.

Field Processing team discussing their approach to a field necropsy of simulated dead whale at the National Marine Animal Health and Stranding Conference.

To meet this need in California, the OWCN has just completed stocking a large marine animal necropsy trailer that is ready to roll at a moments notice. All the equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to necropsy any marine mammal including a large whale is present in the trailer.

Equipment stores in the new OWCN large marine animal necropsy trailer.

Equipment stores in the new OWCN large marine animal necropsy trailer.

While we hope that a large whale never dies or strands during an oil spill, if it happens, the OWCN and our partners will be ready to collect the evidence needed to determine if petroleum was a factor in the animal’s demise. Also because so little is known about the biology of large marine mammals, the precious information gained by performing these necropsies will help us to better understand marine mammal health, thus providing us with the opportunity to improve care, treatments and conservation efforts for living marine animals.

Labeling for one of many containers of equipment for the new OWCN large marine animal necropsy trailer.

Labeling for one of many containers of equipment for the new OWCN large marine animal necropsy trailer.


I hear that train a’coming…

owcn-training-program-train-pictures-29In the blog announcing the Summit I mentioned that we have been working to revise our training program and that there would be more announcements soon. Well, soon comes today. When the OWCN Deputy Director positions were filled, Director Mike Ziccardi prioritized the review and revision of the training program to make it as efficient and consistent as possible across all areas.

As most of you know, the goal of the OWCN training program is to build on the existing strengths and skills of the Member Organizations, adding training specific to oiled wildlife deterrence, recovery and care, hazardous materials safety, emergency response and ICS. The aim of the OWCN from the start has been to produce a team of wildlife responders throughout California who, working together, can provide best achievable capture and care for wildlife impacted by oil spills. The obstacle we face in achieving this is that, first, our member organizations are already very busy working to collectively care for, study and protect thousands of animals every day; second, they are spread over a state that contains more than 150,000 square miles; and, finally, most of the people we depend on are volunteers who are very dedicated but also have a life. The difficult part is building both skills and a team that can be equally effective no matter who responds to any particular spill anywhere in the state. In emergency response, working together effectively is as important as the technical skills you possess. So the training program must be effective in building skills, team work, and local knowledge of all of the participants (including the OWCN Management Team) as well as easy to navigate and, dare I say, convenient. In reviewing and discussing methods of training and how it has evolved over the last 20 plus years, we decided to mash up what we see as OWCN’s Greatest Hits, The Training Years.


Our vision is a modularized, multi-modal program that allows each participant to choose how far they want to go, either for their own knowledge or to move up in their role as a responder. These will include concise, focused online webinars, multiple local one-day basic responder trainings to prepare for basic roles in any or all areas of the wildlife response, regional oiled wildlife specialist trainings to provide “lead by example” workers in each work area, and finally focused area manager trainings for those who really can’t get enough and want to prepare themselves for roles as Strike Team Leaders, Area Coordinators and Group Supervisors.

By the time you read this blog, the foundation of our new training program, the Core Webinars, will be up and available for viewing by those of you who are part of the Network and in the Better Impact database. Our plan is to have two of the Basic Responder in-person trainings scheduled and completed by the end of this year and to add the Specialist and Manager trainings next year.



It is admittedly a very ambitious schedule, but we are working hard to meet our targets. We are looking forward to getting your feedback on the first step – the new Core Webinars. Stephanie Herman has worked many long hours focusing, writing, and revising the material to make it informative, engaging, fun, and focused as well as easier to complete in your limited available hours. Let us know what you think. One question some of you might have is what about all of the training I have already taken? Does this mean I can’t respond to spills now? No, absolutely not! While we are trying to design the new training so that everyone will be chomping at the bit to sign-up, we will be phasing in the requirements and if you currently meet the requirements for your level of responder you will have several years to get the new in-person trainings once they are available to you. We do encourage everyone to at least go through the new Core Webinars over the next few months. They should only take you a couple of hours, they do have important up to date information on our volunteer and staffing system with Better Impact, and may help avoid some confusion during a spill. Like I said before, we would like to hear what think about the them, good or bad.

Till next time