A Farewell

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My first time driving a boat was here with the OWCN!

I am both sad and excited to share with you the news that after 5 years serving on the OWCN Management Team as your Oiled Wildlife Care Specialist, I have accepted a new position as the manager of the Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center. I am very excited for this new opportunity, of course, though I can’t help but be sad to leave all of you.

When I joined the OWCN Management Team, I hoped to make a difference for wildlife and wildlife workers in this state. What I didn’t know was how impactful this program would be on my life.  Because of this job and all of you, I’ve grown enormously personally and professionally, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with amazing people from so many different backgrounds.  I’m proud of the work we’ve done together, from responses like Refugio to new endeavors like the

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My favorite part of the whole job – learning & teaching!

Responder Database, to old traditions like Oilapalooza. I’ll always care deeply about this program and the Network, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here as new staff step in to coordinate on your behalf.

California is truly unique, particularly in the number and diversity of programs that care for animals and the environment, and also in how collaborative and communicative those programs are. It is the kind of community that takes decades of investment to grow, and once you experience it you don’t shake it off easily.  So you know I’ll be watching from afar, looking for partnership opportunities to increase care and response capacity for all animals in need. You’ll never get rid of me completely!

Take care,


A Timely Drill for an Untimely Spill

Last week, on September 14th at 08:34am, OWCN was alerted to a semi-truck tanker that had overturned on highway 70. Its tank was punctured, causing the release of approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 1,000 gallons of gasoline. The spill was not yet stopped or contained, and the fuel was said to be making its way towards the Feather River.

Luckily, we had just the drill under our belts for such a spill! Our full deployment drill in March 2017 took place in Quincy, CA along the Feather River, only a few miles away from the spill. This was our first inland wildlife response drill to take place since the expansion of the OWCN’s mandate to cover all California surface waters back in 2015. Sixteen member organizations participated, working through the unique challenges posed by inland spills, such as the wide variety of potential species affected, which might include anything from amphibians and reptiles, to raptors or songbirds, or rodents, mustelids, and other mammals. The drill provided an excellent learning tool for the operational and technical issues involved, and since then we have been working hard on getting species-specific care protocols together as well.

With amphibian and reptile protocols already completed, we are now well underway with the next group, the semi-aquatic mammals: beavers, river otters, and muskrats. These species spend a significant proportion of their lives in river environments and are thus at high risk during a river spill. As I formulate the care protocols for these species, I have not only had the pleasure of connecting and consulting with several experts in the field, but I have also learned quite the slew of interesting facts!

For example, did you know that a beaver’s front teeth are actually located OUTSIDE of their mouths? So that they can chew and swim at the same time without getting water in their mouths? Or that they can recognize a sibling born years apart from themselves that they have never even met before (note: the fancy term for this is “kin recognition by phenotype matching”)? And finally, did you know that beavers secrete a substance called castoreum from their castor sacs that has been used in vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry artificial flavorings? Although exceedingly rare in foods these days, castoreum does still have a significant market for use in the perfume industry. I’m not sure that this last fact will be especially helpful in terms of caring for beavers during a spill, but it has been quite rewarding learning about how fascinating these animals are!

As for the Feather River spill, fortunately, within only a few hours of the notification, it had been contained, with no wildlife affected. As we continue with protocol formulation and plan our next full deployment drill, we know that we will be well prepared when the time does come for another inland response.





Readiness Revealed…

“The Times They Are A-Changin” – Bob Dylan

If you attended Oilapalooza last October you may have been introduced to the concept of adding a third stream to the OWCN Managment Team. Historically, the team was divided into two streams, Care Operations, and Field Operations. The vision of a third stream, Readiness Operations, came to fruition earlier this year and by June the Readiness stream began to evolve from a concept into a functional unit within the OWCN Managment team.


Current OWCN Management Team Structure

Soon after Danene Birtell arrived our team doubled in size when Tim Williamson, Facilities Specialist, moved over to Readiness. Finally, to round out our stream Scott Buhl transitioned from Field Operations Specialist to Responder Specialist (formerly Volunteer Coordinator). We are excited to have Scott fill this role as it aligns well with his previous experience and his passion for personnel management. Now, you’re probably asking yourself “what is readiness going to be responsible for?” Well, after a very productive visioning session we determined that there will be five functional areas in the readiness stream: Responder Management, Public Outreach, Training, Equipment & Supplies, and Network Engagement.

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The Five Functional Areas of Readiness

Now that we have our areas of focus we’ve been hard at work on many projects, including pushing the limits of Excel spreadsheet size and developing a Trello board to help us track our tasks. We have even created a team new acronym, PPS, which stands for Preparation, People, and Stuff. There is a lot of work to be done, but we are READY! We look forward to interacting with many of you at some of our upcoming engagement events or a training in the near future. In the meantime, we will be blogging regularly and will keep you up to date on all the new and exciting things Readiness is working on.

Until next time,

Danene, Scott, and Tim, a.k.a. the Readiness Renegades

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Strategic Planning & Playing

Last Tuesday (August 28th), OWCN staff spent the morning and early afternoon working hard to create a structure to guide our Strategic Visioning for the future. We considered our current mission, vision and core values. Then in true Hot Wash style, we identified the plusses and deltas, explored them and developed the unifying themes. The purpose of these initial activities was to set the stage for a broader strategic planning effort that will continue into 2019.

OWCN Strategic Visioning

Then we headed to Old Sacramento, divided into our three streams (Field Fanatics, Care Crazies and Readiness Renegades) for some good old Team & Creativity Building exercises. I’ll let the inventive shenanigans speak for themselves.

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We look forward to being creative with all of you as our team mates at future trainings, drills and spills…Although we always keep out fingers crossed that it will be a long time before the next large spill!


Weighing in on Matters of Life and Death

When wildlife are affected by oil spills, should cleaning and rehabilitation be the primary response? Or would immediate euthanasia be the more responsible option for oiled animals and U.S. conservation budgets?

OWCN Director Mike Ziccardi and California Department of Fish and Wildlife Environmental Scientist Laird Henkel weigh in on this ongoing public debate in an opinion essay recently published in the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management.

The essay, “Life and Death: How Should We Respond to Oiled Wildlife?”, advocates for a coordinated response to oiled wildlife that includes cleaning and rehabilitation. Mike and Laird assert that the care of oiled animals is worth the time and resources spent, and offer financial, scientific, ethical and legal rationale for this approach. Learn more in this week’s CDFW Science Spotlight.

Two people clean a oiled pelican.

OWCN team members wash and treat a brown pelican affected by the Refugio oil spill in 2015.

On a related note, Mike was recently interviewed by NPR affiliate station 89.3 KPCC’s Take Two program about new data that indicates the efforts to save birds harmed by marine oil spills may be more effective than ever before. He shares how pelicans are recovering three years after the Refugio oil spill. Listen to the interview (starts at 25:15). You can also follow Mike on Twitter.

Related: Brown Pelican Alive and Well, 3 Years After the Refugio Oil Spill!

The Latest on the 2015 Refugio Spill

I’m not sure about you, but to me, the Refugio Oil Spill seems like it either happened only few weeks ago or that it happened decades ago. In reality, the spill started on May 19, 2015 and deposited almost 143,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean just north of Santa Barbara, California. Responders from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network recovered 267 birds and 162 marine mammals.

As is typical of petroleum spills, the legal process can take years. Because of the long delays, it can be hard to stay current. So I thought I would provide a brief update regarding the Refugio Spill. Testimony for this case started in May, 2018. Over the last three months, lawyers for the prosecution and defense have been providing evidence and witnesses for the jury. Just at the end of last week, we found out that its time to start paying close attention again, as the jury is expected to start deliberations this week. For more information, check out the summary video below.


OWCN México

Kyra, Curt, and I just returned from a whirlwind tour covering both coasts of Mexico. During the last week of June, we drove to Ensenada to help with a Baja-wide oiled wildlife planning initiative. We had the opportunity to interact with government agencies and non-profit organizations from around Baja. As always in spill response there was an incredible alphabet soup of organizations:


Drill Participants. Tampico, MX

SEMAR, SEMARNAT, PROFEPA, and GECI to name just a few (and there were lots more!). All these organizations and agencies were brought together to learn about oiled wildlife response and to investigate next steps for developing a wildlife response plan for the Baja coast. Then just last week we landed in Tampico, on the East coast of Mexico. There we delivered a training and took part in Mexico’s first full deployment drill to have a wildlife component. Tampico had some of the same agencies, but also its own group of acronyms including several universities in the area who sent students to participate in the training and drill.

OWCN has been helping with spill response training and planning in Mexico for a few years now. Long-time readers of this blog may remember Kyra’s post about meeting Graciela Guerra, a professor from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) who had taken on the task of developing oiled wildlife response in Mexico. She had approached Kyra at a meeting and asked if we could help develop something akin to OWCN in Mexico. Graciela has since retired from UABC, but she is still helping to develop oiled wildlife response in the area and was at the Baja training.

On both coasts, we were hosted by the Mexican Navy (SEMAR). While Ensenada and Tampico are very different places and our work in each location had different goals, the navy was a great host on both sides of the country. We had nice housing, good food, and worked with great people everywhere we went.

Ensenada Planning Workshop

The Ensenada workshop had a very different feel than our usual fare. We decided to concentrate primarily on planning rather than focusing on the hands-on aspects of wildlife response. We gave lectures on different components of the response and on what’s required to plan for a successful response.


Drill participants discussing response options, Ensenada, MX

We also had breakout sessions, splitting people into 3 smaller groups: Species Experts, Resources/Equipment, and Logistics/Safety. People were placed in these groups based on their knowledge and experience. The groups then discussed the next steps to take in planning for a spill. The workshop was a great success with the navy setting goals for plan development, engaging the local NGO’s, and making plans to involve wildlife responders in future drills. As always, we had so much more we wanted to do, but accomplished a lot in the 2 days we were there. We are still talking with participants from both North and South Baja about how we can help them prepare.

Tampico Response Training and Drill

Tampico is a very different place, with very different needs. The Mexican coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico was recently opened to outside oil companies for exploration.


Kyra instructs drill participants on field methods. Tampico, MX

This has brought in a lot of interest not just in drilling development, but in planning and safety. We started our time in Tampico with a training for over 70 people, many of them students. It was an incredibly engaging group full of great ideas and great questions. We stuck to more of the hands-on part of spill response for this group, though we had the opportunity to talk a bit about planning and get their thoughts on wildlife response in Mexico. The next couple days concentrated on the drill. Following some lectures on various topics from oil exploration to sea turtle rehabilitation, we started preparing for the drill. Kyra, Curt and I were there to serve as advisors to the wildlife team, which was made up heavily by the students we trained just the day before.

The students were incredibly excited about the drill, and very creative in their setup. They used chairs to simulate everything from transport vehicles to bird cages. Several even stayed in Tyvek for almost the whole drill (which, mind you, took place in the middle of the day in Mexico during summer. That’s determination!). The students even roll-played stalking and capturing the wildlife: cardboard, neoprene, and inflatable plastic effigies that we placed out for them to find. It was great to see them use and discuss the concepts we had taught them only a couple days before. As with Ensenada, there is still more work to be done. However, we expect to be back to both places and are still working with the government, local organizations, and corporations to help improve oiled wildlife response throughout Mexico.

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Students intake a stranded sea turtle during the drill. Tampico, MX