Some Thoughts on Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day weekend, it’s a perfect time to reflect on our environmental stewardship efforts, both personally and where we work/volunteer. The majority of staff and volunteers at OWCN Member Organizations are already way ahead of the field when it comes to caring about our planet, and many are role models in their families, workplaces, and communities for sustainability, waste reduction, and “greening” their lives. However, it’s important for even the most conscientious environmentalists to regularly check in about new technology, changes in regulations and policies, and recommended best practices.

The inspiration for this blog post was two-fold. First, to inform everyone that the OWCN Green Response Working Group, which formed during the 2015 OWCN Summit, is still meeting regularly and working to reduce the environmental impacts of wildlife response and care activities during oil spills. Second, to provide information to the OWCN community about the implications of the recent changes to international recycled materials markets. Marie Travers wrote a thorough, thoughtful, and informative essay about the activities of our working group for Earth Day last year (click here to read that post), so I’m going to focus this on the second topic.

Many of you have likely heard in the news that China recently implemented a “recycling ban,” but details have been scarce about how that will affect recycling options at a local level. In July 2017 China announced that as of Jan 1, 2018, it would stop accepting 24 types of foreign solid waste, including plastics, unsorted paper, and waste textiles. They cited concern for human health and safety and the environment, due to the pervasiveness of contamination of the solid waste, as the reason for the ban (full article here). According to NPR, about 1/3 of materials collected as “recycling” in the U.S. get exported to other countries, with about half of the materials going to China. With the elimination of that market, many recycling collectors in the U.S. are scrambling to figure out what to do with all that solid waste, which is currently being diverted to landfills or being bundled and stored until other solutions are found.

I wanted to find out how my local recycling collectors were responding to the changes, so I contacted our 2 local landfills/recycling centers, 3 local curb-side pick-up service providers, and a local non-profit recycling center. My greatest concern was what was happening with plastics (#1-7), and the answers varied from “diverted to landfill” to “no-longer accepting” to “still accepting-receiving markets already lined up or under investigation.” Although I was relieved to learn that I could still recycle these items curbside at my residence, learning that some formerly recyclable plastics are ending up in our County landfill, and realizing that this issue is likely to grow, I feel that we can’t just hope that new markets become available to accept our recyclables. To me, the best solution is to focus on reducing, and when possible, eliminating, the amount of single-use plastic we buy and use in the first place.

Cutting out single-use plastics requires effort and an initial financial investment. The first step is identifying which single-use plastics we use. Water bottles, straws, bags, hygiene product bottles, and food containers (to-go and in the grocery store) are some of the easiest to identify. A more careful look around your home or workplace will probably reveal many others, such as plastic buckets, cleaning product containers, and children’s toys. The next step is determining which of these items we really need, and what suitable alternatives are available. The last step is procuring the alternatives and remembering to bring/use them.

Reusable item photo montage

Although many “eco” products, such as beeswax wrap, wood/bamboo utensils, glass or stainless-steel containers and straws, and cloth bags, are more expensive initially, their re-usability can often make them cheaper in the long run than repeatedly buying the plastic alternative. Furthermore, the long-term benefits of reducing plastics for human health and the health of the environment should be ample justification for making such investments. The website, Live Without Plastics offers a fantastic guide on identifying plastic types, the toxicity and safety of each plastic type, and suggested alternatives.

As we celebrate this Earth Day, please join me in taking time to assess what changes we can make in our personal lives and suggest at our workplace/OWCN Member Organization to help reduce our day-to-day use of single-use plastics. For plastics that can’t be eliminated, let’s get creative to figure out ways that we, or others, can re-use or re-purpose plastics so they don’t end up in the landfill. Finally, let’s all commit to staying current on what we can recycle at home and at work, and do our best to follow our local recycling guidelines to ensure that everything we put into the bin has the best chance of actually being recycled.

Happy Earth Day!


Colleen-Young-Monterey-Bay_Featured-Scientist*Guest blogger, Colleen Young is an Environmental Scientist for CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz. Her primary job duties include oil spill contingency planning for sea otters and other marine wildlife, maintaining response equipment and working as part of the Wildlife Recovery team during spills.

Happy National Volunteer Week!

Did you know that 65% of OWCN’s registered responders are volunteers? That means not only do they volunteer to participate in the oil spill program, they also volunteer their time at their Member Organization.

These are the people who save the animals. They do the hard work of cleaning and feeding. They teach friends and strangers how to live beside their wild neighbors. They prepare for the disasters we hope will never happen, and are ready to take action to minimize the impacts of those disasters.  Although it varies depending on the spill, it isn’t uncommon for our volunteers to put in thousands, if not tens of thousands, of hours in during a spill response.

There are as many reasons to volunteer as there are volunteers. But the one common thread is that they do all of this not because they’re being paid, but because they believe the work is important. It means something to them, and they are taking action. There’s something special about the work people do when they’re driven by passion. It’s powerful. It changes things.

Our world would look a lot different – and a lot worse – without that spirit of volunteerism. The fields of wildlife rehabilitation and oiled wildlife response began with volunteers; with people from all sorts of backgrounds who saw the wildlife suffering from human impacts and decided to do something about it. That impulse continues to this day, reflected in the driven and empathetic people who support the mission of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and the work of all our Member Organizations.

National Volunteer Week (April 15-21) is our collective opportunity to celebrate the act of volunteering. It’s also a chance to attempt to demonstrate how absurdly grateful we are to the volunteers who are already working on our community’s behalf. Fireworks scare the animals, and really can’t be seen by all the OWCN volunteers (who are spread across the entire state of California), so we had to come up with something a little different. We thought instead we’d shine a light on a few of the people who are making a difference across the state.

If you find yourself inspired and want to make a difference by volunteering, we would love to have you! If you already work or volunteer for one of our Member Organizations, just ask your supervisor to help you register. If not, the first step is to decide which OWCN Member Organization you’d like to get involved with. You can find a map and list here, on the OWCN website. Each organization has its own application process, which you should be able to find on their website (linked on that list). If you have any questions or run into trouble, you can contact the OWCN Management Team by emailing owcn AT 


In honor of National Volunteer Week, we asked our member orgs to nominate a volunteer who deserved a special shout-out for their hard work and contributions to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and the overall well-being of wildlife. Here are some of their nominations:

Terri Oba
(volunteer for 15+ years)

Her love for wildlife rehabilitation began as a wildlife volunteer at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach. She was always drawn to avian patients, particularly the seabirds—and seabirds quickly became her specialization. You could even call it a passion!

She currently volunteers at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. She started in 2010 as an Exhibit Interpreter in the Education Department, and is now in the Husbandry Department working with Magellanic penguins.

Terri on why she loves being a volunteer on the OWCN team:

“It gives me such an amazing opportunity to be a part of an incredible team. It is truly an honor to work with wildlife. We are making a difference!”


© The Marine Mammal Center

(volunteers for 7 years)

Wife-husband duo Sue & Rusty volunteer with two OWCN member organizations: they started with The Marine Mammal Center in 2009 and volunteer in multiple departments including rescue, education and animal care. Their participation with Peninsula Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehab Department began in 2016. Sue completed her Wildlife Internship in 2017 and will be mentoring new interns as well as advancing her skills with intake and care this year. Rusty plans on completing his internship this year.

Their love and curiosity of wildlife drove them to volunteer their time with OWCN, TMMC, and PHS.

Sue & Rusty on why they love being a volunteer on the OWCN team:

“In addition to fulfilling our desires to be lifelong learners, we also feel like we are doing our small part to set the example to be the change while making a difference for wildlife.”

Jen Levine
(volunteer for 8 years)

Jen Levine has been volunteering with Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) since 2008 and has served as a seasonal employee since 2011. CIMWI serves both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California as a marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation, research and education non-profit.

In 2010 Jen became an OWCN volunteer through CIMWI as a member organization. Her first experiences rescuing wildlife were as a child in the park across the street from her house. When she would find injured birds and squirrels she took them to the local wildlife rehabilitation center. When she was 10 years old, she took a trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago where she first saw and fell in love with California sea lions, which immediately became her favorite animal! Jen now manages stranding response as well as animal care and health for CIMWI.

Jen on why she loves being a volunteer on the OWCN team:

“I enjoy participating in OWCN conferences and drills to further my preparedness and skill sets to help oiled animals of all species should the need arise.”


First OWS – A Success!

Following up on Nancy’s blog post from last week, I wanted to post a slide show with some of the pictures from our first Oiled Wildlife Specialist training from the past two days.

In general, we felt it went really well! We all learned a lot, but as usual, there is lots of room for improvement for our next Specialist training.  We won’t be going “back to the drawing board”, but I know that both within the Field Ops and Care Ops groups, we will be doing some tweaking to try to make the next OWS training the best it can be.

A big thank you to everyone that played “guinea pig” at our first training.  We so appreciate your time, enthusiasm, and helpful comments for making future trainings better.  We also want to thank all our invited instructors that helped add richness and expertise to the training.

So as promised, here are a few photos.  Enjoy, and hope to see you at a future OWS!



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First Oiled Wildlife Specialist Training Next Week!


OWCN Training Program

As you may remember the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) launched a new training program in the Fall of 2016. Since then, we have been working hard to develop the program so that it meets the stated goals of:

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) to provide the best achievable capture and care during an oiled wildlife response.

2) Promote enthusiasm and continued engagement and commitment of individuals from all OWCN member organizations.

3) Train each individual to the level which they have set for themselves, to the best of their potential and interest.

Over the past two years, over 550 personnel have completed the “Core” webinar series and OWCN staff have traveled all over California presenting one day in-person Basic Responder Trainings to over 250 people. What this means is that OWCN and our Member Organizations are ready to move on to the next level up on the training pyramid!

So we are looking forward to the big debut of the Oiled Wildlife Specialist Training next week. This level is a two day in-person workshop for individuals with moderate to advanced experience working with the species cared for by their Member Organization. It is intended to give participants a deeper understanding of spill response operations, broaden the applicability of responders’ existing skills and increase consistency between responders. For further information regarding future Oiled Wildlife Specialist training opportunities, please refer to the “Opportunities” section of your OWCN Responder Profile.

The workshop has been organized into five specialization areas for personnel to choose from:

  • Recovery & Hazing Specialist: Field Operations
  • Field Stabilization Specialist
  • Intake & Processing Specialist
  • Pre-Wash Care Specialist
  • Cleaning & Conditioning Specialist

We are pleased to announce that the first Oiled Wildlife Specialist training is going to be well-attended with at least one responder from all five California Department of Fish & Wildlife regions that represent ten different Member Organizations! We are expecting 27 participants: 9 for Field Operations, 5 for Field Stabilization, 5 for Intake & Processing, 3 for Pre-Wash Care and 5 for Cleaning & Conditioning.

We are looking forward to seeing everyone next week and finally launching the Oiled Wildlife Specialist training!

Fort Madison Community Hospital Cheer Card


What We Don’t Know… Yet

This week is a week of meetings for the OWCN Management Team. Today, I spent the day sitting in on the OWCN’s Scientific Advisory Committee meeting. Tomorrow, I’ll spend the day at our Advisory Board meeting.  Meetings aren’t usually my favorite way to pass the time, but I’m always excited to see these two on the calendar.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with these groups, the Advisory Board provides expertise, leadership, and guidance for the administration of the program overall, while the Scientific Advisory Committee evaluates and makes recommendations regarding the OWCN’s Research and Competitive Grants Program.

feather testingIt’s the Scientific Advisory Committee that is particularly fun to sit in on, because this is where knowledgeable and committed scientists from all sorts of backgrounds gather to review the year’s grant applications. There’s always lively discussion about each proposal, and listening to really smart people passionately discuss complex topics is something I’ve always enjoyed. But more than that, I am fascinated by the glimpse the research proposals give me into the future of oiled wildlife response.

Research is based on questions, and there are an awful lot of questions we don’t have good answers to in wildlife rehabilitation and oiled wildlife response. What does oil actually do to this species, and how can we best help the animal to recover? Is this diet actually the best one for this species and situation? Can we find and help oiled animals faster if we use new technology like drones? Is there a better way of treating or preventing care-related complications, like Aspergillus respiratory infections?

COMU eye examsExperience and adaptive husbandry have their place, but there’s nothing like a well-designed study to help us understand what we do and don’t really know about a topic – which is why OWCN strives to not only base our protocols and procedures on the best science available, but also to seek out and fund projects that will deepen our collective understanding of the issues around oiled wildlife response. Constant development and improvement is core to our mission and organizational identity, and the scientific advancement of the oiled wildlife response field is a fundamental component of that process.

Tomorrow, the Advisory Board will review the Scientific Advisory Committee’s recommendations and will vote on whether or not to fund this year’s grant proposals. I’m excited to see what the final decisions are, but even more excited to see what grows out of the grant and research program – this year, and in the future.

Take care,


Stuff, Stuff, and MORE Stuff!

Oil spill response requires so much STUFF! Everything from carriers and nets to medical supplies and mops. We talk a lot about how our responders prepare by participating in training and drills, and we like to show off our big equipment like our MASH trailer or the Wildlife Recovery Sprinter, but I’m here to tell you that the Network puts a lot of work into making sure all the smaller details are in place as well.

From the northern redwood wilds to the balmy southern shores, no part of California is too far from a not-really-secret stash of OWCN response supplies. We’ve got trailers stuffed with hazing and recovery supplies, cabinets and closets filled with animal care essentials, and storage bins packed with everything evidence-collection.  More than half of our Member Organizations maintain some type of supply stockpile for the Network, donating a closet or room or parking space to the cause.


A very thrilling look at one of our LA area stockpiles

Keeping stocked and ready to respond anywhere in this enormous state is a real team effort. Not only do we need secure storage for all that stuff, it all needs to be maintained and checked and inventoried regularly, and some items need to be traded out and kept up-to-date. And since we’re constantly striving for excellence and improvement, we’re also often making adjustments to the contents of these stockpiles.

All of this requires hands – to research, order, receive, document, count, and put away. Hundreds of people contribute, from the admin staff that process our purchases to the volunteers and staff who count and tidy the actual stockpiles each year. But in the end, all this work is worthwhile. It means that when an oiled bird needs oil rinsed from its eyes, our caretakers will have the eyewash solution they need in order to do that. And when an oiled fur seal needs fluids, it won’t have to wait for someone to run to the store. Thanks to everyone who makes it happen.


Thoughts from the road…

As I pack up our reliable 1997 F-250 diesel truck and begin the journey home along Interstate 5 north, I am filled with gratitude for being part of another great OWCN training.

Nancy, Curt, and I taught our Basic Responder Training course yesterday, hosted graciously at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Participants were engaged, enthusiastic, and, best of all, represented a diverse collection of our Southern California member organizations.  We had 30 folks from 8 different organizations, including:

  • Channel Islands Cetacean Research Unit
  • International Bird Rescue
  • Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Marine Mammal Care Center – Los Angeles
  • Pacific Marine Mammal Center
  • SeaWorld San Diego
  • UC Davis Wildlife Health Center
  • Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center

This diversity also provided us with a few veteran responders with lots of spill experience to share, sitting alongside many newcomers who have yet to respond to a spill but are eager to help (should they be needed). One participant shared with me after the class that she found spill response a bit intimidating, but that fear was alleviated via this course and that she was now ready to lend a hand.

While everyone in that room hopes this new knowledge will never need to be used, it does provide me great comfort to know that we have so many skilled, passionate, and reliable responders throughout our state ready to jump into action.

Thank you Pacific Marine Mammal Center for hosting, and thank you to all the participants for your support.