Transitions and Changes

Mike and Curt Enjoying the English Seaside

No, this is not a blog post about auto-tinting eyeglasses (though those are AMAZING). Nor is it an in-depth conversation about grammatically compelling writing styles. Or the lyrics to the amazing David Bowie song. This is an update to the greater OWCN community on some significant changes to the Management Team that have occurred recently, and will be coming up very soon. For those 115+ of you who signed into the OWCN Town Hall yesterday, you have a bit of a sneak preview of this info, but for everyone else, I wanted to share.

Katie Leasure

As everyone is likely aware, Lavonne Hull, our Admin Coordinator extraordinaire, retired earlier this summer after 20 dedicated years helping the OWCN through challenging logistical problems both during and between spills. At the same time, Pam Roualdes, our crack Admin backup, got an amazing job opportunity with UC Davis Health in Sacramento literally across the street from her house! While initially worrisome/panic-inducing to me, Katie Leasure (who previously was working in another One Health Institute program) stepped in masterfully and has really embraced the challenges of the role. We wish the best to Lavonne and Pam, and welcome Katie to the team!

Curt Enjoying a Namesake Beverage

Curt Enjoying a Namesake Beverage

Speaking of retirements, we have another upcoming one to announce. Curt Clumpner, our Deputy Director of Care Operations, has decided to take a well-earned step down from his 5+ years in that role this Fall. I have had the pleasure and honor of working with Curt since the late 1990’s in many different roles, countries, and environments, and have always been amazed at his dedication to animal welfare and his continual search for basic truths (the “whys” behind what we all do). While some can be challenged by this at times, I have always greatly appreciated his inability to accept doing things “just because that is how we have always done it”.

I will say more on Curt as we get closer to his end date, but this is the perfect opportunity to let people know that, as of yesterday, we are recruiting for his successor in leading the Care Ops stream within the OWCN. This is a critical job ensuring that our Network maintains its continual readiness of facilities and rehabilitation personnel to spring into action to provide best achievable care to oiled animals anywhere in California. For anyone up for the challenge, I (or I am sure Curt) would be happy to talk to you about the opportunity. For more information (and how to apply), please click on this UCD HR link.

Dr. Jonna Mazet, OWCN Director, at the 1997 Stuyvesant Spill

One other change on which I have mixed emotions to report. As those of you who have been part of the OWCN for a LONG time, you will recall that Dr. Jonna Mazet was the founding Director of the Network. She, in combination with Dave Jessup, Jay Holcomb, and others took the concept of a cohesive network of rehabilitation organizations working cooperatively during spills from the drawing board into reality. I was fortunate to have been selected to take over for Jonna in 2003 when she moved to becoming the Director of the UCD Wildlife Health Center (under which the OWCN resides) and then the Executive Director of the UCD One Health Institute (the “parent” of the Wildlife Health Center, four other Centers of Excellence, and numerous other large-scale programs and projects). After 11 years at the helm of the OHI, Jonna has decided to return to being “normal” faculty and focus more on her research (and less on administration). As of 1 July 2020, I have been honored to have been selected as her replacement as OHI Executive Director.

So what does this mean for the OWCN? Well, in short, it means I will be phasing out as Director of the OWCN over time – beginning this year at 50% time. This, in combination with Curt’s pending retirement, has given the OWCN Management Team an opportunity to re-evaluate our existing structure and make some changes. First, as stated above, we will be refilling Curt’s position, but that role (as has the Field Ops lead role) has been shifted to being a “Senior Manager”. This is because we will also be hiring an Associate Director in the coming months who will gradually take over the daily administrative roles of running the Network (in combination with Curt and Kyra) from me. As this person will most likely be filling the role as Director moving forward after a few years, per our Memoranda of Understanding with OSPR, a minimum qualification for the position will be a veterinary degree. So, for those wildlife vets in our Network who have an interest in a leadership role, keep your eyes open!

The last change to the structure is to re-embed our Readiness staff within the Field and Care streams. Danene, Scott, and Tim have done an AMAZING job since that stream’s development to better organize and implement trainings, drills, personnel management, outreach, and other cross-stream activities. However, as the OWCN has developed and matured over the past several years, it has become clear that working WITHIN the Care and Field streams will actually make the management of those activities even more integrated and improve their depth. Huge thanks to the “Readiness Renegades” for all of their work, and actually moving readiness forward so well to allow this additional shift!

So, in closing, I think everyone can agree that the only constant in the OWCN is our constant change to try and improve how we work. Only through our continual “tweaking” of our systems can we improve and meet our mandate. On a personal note, I want to thank each and every one of you for your dedication to our shared wildlife, and your continued active involvement in OUR Network. To reiterate: I’m NOT going away – I’m far too stubborn for that. But I look forward to seeing how bringing new ideas and personnel into the OWCN will move us even farther forward!

– Mike

Risky Business

Over the last six months, the term “risk assessment” has made its way into many more every day conversations for many people. With a global pandemic, economic crisis, and more obvious than ever need to address the inequity in our country, every one of us is balancing risk and reward multiple times every day. Whether heading out to the grocery store, your job, a Black Lives Matter demonstration, or even just getting exercise with a walk in the park at 6 am, we are more acutely aware of the risks of life in 2020. For some it may mean isolating until there is a vaccine, while for others it may mean “What risk? It’s all a conspiracy”. Trust me it is not!

For professional responders. most of whom think and talk about safety and risks everyday as a key component of their job, the risks have changed but the way to deal with them have not.

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When I say professional responders of course I mean health care professionals, military, local government officials including fire and law enforcement but also, I include oil spill responders like OSPR, OWCN and all of our network members as well as other wildlife rehabilitation organizations.

When new risks come into our lives (or when we become aware of them for the first time) it certainly can be frightening.  The key to minimizing both fear and risk is to understand it and manage it. The more we know the better we can deal with it.

33bde18fc5e1b848aa868fb6889b8585_risk-mgmt-u-2-identify-assess-address-task-wheel-1After half a year of COVID-19 we have gathered a lot of intel on the enemy (and, by we, I mean scientists). We don’t know everything, and we certainly don’t have all the answers, but we do have enough information to allow us to make intelligent choices about the risks we are taking. You can find that information on websites from your county health department to the CDC, in the newspapers, on TV and on billboards along the freeway.

Professional responders don’t ignore the risk. They educate themselves, evaluate risk and use the tools available to keep as safe as possible while still finding a way to do their job. Here at OWCN (and by here, I mean mostly in our homes in front of our computer monitors) we are assessing the risk of response and of preparing to respond and developing ways to do it professionally and as safe as possible. So much of what we do is usually in person and hands-on, whether it is caring for an oiled animal, training someone to evaluate waterproofing or simply team-building across the state of California. These are challenging times. I am proud to be part of a Network that always works to find:

  • A way to do the job.
  • A way to keep their centers open and their staff and volunteers safe.
  • A way to safely respond to a botulism outbreak or a spill where cell coverage is non-existent and safety briefings emphasize physical distancing and masks.
  • A way to continue to collect data in study that has been going on for 20 years.
  • A way to mitigate the risks to achieve the results that we value so highly.

Whatever you are doing to protect your loved ones, demonstrate for equality for all humans, protect democracy, or rescue wildlife, be sure you manage your risk. Educate yourself, be safe, be creative, be persistent. Keep doing that important work. Thank you.


Blog haricutIMG_1495

Hair cut risk under COVID 19 – high Reward – low


Humans Hiding, Nature Thriving, And Oil Spill Response Still Churning

With much of the world sheltering in place to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, wildlife have flourished in the now empty expanses of nature where human presence would normally have kept them away. Car traffic and carbon dioxide emissions have decreased, ocean noise has dropped, record numbers of sea turtles have hatched, and accounts of wildlife wandering through now desolate city streets have been reported around the world.

One might think that for wildlife rehabilitators this would mean lower patient numbers, but in fact centers are still packed with patients, only now they are struggling against a staff and volunteer-limited backdrop. Perhaps as people shelter at home with time on their hands to explore their local natural areas- now populated with wildlife- humans and wild animals are crossing paths in increased numbers.

Meanwhile, as OWCN Member Organizations work to stay afloat, more than two dozen oil tankers brimming with oil loom indefinitely off the coast of southern California. For oil spill response, these are complex times and with the potential for catastrophe immense, we may need to be prepared now more than ever. Thus, we continue to advance our preparedness, working to stay one stroke ahead of any potential disaster.

For me this has meant diving into some necessary projects- exploring opportunities for innovation, refining our record keeping and data collection, updating our care protocols, and soaking in some online trainings. On the research front, I have had the opportunity to work with Member Organizations on proposals for the Mentored Research Program (check out the program here if you don’t know about it already!), as well as a Master’s student looking into our Individual Oiled Animals data (I am very excited to see the results from this project!). I have also been working with the management team as well as staff from a couple of our Member Organizations on updating our Wildlife Intake & Processing form and Data Logs, and on making some key changes to the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Medical Database- all of which you can check out at our next drill or training! Amidst sinking into some webcasts on the effects of oil, spill simulation, and oil clean-up, I have just about wrapped up the Sea Otter Protocols and Rodent SOP’s, and the Amphibian and Reptile Protocols are on the horizon.

While it’s comforting to read about the silver lining to an otherwise devastating pandemic, it is important to keep propelling forward. Such examples should serve as a reminder of just how profoundly humans can impact the fate of wildlife around us, and we hope to do just that, in a positive way, whenever we are called to action.


Emergency Go Bags – Helpful Packing Tips from Oiled Wildlife Responders

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network currently consists of 45 Member Organizations, encompassing over 1,500 active oiled wildlife responders located throughout the state of California. This emergency response resource is an incredible testament to preparedness that many other states, regions or countries around the globe simply do not have.

In order to maintain our constant state of readiness, our Network responders, including our Oiled Wildlife Care Network Management Team, must be prepared to leap into action at a moments notice. This includes the notion of being ready to depart quickly from wherever responders are located when the mobilization call comes in and for our OWCN management team, always includes grabbing our pre-packed Go Bags.

If your unfamiliar with the term, “Go Bags” are pre-packed mobile packs or luggage, filled with all the essentials that you’ll need when leaving home unexpectedly or on short notice. While vital and a bit customized for most emergency responders, go bags are also used across the board such as residents in areas at risk of wildfires or earthquakes, or even pregnant mothers preparing for the impending trip to the delivery room.

The US Department of Homeland Security has a website here which provides a good starting point for building a basic disaster supplies kit.

For oiled wildlife responders, there are definitely some general items we always recommend to pack, such as:

  • Copy of your drivers license and HAZWOPER Certification (if applicable)
  • Clothes for at least 7 days, including various attire for changing weather conditions (hot, cold, wet, etc)
  • Hats, sunglasses, sunscreen
  • Medications, contact lenses, any other hard to obtain items (if you can’t store in Go Bag, print a list of these items to pack upon departure)
  • Chargers (phone, computer, tablet)
  • Reusable water bottle and travel mug
  • Waterproof boots with good tread
  • Checklist of responsibilities that will need to be addressed during your absence (kids, pets, plants, mail/bills, etc)

While the list above provides a good start, there are always additional items responders like to pack depending on the incident, location, time of year, and personal preference. Below are some additional first hand packing list recommendations from a few of our OWCN management team members.

Kyra Mills, Deputy Director: Field Operations
  • Headphones
  • My pillow (because I love my pillow and hate all others)
  • A warm hat (for those early mornings at the coast)
  • Fuzzy sweatpants and pajama pants for down time in the hotel
Jennie Hawkins, Field Operations Specialist
  • Sunshirts
  • Socks
  • Shoe inserts / KT Tape
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Snacks
  • Workout clothes
  • Sandals
  • Comfy clothes
Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator
  • Headbands
  • Vitamin C
  • Advil
  • Lots of wool socks (calf length)
  • Reusable coffee mug and coffee
  • Scrub top
  • Columbia sunshirts
  • Power bank
  • Extra PPE
Scott Buhl, Responder Specialist
  • Extra eye contacts
  • TONS of socks
  • XL nitrile gloves
  • Healthy snacks (to balance my other unhealthy choices)
  • Flip flops and board shorts (in case of hotel hot tub for sore muscles!)
Tim Williamson, Facilities Specialist
  • Personal hygiene items (nail clippers, razors, etc)
  • 1st Aid Kit
  • Bottle opener & corkscrew
  • Basic tool set
  • Eyeglass repair kit
  • Sewing kit with needles (helpful for splinters)
Curt Clumpner, Deputy Director: Care Operations
  • Rinse nozzle (for washing patients)
  • Wash gloves
  • Max/min thermometer
  • iPad
  • Extratuf low-cut boots
  • Rite in the rain notebook
  • Water pressure gauge
  • Air pods
  • Ginger tea
Mike Ziccardi, Director
  • Travel french press
  • Freshly ground coffee
  • Slippers
Duane Tom, Field Veterinarian
  • Lots of underwear
  • Kleenex
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Extra roll of toilet paper (just in case)
Lorraine Barbosa, Facility Veterinarian
  • Slippers
  • Chocolate bars
  • And more chocolate

Do you have any favorite items? If so, please visit our OWCN Facebook Page, comment on this blog FB post and share your wisdom!

Stay safe out here everyone.

OWCN Management Team

Herps are Forever!

Most people are very familiar with cats and dogs, many even know a lot about birds and other exotic pets, but I’ve found that very few people know much about herptiles (amphibians and reptiles).  I decided to write my first blog (ever) hoping to share some really cool and fun facts about four species native to California.

The Western Pond Turtle is the only native terrestrial turtle to California…sort of.  Actually, there are two subspecies of this turtle plus the Desert Mud Turtle, but that one may now be extinct in the state.  The Western Pond Turtle is common throughout most of California other than the desert and high mountain regions but is a California Department of Fish and Wildlife “Species of Special Concern” due to the introduction of invasive species and habitat destruction.  Sometimes they may look similar to Red-eared Sliders that have lost their “red ears” but unlike the jagged edges of the back rim of the slider’s carapace (top shell), the pond turtle’s is smooth.  Some other interesting facts about turtles, in general, is that the plastron (bottom shell) in males is more concave than the females and…turtles can also “breathe” from their butts!  Sorta, but you’ll have to look that up if you want to learn about it.

The Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander is one of the most imperiled amphibian that is endemic to California. Due to having such a small range, limited to the adjacent Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and habitat loss, it is both Federally and State listed as Endangered.  These salamanders are born in the spring in ponds and breathe through gills in their aquatic (water) larval form; but as the ponds begin to dry in the fall, they transform into their adult terrestrial (land) form and develop lungs for breathing as adults.

Like our turtles, there is only one tortoise native to California, the Mohave Desert Tortoise.  Their natural range in California is the desert regions of the southeast portion of the state.  This tortoise spends most of its life in underground burrows, conserving water by reabsorption from its bladder, which is why urination under stressful conditions such as handling can result in dehydration and be potentially harmful to the animal.  We also have to be very careful in their rehabilitation to prevent possible transmission of Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (URTD). This tortoise is also the California State Reptile!

Finally, the Desert Night Lizard although common in its southern California inland areas, is very secretive and therefore rarely seen.  Interestingly, even though it is called a “night lizard”, it is most commonly active during the day.  What is even more interesting is that this lizard lives in family groups.  The young that are born live with their siblings, and along with other broods, live with their parents for several years! 

I know just by reading this blog, the next time you see a lizard or snake or other herptile while on your walk, you’ll take notice of them just a little more, maybe even take a photo and look up what it is on  I hope to bring you more interesting wildlife soon!


20 Years and almost 20,000 Penguins – Reflecting on the Treasure Oil Spill

Has it really been 20 years? Yes, it has! So, what happened to the M/V Treasure that resulted in the largest oiled wildlife rescue effort to date? 

After the M/V Treasure sustained damage, the initial priority was to remove the crew of the vessel. Once the crew was safe, the decision was made to tow the vessel a safe distance off the coast for repairs. While in tow, the vessel started taking on water and detached from the towline. In the early morning hours of June 23, 2000, the Treasure sank 9.7 km off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. As a result, 1,400 tonnes (~369,000 gallons) of heavy bunker fuel oil, marine diesel, and lube oil were released between Dassen and Robben Islands. At that time these two islands supported more than 40% of the world population of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus), which was listed as “vulnerable” and projected to be extinct by 2050. It quickly became apparent that thousands of birds were at risk of oiling.

Oiled African penguins. Photo: John Hrusa

Immediately after the sinking of the Treasure, our colleagues at SANCCOB (South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) responded to assess the situation. It was obvious that this would be much larger than anything they’d seen and immediately called in the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), who had assisted SANCCOB in previous large spills. IFAW immediately deployed their International Oiled Wildlife Team, comprised of responders from International Bird Rescue (formerly IBRRC – International Bird Rescue Research Center), as well as key support staff and other highly experienced responders.  

By the end of day two, SANCCOB had more than 2,000 birds in care at their Table View facility, which reached its capacity on day three.  Concurrently, an additional site to care for oiled wildlife was identified and became the Salt River Penguin Crisis Centre. Additionally, to support a response of this magnitude additional human resources were needed, which prompted the mobilization of the International team of experts. By June 28th many of the core responders arrived in Cape Town. Meanwhile, by day ten more than 13,000 birds were in care, and in total approximately 20,000 oiled birds were captured and admitted to the rehabilitation centers. 

A view of the penguins at the Salt River facility. Photo: Animal Demography Unit

While the capture of oiled birds was happening, it was obvious that the trajectory of the spill was heading to the largest breeding island for African penguins, Dassen Island.  The wildlife trustee, CapeNature (formerly Cape Nature Conservation), initiated an unprecedented pre-emptive capture program which saw over 19,500 UNOILED penguins captured and relocated East to Port Elizabeth, which was about 457 swimming miles away. Three penguins (identified as Peter, Pamela, and Percy) were fitted with radio transmitters to track their progress. Penguins have very high nest-site fidelity, so it was only about 10 -14 days before the penguins arrived back at Dassen Island and in that time, the oil had been cleaned off the beach. Click here to view a short video compilation of the response created by SANCCOB. 

As the scale of the disaster grew it was evident that more help was needed. IFAW’s logistics team began to reach out to conservation organizations, rehabilitation centers, zoos, and aquariums globally requesting help from penguin keepers and individuals who had experience with oiled wildlife rehabilitation. At that time, I worked as a penguin keeper at the New Jersey State Aquarium (now Adventure Aquarium). I heard about the spill and inquired about assisting through the representative that contacted the aquarium. Soon after, my departure date was confirmed, and I booked my travel. Luckily, I had a little time to get a crash course in force-feeding, gavage feeding, taking blood, and all the other important tasks that we didn’t do regularly with our collection of 18 penguins. However, what we did do regularly was feeding, behavior observations, and husbandry (or feeding, care, and cleaning of enclosures). 

My 18-hour journey to Cape Town began in Philadelphia in early August. What I did not know at that time was how this experience would influence and change my life. When I arrived at the Salt River facility, I was given an orientation and a tour of the facility. As we were making our way outside to my first assignment, we walked past endless boxes of fish that were thawing for penguin feedings. To put it in perspective, there was more fish thawing than we had in our freezer at the aquarium for our entire collection of animals. By August 16th 361 tonnes (795,869 pounds) of fish were used to feed the birds. When we made our way outside all I could see was penguins (and pools, and response personnel). I had never seen so many penguins! Actually, there were about 15,000 birds at the facility when I arrived. We made our way to pen 15 where I was introduced to Mark Russell from IBRRC. He explained that my task for the day was to help manage the feeding of the penguins in the pen. I remember this moment very clearly when Mark asked me “How many penguins do you have at the aquarium”? When I answered “18” he said “Great! Here is about 200 and they all need to eat”. So, how do you make sure they all eat? Well, luckily, most of the birds in this pen were hand feeding. So, we herded them all to one side of the pen, set up feeding boxes, moved 3-6 birds at a time into the box, offered them fish and let them out the other side. If they did not eat after a few attempts, then they were force fed.  When we finished this task, it was time for lunch and then repeat. 

My job on the feeding team only lasted about a day and a half when I was reassigned to the “grading” team, which was charged with completing waterproof checks. I was introduced to Jay Holcomb of IBRRC and he explained that our job was to ensure each bird was 100 percent waterproof before they moved on to the next step in the pre-release evaluation. So, what did this entail? Well, the birds were locked in pools to swim for at least one hour and then released into a holding pen. Each “grader” would assess a bird by lifting all the contour feathers to evaluate the dryness of the down feathers. If the bird was healthy and dry it would get a pink spot spray-painted on its chest. If a bird did not pass it would it would continue the conditioning process and be re-graded. For some reason I really gravitated toward this job. It wasn’t always easy. Most of the birds were very strong and ready to go! Jay and the other supervisors were amazing at keeping us motivated. I clearly remember the day we started grading at 8:00am and assessed over 1,000 birds! I ended up spending most of my time at the spill as part of the grading team. When I was not meticulously sifting through penguin feathers, I was assigned to either the feeding team or the bleed team. 

Regardless of the task, I was very grateful to be there. Our days were mostly spent at the Salt River facility. We would leave the hotel before dawn and usually return after dark. The hotel staff was amazing. They did not blink an eye when we walked into the lobby and smelled like we had been working with penguins all day. We didn’t have a lot of free time, but we did find some time to gather and share stories. We were also fortunate enough to have one day off. Tired, but motivated to explore, a small group of us traveled down the peninsula to the Boulders Beach penguin colony. While we were there, we spotted a penguin with a pink spot; It was one of our birds! It was during that very moment we realized that we were truly making an impact. In the end, our efforts resulted in the successful release of approximately 90% of the birds that entered rehabilitation. Today the African penguin is listed as endangered and their population continues to decline. Thankfully, SANCCOB continues to do their great work to help reverse the decline of seabird species in South Africa. Last week SANCCOB hosted a webinar to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the spill. Click here to view the webinar.

Boulders Beach Penguin Colony. Look closely – you might see a pink spot! Photo: Danene Birtell

What I didn’t realize was how this one event and the amazing people I worked with would shape my future. Fast forward to present day; I have now been working in the field of oiled wildlife rehabilitation and response for TWENTY YEARS! When I left South Africa, I had no idea what the future would hold. As I reflect on my three weeks in Cape Town I find myself full of gratitude. Looking through photos I remember my early experiences working alongside the late Jay Holcomb, Dr.’s Heidi Stout and Valeria Ruoppolo, Barbara Callahan, Mark Russell, Paul Kelway and many others that I met in South Africa. They and many others, including my colleagues at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) have worked tirelessly to advance the field of oiled wildlife preparedness and response and mentor the next generation of responders, including myself. I can’t thank them enough for all their support and guidance. I am so very fortunate to have made these life-long connections and to be writing this blog as a staff member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

I truly believe that the universe speaks in mysterious ways!

~ Danene

Silence is Not Golden

This is a difficult blog for me to write.

Often when I sit down to write these posts (not as often these days as in years past), I try to weave information on oiled wildlife response and oil spills with some humor and (somewhat) personal anecdotes. In other words, sticking to the facts while conveying an accurate image of what is happening (in spills, in the news, etc.), but not allowing myself to get swept up in the emotions of the minute.

However, the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent national attention to police brutality and social injustice has disturbed me to my core. It has forced me to do something I often do not like to do – be truly and honestly introspective, admit my ignorance on an important topic, and speak up about it (and, as a strong “I” on the Myers-Briggs spectrum, the last point is possibly the most terrifying).

I grew up in privilege. Suburban San Diego, good schools, ample opportunities. We were not rich by any means (though my friends were) – but I was able to find odd jobs fairly easily to be able to try to “keep up”. Police were there to help us, not harm us. Diversity was not thought about much because it simply did not exist. My friends and I were highly engaged in learning about progressive political views, but I honestly cannot remember racism in the US being particularly high on the list of concerns that we discussed at lengths. Apartheid in South Africa – yes. The Civil Rights movement in the 60s – yes. Systemic racism in today’s society – no. In short, I was naïve and chose to remain that way.

Going to school (and then raising a family) in Davis was simply an extension of my upbringing, albeit in a smaller ecosystem. My wife and I embraced the progressive nature of the city – its acceptance of all viewpoints (except, quite possibly, Tea Party conservatives) and people – and still embrace it today. We did leave Davis in the late 1990s for a work opportunity in Chicago, which gave us a glimpse into how larger cities have historically addressed race issues (e.g., redlining and segregation) and policing (e.g., profiling and aggression). For the first time in my life, I was confronted with overt racism on a regular basis and it was not “comfortable”. We had the opportunity to return to Davis in 2000 and leapt at the chance – telling ourselves that enjoyment of my work, being away from family, the “big city life”, and, yes, the weather, were the reasons. However, I now also see that the discomfort at facing overt racial tension on a daily basis also led to making this call.

Returning to Davis was a balm to our souls. With 1- and 4-year old daughters, we could once again enjoy the progressive nature of a small(ish) college town. Returning to UC Davis, I was once again employed by an organization that embraced Principles of Community, whose tenets include to “strive to build and maintain a culture and climate based on mutual respect and caring.” I was working directly with conservationists and wildlife professionals that cared deeply for the humane treatment of all wild creatures and responding to anthropogenic disasters that damaged our environment. I was collaborating in a vibrant research environment to explore how to better understand health effects in wildlife. And I was supporting diversity through ensuring that gender identity and sexual orientation had no impact in hiring decisions or assignment of responsibilities. However, focusing on the lack of racial diversity within the wildlife community was not at the forefront of my mind, so I remained ignorant on the issues.

With the emergence of COVID-19, the OWCN has had to focus extensively on preparedness in the face of the pandemic – how should we protect ourselves, how would we respond safely where limited numbers of responders could be on scene, how best to modify our protocols to ensure we can fulfill our mandate of “best achievable capture and care to oil-affected animals”. Our One Health Institute (OHI) was fully engaged in better understanding (and providing excellent advice and recommendations on) SARS-CoV-2 as a follow-up to the successful PREDICT project and was fully enmeshed in new efforts to expand its efforts on preventing future pandemics. Working from home has made all of these efforts even more difficult, as the ability to freely discuss “off-topic” issues while on multi-hour Zoom calls is limited at best.

When George Floyd was killed on 25 May, I was horrified as the information related to how he was murdered emerged in the news. I followed closely the subsequent protests, civil unrest, and re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement as best I felt I could – through the news, sticking with the facts. I was immensely proud that our Chancellor and University leaders were stepping up to denounce racism and police brutality and was gratified that many of our OWCN partners were expressing support of these topics. The OHI was supporting the messaging that was coming from UCD and, as such, did not put out its own statement. We did not discuss this in great depth as a unit, but I agreed with this approach. And I remained silent.

However, in my reflecting more on racism as the furor increased in tenor, I delved back into UCD’s Principles of Community as well as reflecting deeply about my views on these issues. I began exploring the information on diversity and inclusion that exists within our University, but also branched into broader topics of systemic racism and the roots of social injustice. The words of Dr. Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility” were particularly impactful to me, as her exploration into not only educating oneself on the issues, but holding ourselves accountable for our actions (or inactions) on topics related to Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color (BIPOC) hit close to home. Similarly, as Ibram X. Kendi describes in his book “How to Be an Antiracist”, “(t)he opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ The opposite of racist is antiracist.” In other words, silence is not considered golden, but complicit in the ingrained racism that exists within our society. Antiracist is active and requires action to lead to success.

As such, I am very happy to report that the OHI has worked hard over the past two weeks on better understanding our role in promoting antiracism and applying action towards the topic. Below is our statement:

“Your Leadership Team believes that our actions will illustrate our commitment more than any, likely inadequate, words that we could put forward. Thus, I share with you now our commitments to addressing these complicated issues in the short and long-term and invite you to participate to the fullest extent possible.

  • 100% of your Leadership Team will be participating in racial justice, diversity, equity & inclusion training.
  • The OHI will pay the fee associated with any associated student, staff, or faculty member to attend such training.
  • We have already completed the campus Needs Assessment for Diversity & Inclusion Education focused on systemic racism for the OHI and have requested an institute-wide workshop.
  • We commit to an external audit of our communications for unconscious bias, following the lead of our SeaDoc Society that had started this process some time ago.
  • The OHI will organize a facilitated reflection on unconscious bias to be held in our workplace.
  • We will continue to contribute to the education of our underserved communities and will expand our knowledge-sharing on racial inequities in the following ways:
    • Deliver One Health and social justice material in the SMASH for high school students from low-income or historically underrepresented backgrounds.
    • Deliver the same in the COSMOS program for STEM students in grades 8-12 and at the undergraduate, professional, and graduate levels.
    • Make available educational content on birds of prey and the environment from the California Raptor Center and the SeaDoc Society’s Explore the Salish Sea: A Nature Guide for Kids at no cost to Title I schools and continue to make the book available to every 5th and 6th grader in the Salish Sea regardless of ability to pay.
  • In order to improve the inclusivity and social awareness in the One Health movement, we will offer at least five $5-10k grants competitively for students, staff, and faculty to develop either improvements in the One Health approach in the area of social and racial inequities or ways to use the One Health approach to address systemic racism.
  • We will seek donor funding to continue successful approaches in this realm in the long-term.
  • Leadership commits to continuing to do this important work in all areas of activity of our institute and to demonstrate this commitment in meetings, products, and initiatives.”

I am proud that the Oiled Wildlife Care Network is part of an Institute, a University, and a system that stands for social justice, diversity, inclusion, and community. The OHI stands with the victims and families of racial violence and denounce the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the more than 1,000 black Americans that have been shot and killed by police in the past five years – a rate twice as high as white Americans. We also strongly support full investigations into the killings of black Americans by civilians – specifically the hanging deaths of Robert Fuller and Malcom Harsch in California – as another facet of violence being perpetrated in these tumultuous times.

It is our responsibility to educate ourselves on key issues regarding BIPOC and to reflect on our own implicit biases, our own actions, and our positions. As such, I encourage you to explore the excellent information becoming more widely available (some suggested links are available in hyperlinks in this blog as well as below) and take action. Personally, I am currently participating in the 21-Day Racial Habit Building Challenge to help me “create effective social justice habits” and to better understand how pervasive systemic racism is ingrained into our society.

I am also committing myself to move past simple “education and love” (as Ibram Kendi states) and closely evaluate how “self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest.” As Dr. Kendi so eloquently states, “(w)hen the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.” I commit myself to use my position as Director of OWCN, as well as my other platforms at UCD, to actively promote antiracism and affect positive change as best I can.

I encourage you to join me, in the words of our Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Renetta Garrison Tull, to “…remember, to think, to read, to listen, reflect, learn, plan and act, recognizing that black lives do indeed matter and that we are all going to go forward together.”

Also please take the opportunity this Juneteenth (19 June) to reject silence. Thank you.


Selected Resources

Open for Business: COVID-19 Adaptations for Primary Care Facilities

Countless aspects of our daily lives have changed in response to COVID-19. The past few months have been a devastating time of hardship for many. For most folks, it has at the very least been a source of anxiety, frustration, inconvenience, fear, or more likely—a mix of these. For those of us fortunate enough to be returning to our regular workplaces over the coming weeks and months, we have to wonder—what will that look like?

I have been fortunate to work from home over these last few months. Like many of you, I have vacillated between peaks (working in my pjs with my dog beside me) and valleys (postponing many important projects and missing socializing with coworkers). I really am looking forward to returning to the office. And while there is no set date, there have been promising signs that a return to some semblance of normalcy is on the horizon. One such sign is the reopening of dine-in services at some restaurants. This weekend my boyfriend and I dined at a restaurant in Sacramento. It was our first time doing so in over three months and as expected, a lot has changed about the restaurant experience. From taped Xs spaced six feet apart on the sidewalk leading up to the building, to wearing a face covering when away from your table. There was a reduced, disposable menu and every other table was left vacant to accommodate social distancing. We enjoyed our visit, but there was no mistaking it for normalcy!

I was impressed by the restaurant and its staff’s resiliency, efficiency, and professionalism in adapting to this new version of business as usual. As we drove home, I couldn’t help but reflect on what the OWCN’s new “business as usual” would be. Would the Primary Care Facility’s floor be adorned with Xs of tape, spaced six feet apart? Or more importantly, would we be reducing the “menu” of treatments that we can provide to patients? Would our capacity, both for animals and responders, need to be modified to allow for social distancing?

If you are at all familiar with the Network’s responsibilities, you already know that planning and preparedness are central to our mission of providing the best achievable capture and care to oil affected wildlife. Unfortunately, however, our protocols seemed to be missing their “How to Adjust Oiled Wildlife Response Operations During a Global Pandemic” appendices. Whoops!

Thankfully the management team is full of planners. Folks who have made a career out of molding protocols and contingency plans into little bricks of preparedness. Each brick isn’t worth all that much on its own, but when stacked high with its companions, we can stand back and admire the fortress of protection that the OWCN and its partners have built around California’s wildlife. So when we discovered that our fortress had a pandemic-shaped crack, we got to work fortifying it—one brick at a time.

Hazard Controls

I cannot cover every aspect of our COVID-19 Protection Guidelines and Contingency Plans in this blog, but I will share with you some of the “bricks” that I have been working on. First, let’s think about the hazard we are facing—exposure to the novel coronavirus. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has created the Hierarchy of Controls as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective hazard control solutions.

Since elimination and substitution of the novel coronavirus hazard are not possible at this time, our COVID-19 Protection Guidelines and Contingency Plans primarily address options for engineering controls, administrative controls, and enhanced PPE (personal protective equipment).

Let’s take a closer look at one example of each, but first—a disclaimer:

The following controls are just a few tools that we have identified to be potentially useful to our operations at the Primary Care Facility. This is by no means an exhaustive list and these controls may not be appropriate for every situation. 

Engineering Control Example:

“Engineering controls are favored over administrative and personal protective equipment (PPE) for controlling existing worker exposures in the workplace because they are designed to remove the hazard at the source, before it comes in contact with the worker. Well-designed engineering controls can be highly effective in protecting workers and will typically be independent of worker interactions to provide this high level of protection. The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than the cost of administrative controls or PPE, but over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower, and in some instances, can provide a cost savings in other areas of the process.”


An air scrubber is a portable filtration system that removes particles, gasses, and/or chemicals from the air within a given area. These machines draw air in from the surrounding environment and pass it through a series of filters to remove contaminants.

Objective: To improve air quality inside the facility

Increasing the number of times that air is replaced in the room will dilute the concentration of particles in that space. It is important to note that according to the Center for Disease Control, COVID-19 is primarily transmitted person-person through respiratory droplets. Airborne transmission is different than droplet transmission and there has NOT been evidence suggesting that COVID-19 has airborne transmission. That said, we are erring on the side of caution by using the CDC’s ventilation requirements of human hospitals as a guideline:

The animal care rooms within the OWCN designed Primary Care Facilities such as the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center already have HVAC systems in place that provide 10-15 ACH. Portable air scrubbers like the one below will be supplemented in other rooms to increase the ACH. They will also be implemented in the event that our Western Shelter tents are used during a response.

Administrative Example:

“Administrative controls and PPE are frequently used with existing processes where hazards are not particularly well controlled. Administrative controls and PPE programs may be relatively inexpensive to establish but, over the long term, can be very costly to sustain. These methods for protecting workers have also proven to be less effective than other measures, requiring significant effort by the affected workers.”


Objective: To minimize the number of on-site personnel

An Intake Team typically comprises an examiner, a handler, and a scribe. Can this team be reduced without compromising safety and effectiveness? Well the examiner is crucial and an experienced handler is needed for most species, but the scribe… What if the scribe was remote? That could work! A scribe’s duty is to record all of the examiner’s findings from the animal’s physical exam. We are exploring the possibility of scribes and data collectors calling in via speaker phone to communicate with their teammates. This procedure adjustment reduces the number of on-site intake personnel by 1/3.

PPE Example:

Perhaps the most obvious COVID-19 adaptation would be the increase in required PPE. Depending on their functional area in the Primary Care Facility, our responders are already donning a variety of PPE. In oiled areas they will be in tyvek coveralls, nitrile gloves, safety glasses, and shoe covers. PPE requirements are more relaxed in unoiled areas.

Objective: To minimize exposure to hazards including petroleum and COVID-19

N95s are the respirator of choice when it comes to COVID-19 precautions, but as you surely know, they are in short supply and we must first prioritize their availability to human healthcare workers. Alternative face coverings might be used in the facility at the discretion of the response’s Safety Officer. No matter the type of respirator or face covering used, responders may be required to wear them in addition to their regular PPE at all times inside the facility.

Face shields are another article of PPE that we are familiar with, but they are usually reserved for the Wash Team as splash protection. In a COVID-19 Era spill response, we may be requiring face shields in addition to N95s/face coverings for all responders.

Looking Ahead…

It’s important to remember that a wildlife response under COVID-19 (or any pandemic event) will be unlike any other before it. As always, human safety will be the highest priority, but in this case the risks are much higher.

To be able to provide care to any impacted wildlife, we will need to be able first to ensure human safety. As always, the OWCN’s participation in a spill response will be at the discretion of the Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. If these agencies feel that the risk to human safety is too great, the OWCN’s activities may be suspended or reduced. It will be critical for us to continually evaluate our methods as well as our own health and if there is any sign of illness, responders must proactively stay away so as not to risk the entire response.

Be safe. Be prepared. Stay healthy.


Refugio Beach Oil Spill Recap: 5 Year Status Update

A little over 5 years ago on May 19th, 2015, an underground pipeline running parallel to Highway 101 ruptured near Refugio State Beach (just north of Santa Barbara). As a result, 123,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled, 50,000 of which ran down a ravine under the freeway and entered the ocean.

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The Oiled Wildlife Care Network was activated and our responders sprung into action to rescue oiled wildlife in need of assistance.  As you can see in the summary table below, this was a significant wildlife response, especially considering the high number of marine mammal patients. Over 90 responders joined the effort from 21 different OWCN Member Organizations, logging over 1600+ hours!

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To summarize the large response operation, lessons learned and heroic efforts of many, the OWCN created a Refugio Incident Report, which you can view here. This document summarizes our responder hotwash hosted at UC Davis after the incident in 2015. In reviewing such documents years later, it is always reassuring to see that many of the challenges listed have been addressed operationally. This ensures that we learn and improve from every response, maintaining our ability to provide the best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife.

And while the focus of OWCN is to provide top notch oiled wildlife response operations from capture to release, there is another aspect of our efforts that does not come to fruition immediately.  The wildlife data we collect, including the summary of both live and dead oiled wildlife, all factor into the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, led by California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW OSPR). Want to learn more about the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process?  Click here.

We are excited to share that just two weeks ago, the draft restoration and assessment plan for the Refugio Oil Spill was presented to the public. You can view the May 13th presentations and FAQs on the CDFW OSPR website here:

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Thank you to all our OWCN responders, CDFW OSPR and everyone involved in responding to this incident.  While we will never forget, we were able to grow from this response and apply lessons learned toward our new and improved operations of present day.

The OWCN Management Team



Cuyama River Incident: Notes from the Field

“Hey, wait…listen”. I whispered. “Did you hear that?” Wendy and Danene were on the opposite bank, directly across from me. Dressed in Tyvek, a safety vest, lifejacket, a raincoat and a hard hat on, an N-95 mask and safety glasses covering their face, a spotlight and net in hand, the two of them looked like something out of a cartoon.

cuyama team

Our Field Team: Wendy, Danene, Jennie

They stopped walking and listened. The rain was still coming down, but the birds were just beginning to chatter, and the first rays of sunlight could be seen on the horizon. And then there it was again, that throaty vocalization ( “What in the world is that?” I asked. “Is that a red-legged frog?” We knew there was a possibility that this threatened species could be in the area and had listened to their calls online, but none of us had ever heard them in the wild before. I turned on my spotlight and scanned the bank near where they were standing. “I don’t see any eyeshine, but it sounds like it’s coming from behind you guys, up near the trees”. I crossed the river and joined Wendy and Danene on the other side. The three of us started heading back toward the newly created dam that had been erected to contain the oil, but also acted as a nice path across the river where we could easily get back to the truck.

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A Western Toad

We each took a different path through the trees in hopes of catching sight of this odd sounding species. Just before reaching the dam, I shined my flashlight into a little cave in the rock face we were passing. “Guys!” I shouted in excitement “I found something!”. I placed my net over the entrance, shined my light into the cave to make sure there were no other occupants, and then with Wendy’s help, slowly coaxed the Western Toad out of the cave and into the net. Realizing we needed to get going if we were going to make the morning safety tailgate briefing, we placed our new friend in a container we had brought, entered the data into the Wildlife Recovery App, and boogied back to the truck.


cuyama pic1

Searching for Wildlife

This spill response was very different than any others I have been involved with. California was (and still is) under quarantine due to COVID-19, so this spill response was limited as far as staffing numbers to make sure people were kept as safe as possible. In addition, everyone was required to wear an N-95 mask at all times. No exceptions. There were numerous port-a-potties and hand-washing stations set up at each staging site, including several pink “women only” ones. There were people stationed at the river access points that would wipe down your vehicle door handles for you. Lunch was individually bagged and delivered to reduce the potential for germ spread. A six-foot separation was required when working in the field, unless it was absolutely necessary to be in closer contact. All of this made the response slightly more difficult, but the hardest part was with everyone wearing a mask it was a lot harder to hear what they were saying! Despite all the challenges that we were facing during our first COVID-19 spill response, keeping people safe was always our top priority.

Because we suspected we had red-legged frogs in this specific area, challenges or no challenges, the search was on! With the energy level spiked, onto the riverbank we went, determined to capture any affected wildlife. After much searching, I grabbed onto some old wood debris that was pushed up against the bank.  As I did, I heard a plop and saw a frog jump into the water. I scooped it up with my net and, with Wendy’s help, we examined it to see how oiled it was. Based on how much oil was in the water where we captured it, we expected it to be very visibly oiled. However, while it didn’t appear visibly oiled, substantial product came off onto our gloves, so we carefully boxed it up and transported it back to our staging area.


A CA Red-Legged Frog

Upon getting it back to our Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital (MASH), we did a more thorough examination. While its hind legs were more yellow than the tell-tale red that is common, it turned out to in fact be a red-legged frog (but probably a young one). We provided it food, water, and some rest, and the next day gave it a Dawn(r) bath, a new home to recover in, and lots of earthworms. It turns out they really like earthworms! We continued to house and feed our threatened patient until it was able to be released back into the wild.

Overall, this response was a great experience for all of us. There were so many nuances (and some significant challenges), but we further refined our response procedures during unique circumstances, continued to develop more inland-specific techniques, and found ways to improve our field data collection tools. In total, we collected 21 animals (9 Western Pond Turtles, 3 Mallards, 1 Belted kingfisher, 1 fish, 4 Baja California Tree Frogs, 1 Western Toad and 2 California Red-legged Frogs) and successfully released almost 90% of the live ones collected. It just goes to show that pre-planning, adaptability, resilience in the face of uncertainty, and having and working with a great team leads to great success!!