Fun at Take Our Kids to Work Day with CALPERS

A few weeks ago Scott Buhl and I headed over to Sacramento to man a booth at CALPERS Take Our Kids to Work Day. We had a lot of fun getting to know 100+ kids ranging in age from 4 to 14. Kids and adults alike loved to touch the otter pelts we brought. Because our audience was wowed by the amazing softness of otter fur, we were also able to share fun facts such as: Otter’s have the most dense hair coat in the world with up to one million hairs per square inch!

Scott Buhl talks with student about sea otters at CALPERS Take Our Kids to Work Day

Scott Buhl talks with student about sea otters at CALPERS Take Our Kids to Work Day

In addition to otters, we also encouraged kids to experiment with chicken feathers to see how contaminants such as oil destroy a feather’s ability to resist water. Once oiled, water can penetrate through a bird’s feathers (or otter’s fur). This causes birds to lose the ability to thermoregulate (keep warm) and reduces their ability to float. Both can result in birds or otters starting to drown. This is why even though normal seabirds and sea otters rarely leave the water, we find them beached during oil spills. It is a sign of the severe damage oil does to animals.

Nancy Anderson shows kids how to get started with feather experiment

Nancy Anderson shows kids how to get started with feather experiment

Finally, we were able to share how the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) can make a positive difference by rescuing and rehabilitating oiled animals during spills. Our mission is to provide the best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife. Because of the support of the people and the State of California; OWCN, our partner wildlife rehabilitation organizations and affiliated agencies are given the chance to make a terrible situation a little better for wildlife.


Reaching Out (i.e. education and outreach to the public) is one of OWCN’s most important goals. While the OWCN, our Member Organizations and Affiliated Agencies can rescue and rehabilitate wildlife, it is the citizens of the state of California that have the real power. Once people learn about the effects of oil on wildlife and their own health, they are usually moved to try make a difference. Actions can include appropriate disposal of waste so that it does not enter storm drains, support of legislation that protects the environment, or volunteering to help during oil spills or other environmental catastrophes. We can make the biggest difference when we are aware of what is happening and use this knowledge to work together to make things better.



OWCN International!

I hope everyone is having a great, relatively oil-free summer. The OWCN Management Team here at Davis is trying to stay cool in the lovely Central Valley heat while staying busy on readiness and response activities (including the Grove Incident in Ventura, which we look forward to giving everyone a detailed accounting of as soon as it is over – for now, you can catch some of the details on OSPR’s Cal Spill Watch website as well as Ventura County Star coverage).

One thing that has been personally keeping me particularly busy in 2016 so far is trying to figure out the best way to share the skills, knowledge, and experience that the Wildlife Health Center here at UC Davis has gained by managing the OWCN for OSPR over the past 20+ years with other regions outside of California. We are extremely proud of our Network and its fabulous partners throughout the state, and feel it is critical to be able to share the readiness accomplishments more broadly to help other regions of the world while maintaining the excellent readiness and capabilities we have in California.

While there are a number of different projects and partnerships that we are exploring, I wanted to share information on three of those that are currently actively being worked on:


  • Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS): This project (discussed by me in an earlier blog) is aimed at developing the foundations for a response system that can be accessed by the oil industry and other stakeholders in the event of an oil spill incident requiring international wildlife response resources (Tier 3 response). The system would enhance the response capability of existing wildlife response organizations through a common operating procedure and shared standards that would allow for unity of effort in the event of an incident requiring the support of multiple organizational resources. The project is currently made up of representatives from: Aiuká (Brazil); Focus Wildlife International (USA & Canada); International Bird Rescue (USA);  Oiled Wildlife Care Network, Wildlife Health Center, UC Davis (USA); PRO Bird (Germany); RSPCA (UK); SANCCOB (South Africa); Sea Alarm Foundation (Belgium);  Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research Inc (USA); Wildbase, Massey University (New Zealand); and Wildlife Rescue Centre Ostend (Belgium). Specifically, the JIP20 project partners have now delivered draft versions of the Standard Operating Procedures and the Animal Standards for response, and are actively working on a governance system to enable streamlined and efficient decision-making and deployment to occur. We have had two in-person meetings to date on this effort, with a third scheduled for early August in Delaware. For more info on the overall OSR-JIP project, please go here.


  • Oiled Wildlife Response Training (OWRT): This project, developed in close partnership with Wildbase, Massey University (NZ), is designed to create a cutting edge training program that utilizes modern and interactive technologies, coupled with scenario-based in-person instruction, to deliver comprehensive training information. The OWRT has multiple training paths that may be modified to meet specific organizational needs, producing high quality responders ranging from entry level personnel to managers of large-scale oiled wildlife responses. Currently, Massey/UC Davis is readying the roll-out of the first online module (Foundations for Oiled Wildlife Response), with additional modules to come online in the coming months to years. Ancillary benefits to the OWCN program in Californa in collaborating in this manner have been the exposure to more interactive, hands-on online offerings that have shown us better ways of conveying information through the OWCN’s Webinars. So stay tuned for revised Cores! For more info on the OWRT, please go here.


  • International Exercises: In partnership with Sea Alarm Foundation (Belgium), UC Davis staff have been exploring providing in-person directed training opportunities to specific industry clients in key management positions, as well as providing staffing and coaching during broad-based industry exercises that involve wildlife. In June, Hugo Nijkamp and I attended such an event in Malta to provide expertise in these ways, helping to guide personnel on-site in the development of initial wildlife plans, determine the best means to respond with limited resources, and help work through some challenging scenarios. We also took the opportunity to test some of the initial phases of the GOWRS system, seeing how easily it may have been to mount a Tier 3 response based on the information within the exercise.

While there are a number of other exciting and interesting opportunities that we are pursuing, I am currently pushing my self-imposed 800-word limit on blog length (and for those who followed me during Deepwater Horizon, you are probably thanking me!). Suffice it to say, the OWCN has become a world-recognized program on effective oiled wildlife preparedness and response due to the diligence and dedication of all of our staff, volunteers, and Member Organizations that make up OUR Network. We hope that, through an expanded outreach effort to other regions, similar care to animals in crisis can be afforded during international incidents.



Creatures Great and Small

As many of you are probably aware, the OWCN was activated this past weekend to respond to the Grove Incident Oil Spill in Ventura County.  Thanks to the quick work of early responders, the oil was contained before it could reach the ocean.  However, a stretch of dry gorge was contaminated, and cleanup efforts – including wildlife deterrence and searches by OWCN responders – are now underway.  You can get more information on the spill and response efforts from the Cal Spill Watch page, just click here.

I won’t steal Field Operations’s thunder – Hazing and Recovery have been doing an amazing job and I look forward to hearing more about their efforts in the near future! I’m sure we’ll all be discussing and learning from this early inland response over the coming months as well.

That said, I find it interesting to think about the types of animals that have been collected so far: wood rats, a gopher snake, a raccoon, and a rabbit.  (Unfortunately only one of these animals was collected alive; the collection of deceased animals from a spill zone is important for a number of reasons, including to reduce the attractiveness of the area to scavengers and to help with Natural Resource Damage Assessment).  

None of these species are highly visible or “charismatic”.  But they’re the type of animals we’re likely to encounter often in inland spill response – rodents, other small mammals, small reptiles, and in soggier habitats, amphibians too.  They’re easy to overlook and take for granted, and they’re not flashy like whales and mountain lions and albatrosses, but they each fill an important place in the ecosystem.

And that’s our mission – to provide the best achievable capture and care to oil-affected wildlife, great or small.  To meet that goal, we’ve got to get to know them all.  I know I’ve certainly got a lot to learn – probably enough to fill a lifetime.

But that’s OK with me.  One of my favorite things is how easy it is to be surprised when it comes to animals.  Just by taking a closer look at a species’ natural history, even a species you thought was boring or mundane, you can find fascinating things.

For example, let’s take the lowly woodrat.  Did you know that woodrats are also commonly known as packrats, and are usually not particularly pesky to people – unlike their invasive cousins, the Norway and black rats – except when they set up their nests in inconvenient locations or steal shiny things to line those nests with?  They drum their hind feet when alarmed, Desert Woodrats are scary good at navigating cacti without injuring themselves, and Stephens’s Woodrats eat a great deal of juniper but don’t seem to be affected by the chemical compounds that make the plant indigestible to most other mammals.


It doesn’t end there!  Nests (aka middens) can be used by successive generations of woodrats, each building onto what the last generation left behind.  Fossilized middens provide an invaluable source of information to scientists looking to understand historical biomes and ecosystems.

I’ll admit that I have a soft spots for rodents (that’s what you get when you’re raised by a squirrel rehabilitator) but still!  I find it impossible to investigate a species without finding something interesting along the way.  So I invite you to join me in my quest to get to know all of California’s wildlife.  If you find anything particularly cool, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll see if can dig up some interesting facts to share in some future post.

Take care until next time!


OWCN’s Hazing Program, Part 2

In my last blog post I mentioned that as we continue to plan for inland response, on the hazing side, we have recently expanded our supply of hazing equipment, identified locations where this equipment will be stored, and continued to enhance our list of core hazing responders.  To that end, on the equipment side, we have purchased two new hazing trailers and are in the process of equipping and staging them.  One trailer has already been moved to the far northeastern portion of the state (Alturas), which is close to one of the locations identified as “high risk” areas for inland spills (areas, that because of previous derailments, rough terrain, rock slide-prone areas) have been deemed as having  a higher likelihood of spills into waterways. The trailers that are being equipped with hazing supplies also carry some Wildlife Recovery equipment as part of our integration of hazing and recovery (= Field Operation) capabilities.  We are planning additional equipment staging in Redding, the Feather River Canyon area, Bakersfield, and potentially other locations – once again, close to high risk inland areas.  These staged supplies can help speed the early response by ensuring that the first responders have adequate and readily available equipment so they can hit the ground running while other supplies may be in transit from Davis.


Flags and “scary eyes” are hazing techniques commonly used in lakes and rivers.

The other activity I have been involved with recently is meeting with inland species hazing experts and looking at ways to test some specialized hazing devices.  In addition to testing new hazing methods and staging hazing equipment as part of inland response planning, Scott, Kyra, and I have been meeting regularly to develop a strategy for field op integration.  Since both recovery and hazing personnel would be in the field during a response, it makes sense to try to integrate these two groups as much as possible.  Field response strategies can include anything from deterrence (keeping animals away from oil), pre-emptive capture (the capture of animals before they get oiled), or oiled wildlife capture.  As you can imagine, given the array of species that use waterways of the state that might be affected by spills (creeks, rivers, lakes, and ponds), it is a daunting task to try to prepare for every eventuality – in fact not possible.  But we are working with our network partners, the wildlife agencies, and others to have the necessary information at hand, when a spill occurs, for who to call for specialized skills for hazing, capture, and care.

Going through this planning process challenges all of us to think outside our previous experience and planning, which is both challenging and rewarding.  We feel up to the task with the help of all of our partner organizations and others that may join in the future.


Train derailment Moser Oregon- WA Department of Ecology

A Timely Reminder of the Road Ahead

As part of the University of California at Davis, May means EPARs to everyone on the OWCN Management Team. What is an EPAR you ask? No it is not EYORE’s cousin in one of those Winnie the Pooh stories your parents used to read you. Nor am I refering to the Escuela de Postgrado de la Armada in Venezuela. I am talking about the Employee Performance Appraisal Report (EPAR). “Why should I care about that” you ask? Good question! Unless you are an employee here you probably shouldn’t. Except going through that process both as an employee and as a supervisor made me think quite a bit about my goals for last year and for the coming year.

When I started at OWCN last June 1, we were all in full spill mode. Once the Refugio spill ended and we got back to “real” life, one of the two biggest priorities the OWCN Management Team was charged with (including me) became developing a detailed plan for inland oiled wildlife response. With the increased transport of oil by rail came the increased risk of an oil spill when a train derails, as illustrated in such a timely manner along the Columbia River outside Portland last Friday (links to news reports can be found here and here).


Train derailment, Moser Oregon- WA Department of Ecology


Train derailment, Moser, Oregon – Washington Dept of Ecology

It seems likely that the question is when, not if, something like this will occur in California. Oh, don’t worry – I am already doing enough of that for both of us. If an inland spill occurred tomorrow in California, I am confident all of OWCN would drop whatever you are doing and become the super responders you all are. We would catch beavers, turtles, snakes, frogs, river otters, and bears if need be, and transport them and clean them and release them to the best of our ability. We always do. Our mission however is to “provide best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife” and to do that requires planning. Inland wildlife response is a big job with many little pieces that have to fit together nearly perfectly. We have made some real progress in the last year, identifying new areas of risk based on the increasing transportation of oil by rail from the north and east, learning to use some of the environmental mapping resources available through our partners OSPR and California Department of Fish and Wildlife and acquiring or refurbishing more mobile equipment that can be on scene anywhere in California in hours not days, but we still have lots to do.

You might think that since we’ve already had a plan for coastal response for more than than twenty years now, how hard can it be? Someone might say “you’ve got more than 35 Member Organizations, facilities, and equipment up and down the coast. Put on your big boy (or girl) tyvek pants, quit whining and just do it!” Well, they would be right and they would be wrong. It is not quite that easy, though all we (the royal we, the Network Members) have learned together over the years is tremendously valuable in approaching this challenge. All of our knowledge and resources can be leveraged to ensure that California is ready to respond to wildlife impacted during an inland spill, but we can also use this as an opportunity to be even better prepared for spills wherever they occur.

It has been clear from the beginning to anyone who has looked at the OWCN map of Member Organizations that we lack quick response capability inland. Most of our members can smell the salt air from their offices.

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]


So a key to success will be to strategically identify and recruit new Member Organizations with experience and knowledge of priority species in these new areas of risk.  They will add geographic range to our coverage and potential sites for deployment of our growing collection of mobile equipment. One of the primary strengths of OWCN has always been the breadth of the Member Organizations both on the map of California and the knowledge and expertise they share and it only makes sense to build on that strength as we extend our reach inland.

While we add depth to our personnel resources in terms of numbers, location, and knowledge, we are also adding equipment to enhance our ability to safely capture and care for a number of new species,  like bears, mountain lions, coyotes, mink and badgers.

wild animal box-9264.jpgWe can be thankful that it is highly unlikely we will ever have to face 100 oiled badgers, but we do need to be prepared for one or two of them as well as most of the other species found in areas of California at risk for an oil spill. There are many examples of spills where species like beaver, muskrat, and mink have been collected alive and oiled in significant numbers across North America. There is no reason to expect it won’t happen here someday. Oiled wildlife preparedness is a journey and we are well down the path, but as Robert Frost almost said “there are miles to go before we sleep”. By this time next year I plan to have many of those miles behind us.


Summer is here!

While the official launch of summer (June 20th) is still a few weeks away, it sure feels like summer weather here in Davis!  And amidst the early heat, one of my projects has been tending to our fleet of boats to ensure they are prepped and ready to be deployed for spill response, if needed.

Which prompted this blog post…did you know that the OWCN has a fleet of 3 boats of various size and ability located at UC Davis that can be used for spill response?  If not, please let me introduce you to our floating resources:


Type: Zodiac MK II C HD
Length: 12′ 6″
Nickname: The Purring Murre
Description: This compact inflatable is a great resource that can be towed behind the Wildlife Recovery Sprinter van so can often be one of the first options on scene.  It can even ride in the Sprinter or other vehicle as it folds up into a nice little bundle.  Because of its relatively small size, it can easily be launched from a beach or dock, and is maneuverable in narrow or relatively shallow waters.

345617_p_t_640x480_image03Type: Gregor H-22
Length: 12′ 2″
Nickname: The Hazing Boat
Description: This durable vessel provides us with a secondary compact option and, even though its original purpose is for hazing, it could be used for wildlife recovery as well.



Type: Alumaweld Super Vee
Length: 19′ 0″
Nickname: The Screaming Grebe
Description:  This is the racehorse of the fleet, as it is our longest boat and has a 115hp four stroke outboard engine.

So there you have it.  But rest assured that if a spill response requires an on-water response, these vessels will be a great resource for going out to capture wildlife or for use in hazing.

Not sure about you…but all this talk about boats and hot weather is making me daydream of spending the day floating on the nearest lake.  However you choose to spend it, enjoy the beautiful weekend!


Region 2/3 Sign Up and Scheduling Drill Q & A

Last week folks in Regions 2 and 3 (see map) had the opportunity to participate in an online oil spill drill where volunteers and staff practiced signing up for shifts and the OWCN Management Team practiced assigning people. CA-CDFW-regions-300x344We did this several months ago with Regions 4 and 5, and made several adjustments based off of that drill, so today we wanted to share some feedback from the Region 2/3 drill. Don’t worry Region 1, you’re next…

First, a quick description of how the drill was played. An announcement was sent out that there was a drill scenario, and we asked people to log into their profiles and sign up for shifts they wanted to come to in Field Operations or Care Operations (Primary or Field Stabilization). This was the first area that deviated from previous drills. We learned from the past drill that people found it confusing to sign up in a general availability activity, and then be assigned to an actual shift from that general availability. Now, people are indicating exactly what they want to sign up for, and we are approving or declining that sign up.

One other interesting fact that we found was that when people had the opportunity to sign iwanttovolunteer.pngup to volunteer for multiple shifts in a single day, they did. When asked, most people said they wanted the option to sign up for longer periods of time. So our shorter shifts will never go away, but we will definitely have the option for people to sign up for more than one shift in a day if they want to.

We found that the vast majority of people found the instructions to be clear, had  few technical difficulties, and overwhelmingly found this drill to be valuable, so we will continue to take your feedback, make improvements to the process that will make things easier for our responders, and then drill again! Some of the great questions people had we want to share with everyone:

Q: You forgot to put the link to our responder page in the email/The link is missing/I don’t have the link to sign up.

A: So we actually didn’t forget – it was done on purpose! The reasoning was two parts. First, since this was a drill, we wanted to see if people were able to easily access their profiles to sign up. Ideally we want everyone to be accessing his or her profiles regularly to keep contact info up to date, and to make sure everyone is familiar with how our system works. Remember, during a spill, we won’t have time to help everyone with forgotten missing-linkpasswords and issues of not remembering how to log in. The second reason, is that during a spill, we can’t put this link in anything that the public might see, or we will have a rush of people going to that website, and it may crash. So if we put out a Facebook announcement that we urgently need responders to go sign up for shifts, we can’t put a link in, because the public would see it. The link will likely go out in email announcements, but again, we want to make sure everyone is familiar enough with the website that they can just go to it without prompting.

Q: We had a number of questions and comments in regards to our volunteer software, how it works, and whether the programmers can make changes.

A: The short answer is what you see is what you get! This is not a custom program, so while the programmers can make changes to the software, they don’t work directly for us. This is a program that is made for managing volunteers and is sold to organizations around the BIpic.jpgworld. We use this software much differently than most organizations, because our volunteers don’t come in for regular shifts, they come in under emergency response scenarios. So we use the software in a way that it wasn’t really intended for. However, we have looked at many programs, and this was the one that gave us the most flexibility. We will always continue to look for ways to tweak how we are using the program and make it easier for you all to participate.

Q: I don’t understand how the timeclock works/why not just log hours?

A: For many of you, this was the first time you saw the timeclock. This was intended as a way for you to get to see the timeclock and know what it is, but it left some people confused. When you take a webinar, you are given the option of signing into your profile and ltimeclock-150-2ogging hours for the time spent on that activity. During a spill, you will not log your own hours, but instead will use a timeclock. When you arrive for your shift and check in, there will be sign in stations where you will log into the timeclock, starting a running clock for your shift. When you sign out for the day, you will stop the clock, automatically logging all your hours. You won’t have to use your own device; you will use the computers we have available for check in. In our efforts to show everyone what the timeclock will look like, it seems that we confused people even more! In the future, we will use the timeclock at all in-person activities instead, in order to get practice using it, and will leave online activities to be counted via logged hours.

Q: There were several problems with people getting kicked off while giving feedback after signing out of the timeclock/“Do you wish to continue” messages kept appearing.

A: Yeah, that was annoying. There was a glitch that caused that message to appear, even if you were actively filling out feedback, and even booted some people off as they were leaving feedback. We aren’t going to attach feedback questions to the timeclock any longer to avoid this.

There were several more questions, however, this blog is getting to be on the lengthy side. Please know that we take into account everyone’s feedback and are continuing to work on ways to make this as easy as possible for people. Keep on the lookout for drills in the future for more practice, and be sure to stay active in your profile to be prepared for spill response.