It Takes a Village! (or a coordinated, pre-trained Network)

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is still currently activated and responding to the Pipeline P00547 Incident. We are on Day 13 of response, and our Wildlife Recovery, Field Stabilization and Care & Processing Groups continue to provide the absolute best achievable capture and care of all oil-affected wildlife. To view current wildlife numbers, please visit our website here.

While the spotlight often shines on our resilient wildlife patients, there is an army of wildlife champions behind the scenes providing some serious world class effort. To date, we have utilized more than 90 affiliated and pre-trained responders filling Incident Command System (ICS) response roles, ranging from volunteers all the way to Deputy Wildlife Branch Director. These responders are representing over 15 of our 44 OWCN Member Organizations, and making us all very proud! (click here to view all 44 OWCN Member Organizations)

In addition to our Network, we work in close collaboration with numerous federal and state agencies during an oil spill response regarding wildlife. We are in step from the beginning with our partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR), as we are activated by this state agency from the very beginning and they usually fill the Wildlife Branch Director role as well as lead Wildlife Reconnaissance efforts (including manning the Hotline). We also are in close communications with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-NMFS) in preparation for any potential oiled marine mammal or sea turtle patients. And we consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding our wildlife response plan for many threatened or endangered species potentially affected by the incident. And a special shout out for this incident to the CDFW Natural Resource Volunteer Program for providing us with personnel and a vehicle for wildlife transport!

As the OWCN Readiness Coordinator for Field Operations, I spend A LOT of my time attempting to prepare the Network for potential incidents just like this one. We recruit talented wildlife professionals, provide ample supplemental oil spill training, and conduct realistic, large scale drills. With all of this done in advance, our ability to respond quickly and efficiently is fine tuned. But even with all the preparation, when a call hits the hotline with the potential for significant wildlife impact, my heart skips a beat. Are the oiled wildlife facilities ready to fire up and begin receiving patients? Are the local 24hr HAZWOPER certified wildlife recovery responders able to head out into the field immediately on such short notice?

While the initial pace was intense, and yes, at some times a bit chaotic, all of my worries were answered with a resounding YES! We were ready to respond and remain ready to help any wildlife in need. So thank you OWCN responders for all your hard work over these past two weeks, and thank you in advance to those who will continue to contribute their time to get us to the finish line.

Each and every Responder should be proud of your own personal readiness, allowing you to quickly jump into action. Your Member Organizations are proud of your tireless efforts. And we, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s Management Team (on behalf of the entire Network), are extremely proud and thankful for your dedicated commitment to our wildlife.

Scott Buhl – OWCN

Pipeline P00547 Incident: More Reflections from the ICP

Hi All – A few thoughts on the first week of this response from my view. First off – OWCN is amazing, and the excellence and passion shown by everyone supporting this response has been obvious to all. Thank you! And thank you to all who stayed back and took on all the responsibilities of those who were deployed. The partnership of OSPR and OWCN staff is powerful. The two organizations are different in many ways, but share and embrace the same commitment to best achievable capture and care. We work hand-in-hand. In the ICP, the Wildlife team has candid conversations about strategy and staffing, and we have always been able to efficiently get to agreement. The Reconnaissance, Recovery, Field Stabilization, and Care and Processing Groups have similarly been solutions-focused and totally flexible to do what’s needed. 

I was first notified of an incident Saturday morning. My phone blew up with a flood of conversations by voice, email, and text; then total silence. From experience, that told me that something significant was happening and that everyone was either traveling or head-down focused on work, way too busy to talk anymore. I packed a bag just in case.

On Sunday morning when we arrived at the first ICP, there were about 35 of us crammed in a corner office and a break room. It was chaotic with so much to do and so little space to do it. I relocated a garbage can and recycling bin and secured a small table near the sink for Mike Z and I to get started. Response vessels had been deployed at first light, and our two amazing care facilities were gearing up. One week later, the response team was up to 1200 people. That’s a crazy fast expansion, and it was exactly what was needed. As the oil made its way south over the week, our Recovery Teams were covering 70 miles of shoreline; same for oil cleanup and SCAT; we needed a big team. 10,000 people have signed up to volunteer and a local restaurant, of their own volition, raised funds and cooked and delivered meals to the Field Stabilization facility staff.

Speaking of food…in the second ICP it was bad (not sure what the turkey-like substance was on the Thanksgiving plate). Vegetarians have been provided lots of options like taking the meat out of the hamburger and eating the bun and lettuce. However, the form and function of the ICP for spill response rapidly matured. All the branches and units got organized and started communicating with each other and their counterparts in the field. Hand-written signs popped up on all the walls sharing who was where. The Unified Command directed objectives. The Liaison and PIO/JIC spun up to address the overwhelming media, political, and public interest. As the Wildlife Branch Director, at least two hours a day was consumed in media and elected official responses; and with visits by the Governor, Lt. Governor, State and Federal Congressional representatives, and a myriad of local elected officials, sometimes the demand was twice that. I was so grateful to have super-star Mike Ziccardi there to do the heavy lifting with the VIPs.

Sam Christie, Care Strike Team Leader, with Fox 11 News

We’ve been working 14-hour days, generally from 6:30am to 8:30pm. After work, some people meet for a social hour downstairs in the hotel where we can unwind and smile for a while. Sitting with Jordan Stout (NOAA SSC) and Mike Z., we compare and (BS about) overlapping events since 1994 (my first response). At other tables I sit with folks experiencing their first major response. Some parts of the conversation are the same, we talk about compounding stress and exhaustion and how it slowly creeps in the mind and body. For the new and the old-timers, it’s not uncommon for tears to well up at some point. It’s intense work that we do.

Then I’m off to bed, certain that I can’t stay awake a moment longer, but when I close my eyes, my mind races with all the things I could be doing, that need to be done tomorrow, and wondering why am I sleeping when there are animals out there who need help. But ultimately exhaustion wins, on Wednesday morning I woke up with the lights on, fully dressed, on top of the bed; I must have sat down and fallen asleep in the same motion. 

Thank you to all of you in the OWCN family. You’re part of something very special and your efforts are meaningful and appreciated.

Here is a typical Wildlife Branch Organizational Chart from this past week

Greg McGowan – CDFW OSPR

Pipeline P00547 Incident: Reflections from the ICP

Hello all – Sorry that the OWCN Management Team has missed a few days of blogging, but as you are most assuredly aware, we are a bit busy right now….

The wildlife response for the Pipeline P00547 Incident (name just flows off the tongue, doesn’t it?) is going very well to date. We currently have more than 50 responders on site – doing extensive recovery (from Long Beach Harbor down to Oceanside), field stabilization at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, and primary care at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center (home to International Bird Rescue). Overall, as of yesterday, we have had more than 80 overall responders from 14 of our 44 Member Organizations involved in the effort. Absolutely amazing, and makes me so proud of all we have collectively developed to respond quickly and in a coordinated fashion anywhere oil may be oiled!

As of yesterday, we have collected 26 live birds and 17 dead – a much lower number than we feared based on the initial volume estimates. There are a number of possible reasons for this: time of year resulting in fewer animals at risk, lower actual released oil than was initially thought, etc. What is ABSOLUTELY certain, however, is that it isn’t due to a lack of search effort!

Right now, aside from the ruddy duck that has been christened “Happy Duck” by our friends in the Joint Information Center, the most notable story has been the successful collection of 7 live oiled snowy plovers to date. This Federally-threatened species is a highly sensitive species, and one that can be very difficult to capture effectively. By bringing in additional experienced partners from a number of organizations and agencies (including our own Point Blue Conservation Science) who have used specialized snares to rescue these birds. They are currently doing very well in care – in fact, they are eating machines, gaining weight quickly even before being washed! We will keep folks updated as we can, but there is an excellent piece in today’s Los Angeles Times if you want to learn more.

For me, being “trapped” at the Incident Command Post is both a frustration and an honor. Frustration because I REALLY want to be directly working with the animals in our care (after all, I didn’t go to vet school to help coordinate disasters!), but also a real privilege to work within a coordinated Unified Command, alongside Greg McGowan and Laird Henkel of CDFW-OSPR, and helping to make sure everyone in my team: 1) gets what they need, and 2) are shielded from getting things they don’t. All joking aside, it is an honor to be able to lead such a stellar program and to have such rock stars amongst the >1,600 trained OWCN responders, 44 Member Organizations, 12+ facilities to make emergencies such as this effective, efficient, and – most importantly – impactful on the wildlife entrusted to us.

Being at this ICP has made me reflect on the previous incident I blogged extensively on – the Deepwater Horizon spill in (gasp!) 2010. Being the lead of the Oiled Marine Mammal/Sea Turtle Unit (OMTU) on behalf of NOAA (and alongside Teri Rowles and Sarah Wilkin) in that incident has both similarities as well as distinct differences. One strong similarity is, and may always be, the massive increase in my caffeine intake throughout the day. For a day in my life during that event, go ahead and read (or re-read if you are an old timer like me) that blog post to get a sense of what a paper-pusher in a spill often does. Also, for a tour of that Command Post, take a look at this later post.

As things morph and develop on this response, we will likely be more utilizing our social media outlets extensively (expertly managed by Eunah Preston, who is here on site) as well as media interviews/info (shepherded by Kat Kerlin from UCD, who is brilliantly acting as border collie to me – the sheep – in attempting to make order out of the dozens of chaotic inquiries coming in), so its likely we won’t be blogging extensively on the effort until afterwards – or at least until it slows down a bit.

But rest assured – the entire OWCN community is working tirelessly to recover and care for any animals affected by this disaster. And we will continue as long as necessary!

-Mike

Welcome to FROGTOWN. We hope you enjoy your stay.

Welcome, friend. We’re glad you’re here. You’ve been through quite an ordeal with all of that nasty oil running through your creek. But now that you’re safe at Frogtown, we’ll be guiding you through a process of healing and rehabilitation. My name is Sam. I am the Care Strike Team Leader here at Frogtown and I’ll be coordinating your journey through the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s world-renowned wildlife rehabilitation program. We have partnered with the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, a local wildlife rehabilitation organization, to provide you and your neighbors with a premium rehabilitation experience. I see that you have selected our Platinum Oiled Amphibian Package. This full-service package includes Processing, Intake, Cleaning, Conditioning, and the best part of all—Release! I promise you will leave here feeling like a new frog!

Now let’s get you through Processing. We just need a quick photo of you holding up your case number. No, don’t worry. It’s nothing like a mugshot. Well, huh. Maybe it’s exactly like a mugshot. But it’s just our standard procedure! And if you would please lift your arms for a moment while I collect an oil sample. Well done. Thank you!

Swabbing the skin to collect an oil sample for evidence is part of the Processing procedure.

Wow! You are quite tiny, aren’t you? Just 0.11 grams and about the size of a honey bee. I’ll need to be extra careful with handling you during the Intake exam. In fact, here, have a seat inside this Tupperware so that I can examine you without risking any injuries. Aside from the oiling, are you feeling alright? Any aches, pains? Your eyes look clear, posture is normal. You appear alert and well-hydrated. Excellent! Hmm. It looks like you have a small injury on your toe. I’ll go ahead and schedule one of our veterinarians to stop by for a more thorough exam later this afternoon.

Whenever possible, frogs were examined inside of containers to prevent accidental injury or escape. Handling was kept to an absolute minimum.

Now just relax in your Tupperware while I prepare your bubble bath. I should tell you, we have an adapted de-oiling protocol designed especially for our valued clients here at Frogtown. You see, in Birdapolis and Mammalton we typically don’t offer spa services until clients have completed a mandatory 1-2 days in our supportive care and hydration Pre-Wash Care session. But from experience, we’ve found that our frog clients thrive when their first stop in the program is with our decontamination experts in the Cleaning Session Spa. You frogs have such incredible (and delicate) skin, after all.

Unlike the submersion wash method used in birds, slippery amphibians are irrigated with syringes of soapy and plain water.

We’ll start with a light rinse of our favorite de-oiling shampoo. You’re correct! It IS Dawn dish soap. Compared with the spas in Birdapolis and Mammalton, Frogtown uses a very mild Dawn solution. And don’t worry, we’ve already dechlorinated all of the water so it is safe for you. Let’s follow the suds with a long rinse in plain water. Good. Now go ahead and soak for a moment in the rinse pool. And voila! You are de-oiled! No need to towel-off, your skin looks its best when it is glistening with moisture. On to the Conditioning Session!

Can you spot the frog in this photo? See end of Blog for reveal. Our daily visual checks on each of the 90+ frog enclosures were time consuming. Their camouflage is impressive!

This is where you will be relaxing for the duration of your stay at Frogtown. Your suite includes a plunge pool, a moss bed, and a variety of seating options such as twigs, rocks, and the always-popular cork bark! Some of our guests also find clinging to the walls to be a fun activity. We know that humidity is so important to the comfort of our amphibian guests, so each suite is thoroughly misted with crisp, dechlorinated water several times per day.

Room service is included in your stay and is served daily at 5:00 PM for your nocturnal feasting enjoyment. Our rotating menu of flightless fruit flies, pinhead crickets, and maggots is very well-reviewed. Of course, we only serve the highest quality LIVE insects dusted with our house blend of multi-vitamin and calcium powders. Don’t be concerned if you start to pack on the grams during your stay with us. Gaining weight in Frogtown is a GOOD thing!

A Baja California Tree Frog feasts on fruit flies.

We do have one house rule that is strictly enforced by the management of Frogtown. No visitors! It’s important for your recovery that you do not invite any of your frog neighbors into your suite during your stay with us. As you know, frogs tend to be a touch cannibalistic and the last thing we want is for Big Hoppa in Suite 114 to have Baby Baja from Suite 105 “over for dinner”. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Size comparison between our smallest patient and our largest. Left: Baja California Tree Froglet <0.1 grams. Right: California Treefrog 7.1 grams.

Our goal is to keep you comfortable and well-fed in Frogtown until oil cleanup operations are completed in your beautiful creekside neighborhood. Once it is safe for you and all of your neighbors to return home, we will handle all transportation arrangements to Release you back to the section of creek where our Recovery team found you. In the meantime, I’ll be back daily for a quick visual check-in to make sure you are enjoying your stay with us. Every third day we will have a short session where I’ll record your weight, feeding progress, mentation, and overall health.

This is one room of Frogtown. 90+ frogs take up much less space than 90 birds!

Be sure to let us know if there is anything we can do to make your stay at Frogtown more pleasant.

92 frogs packaged up for transport back to their habitat. They were grouped by collection location in order to release them as close as possible to their territories.
Farewell, little friend. We hope you enjoyed your stay at Frogtown. Don’t come again!
Were you able to spot the frog?

— Sam

Frogtown staff L-R: Sam, Allison, Patrick, and Dr. Avery

Oilapalooza 2021: Virtual Connections

We are pleased to announce that the 2021 Oiled Wildlife Care Network Oilapalooza Conference is scheduled for Saturday, October 23rd. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic we will be hosting an entirely virtual conference via Zoom. The conference will run from approximately 9:00am – 4:00pm, with breaks and lunch incorporated. (plus we will be hosting an optional Oilapalooza After Hours Virtual Reception from 4:30pm – 6:00pm)

We would like to extend an invitation for all OWCN responders* to virtually join us. If you are interested in attending please log into your responder profile and click on the ‘Opportunities’ tab, then scroll down to the ‘Upcoming Training Opportunities’ category. Please Note: The OWCN Core Webinar Series is a firm prerequisite in order to register for Oilapalooza.

Please register by no later than Friday, October 15th. Additionally, if you have any questions about the event or the Core Webinar prerequisite, please email us at owcn@ucdavis.edu.

*Not an OWCN responder but interested in becoming one? To join the OWCN, you must be at least 18 years of age, and an active staff member or volunteer with one of our 44 Member Organizations. Click here to view all of our Member Orgs!


What is Oilapalooza? For any of you that have not heard of or attended an Oilapalooza before, it is the OWCN’s biennial conference usually held in rotating locations around the state of CA.

This year’s virtual conference will consist of lectures on a diverse range of spill response topics, followed by a virtual evening networking event that will allow our amazing responder community to connect and have some fun. The entire day will be hosted via Zoom. More detailed programmatic information, including the lecture topics and speakers, will be announced soon.  

2022-2023 Call for Research Proposals

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) is currently seeking proposals from researchers and wildlife professionals who are interested in getting answers to questions that will:

  • Enhance our ability to save more animals
  • Increase efficient use of current resources
  • Facilitate adoption of new, effective technologies

Specifically, we are soliciting:

  • Pre‐proposals for full research projects (> $15,000/yr for up to three years, with yearly re‐application) 
  • Small grant proposals for lower cost/pilot research projects (up to $15,000 for one year of funding)
  • Proposals with direct application to OWCN readiness and response will be prioritized!

For more details regarding grant guidelines, proposal format, examples of previously-funded projects, and the review process, please visit the OWCN’s website and check out our Request for Pre-Proposals and Small Grant Proposals PDF.

Deadlines:

  • Investigators requesting > $15,000 (or for multiple years of support), should submit a pre-proposal no later than 5:00 pm (PST) on 15 October 2021. Should the pre-proposal be favorably reviewed, a full proposal will be required. Multi-year projects are considered. However, annual application, provision of complete and timely progress reports, and competitive review are required to maintain ongoing funding.
  • Small-grant proposals should be submitted no later than 5:00 pm (PST) on 23 December 2021.

If you have questions, please contact Katie Leasure at kaleasure@ucdavis.edu or at (530) 752-7526.

The Frogs of Toro Canyon Creek

This past August OWCN was activated for an oil event at Toro Canyon Creek.  For those who may be unfamiliar with the area as I had been, it’s a creek in the hills just north of Carpinteria. A year-round water source was created after an oil-water separator had been built back in the 1990’s to help contain an existing oil well seepage.  This allowed the oil to be diverted to a tank and the separated water to feed the creek.  When clean, I can imagine how incredible this small oasis could be and the wildlife it would support; however, when we were activated, much of it was filled with thick oil sludge.

Toro Canyon Creek

While the initial animals recovered were found deceased in the oiled creek, we soon began recovering live animals, all of which belonged to 2 species of frogs (plus one Western fence lizard who happened to be in the wrong place during cleanup).  These frog species, the Baja California Treefrog (Baja) and the California Treefrog are often found to be sympatric (found in the same geographic area with each other) in southern California.


Baja California Treefrog

The Baja California Treefrog was by far the most recovered at this event (89 out of 94 frogs).  Prior to 2006, it was classified under one species known as the Pacific Treefrog, but was then separated into 3 separate species with the southernmost population becoming the Baja California Treefrog.  

The name “Treefrog” isn’t very accurate as these frogs are more ground-dwellers of low shrubs and grasses, although like treefrogs they have the typical rounded toepads that make them excellent climbers.

Baja California Treefrog variations

It is a small frog up to 2 inches long that has many different color and pattern variations which can change in response to its background environment.  The one distinguishing characteristic that does not change is the dark stripe that runs across the eyes.  It is an ambush predator that feeds mostly on insects at night, waiting for prey to come its way before lunging and capturing with its sticky tongue.  

During the breeding season from November to July, the frogs are found close to water sources, with the males becoming territorial.  The male makes his calls usually at night to attract females, but sometimes during the day as well during peak breeding season.  It is the most commonly heard frog in its range and the call (click to hear) that has been widely used in movies.


California Treefrog

The lower recovered number of the other species, the California Treefrog, could have been attributed to their different preferred habitat.  This species prefers boulder areas of which there was much less of.  I would always be excited when we’d recover one of these because of the small area they inhabited, in hopes that we could help preserve their presence after the cleaning had been completed.

This frog is just a tad larger in size than the Baja.  It has less color variation with a lighter brownish grey mottled pattern on top and a rougher skin texture with bumps on its back similar to toads you may be familiar with but having those rounded toepads of treefrogs.  The lack of the eye stripe is the best way to tell them apart from the Baja; however, they sometimes can have a faint stripe, which in juveniles may be more distinct.

California Treefrog

This frog prefers mostly boulder type areas for refuge and tends to move further away from water during fall and winter, becoming less active during the colder months.  During the spring they return to the areas of water to breed but usually take 2 years to reach a reproductive age compared to just 1 for the Baja.


Observations from the Field

One interesting oil-related observation that was made during this event is that regardless of how oiled the frog may have been when captured, this visible oil almost immediately would slough away with its slime layer.  Further investigation hopefully will be done on how much oil remains on them that cannot be seen and the effect on amphibians both short and long term.

Duane

MUTUAL AID, ELEGANT TERNS, AND THE OWCN

As many of our faithful blog readers are aware, 2021 is proving to be yet another record year for wildfires in the west, with overall fire seasons starting earlier and ending later than long-term averages. What this means in terms of on-the-ground firefighting is that resources are stretched thin across the state. Resources, in this sense, include different types of fire engines, aerial firefighting aircraft, and personnel. Along with these resources, though, is the intricate structure to support all those resources such as food, water, hotels, fuel, to name a few. 

Because of the breadth, intensity, and duration of the wildfires, fighting these types of disasters relies heavily on mutual aid agreements between fire departments, counties, states, and even at the federal level. Mutual aid agreements are in place ahead of the emergency to formalize the promise of assistance when local emergencies, such as fires, exceed local capacities. 

One of the many California fires, this one within miles of my house in 2020.

The OWCN, as many of you know, is a formalized network of 44 Member Organizations that work together for a common mission: to capture and provide care to oil-affected wildlife. In following the common theme of this blog of “mutual aid”, the OWCN operates within this common framework for oil spills – working together for the common good. As we all know, though, oil spills are not the only crisis that can show up in our day-to-day lives.

This was such the case recently when there was a seabird crisis in Long Beach Harbor. Thousands of Elegant Tern chicks that had fledged on two barges in the harbor were falling off into the water before being able to fly. Because the barge edges were so steep, once they fell into the water, many chicks were drowning as they were unable to get back on the barge.

A wet Elegant Tern chick that was rescued. Red dye was used to mark the chicks to help monitor them after they were released (OWCN Photo).

Fortunately, International Bird Rescue (IBR) quickly jumped into action and, with the help of several partners, was able to rescue more than 2,000 chicks. As of August 12, there were still 105 chicks in care at the San Pedro wildlife center. IBR is one of OWCN’s key partners, managing our two largest bird rehabilitation centers, and when IBR’s Executive Director JD Bergeron asked us to assist, we were more than happy to deploy two staff and one of our inflatable boats down to Long Beach. While there, days consisted of scooping up drenched tern chicks, giving them a quick medical exam, marking them, and placing them back on the barge if they did not need medical attention.  Otherwise, the chicks were placed in a box and transported to the center in San Pedro for further care.

Jamie taking a bit of a breather in between captures, with Wendy at the helm (not pictured; OWCN Photo).
One of the Elegant Tern chicks that was rescued (OWCN Photo).

If you would like to learn more about the Elegant Tern incident, we invite you to join our next Town Hall on Friday, September 10, from 1200-1300 via Zoom. This particular Town Hall will include a panel discussion on lessons learned from this incident, with participants from IBR, OWCN, CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.  You won’t want to miss this!

The simple act of reaching out to the wider community when a crisis occurs can provide a great benefit to animals that may need our assistance. And, as Aristotle so wisely put it, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  If the last year-and-a-half has shown us anything, it has shown us that we are all intricately connected and part of a larger whole. Helping one another – as individuals, organizations, or communities – makes the world a better place.  And I don’t know about you, but that is the type of world I prefer to live in.

Kyra.


Pop Quiz: What do Renewable Fuels and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network Have in Common?

You may have come across the term “renewable fuel” or “biofuel” recently, as there has been increased chatter in the news about it. But what do these terms really mean and what are they referring to? A better question to begin with is, why are we even blogging about it this week? So, let’s dive into that first…

A bill that was recently passed, AB148, broadened OSPR’s regulatory responsibility to now include response to Renewable Fuels, in addition to the petroleum spill responsibility. Because of the role that the OWCN plays as a partner to Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), this increased mandate extends to the OWCN as well.  So, in order to understand what this means for us, we need to start with the understanding of what a Renewable Fuel is. So, join me on this ride, as we explore this together!

Renewable fuels are fuels produced from renewable resources and include biofuels and fuels mixed with different amounts of ethanol. Biofuels, also known as Biodiesel (and other proprietary names), are made by using plant and animal fats to make fuel hydrocarbons, which are mixed with diesel stock in varying amounts. These fuels are labeled as B100, B20, B6, etc., with the “B” referring to biofuel and the number referring to the volume percentage of the fuel hydrocarbons that are mixed with the diesel stock. It is much more complex than this, but these are the basics, and we will stick with that for now.

In contrast to renewable fuels, non-renewable fuels include the more commonly known fuels such as natural gas, propane, petroleum and other fossil fuels, as well as nuclear energy. As you can imagine, renewable fuels are overall lower in greenhouse gas emissions, and are more of what you would consider “earth-friendly”. Without getting into the politics and complexities of it all, there has been an overall effort to move more toward using a greater amount of renewable fuel sources for supplying our energy demands.

Getting back to the passing of the AB148 bill: what does this mean for our operations at the OWCN? Well, the short answer is that it ensures a funding source for responding to renewable fuel spills that impact wildlife. And that is great news, as the push for more renewable fuels increases the chance of more renewable fuel spills. And as we know from ‘Spills and Wildlife 101’, anything that fouls the feather or fur structure on the outside of an animal, causes skin irritation and burns or leads to the ingestion/absorption/inhalation of these products, has the potential for greatly impacting wildlife, despite its environmentally friendly-sounding name (“bio” and “renewable”).

One of the Mystery Goo spill birds that was cared for by International Bird Rescue in 2015.

Do you guys remember the Mystery Goo spill in San Francisco Bay in January 2015? This “mystery goo” impacted hundreds of birds that were cared for by International Bird Rescue staff and volunteers at the San Francisco Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in Fairfield (one of OWCN’s primary purpose-built facilities).  This “mystery goo” was only months later identified as a polymerized oil, similar to vegetable oil. At that time, no responsible party was found or came forward, and there was no funding system in place that allowed for the rescue and care of wildlife impacted by non-petroleum products, therefore the costs associated with the care of the affected birds for this spill had to come from donations alone. As a direct result of this event, and in an effort to safeguard a funding source if this ever happened again, a bill was introduced by Bay area senators Mark Leno and Loni Hancock and sponsored by San Francisco Baykeeper and Audubon California (Senate Bill 718), but unfortunately, it did not pass. That was a big disappointment but on the flipside it may have contributed to paving the way for the passing of this new bill.

So as we learn more about these fuels, you can rest assured that the OWCN will be fully embracing our mission of “best achievable capture and care” by gathering information and resources that will allow us examine our current protocols and determine if they need modifications, so when we get activated for a renewable fuel spill, we know how best to care for the animals that become impacted.

But for now, the news of the passing of this new bill is reason to celebrate, as it will allow the OWCN and its 44 Member Organization partners to rescue, stabilize, and care for animals that may be impacted by future renewable fuel spills, and that is great news for the wildlife!

Kyra.

The Pacific Northwest Legacy

If you have had the pleasure of traveling along the Pacific Coast from California to British Columbia, whether by car, boat, plane or train, then you are likely aware of the immense beauty this region boasts. Majestic forests, oceans and rivers full of life, towering snow-covered mountains…can you smell the trees or feel the salty wind in your face?

Clearly, one lasting legacy of the Pacific Northwest has been its bounty of natural beauty. But with this precious gift comes the responsibility to protect it from ourselves. The list of potential environmental threats is long, but one specific concern has been the transportation of oil through this region whether by pipeline, ship, truck or rail.

Discussion around this topic had begun but it was a spill incident in which an oil barge collided with its tug off the coast of Washington in 1988, that officially created the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force (Task Force).

The original Task Force members held their first Annual Meeting in March 1989, and the following day the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound prompting Alaska, California, Oregon and California to join the Task Force. Hawaii became a member in 2001 creating a coalition of western states and British Columbia, united in their efforts to prevent and respond to oil spills across the West Coast.” – Annual Report 2019

This Task Force highlights the importance of cross-border coordination and cooperation while aiming for a clear, unified mission: Working together to improve the Pacific Coast’s prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from oil spills. It also recognized the importance of coordinated wildlife response in this region from the very beginning. You can learn more about their vision, mission and goals here as well as read their latest Task Force Annual Report 2020 here.

Over the years, our colleagues at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response have been very actively involved with this Task Force, representing the state of California. But in addition, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network has supported their work as we share a similar vision and approach. In fact, we feel very attune to the Task Force, as the very essence of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network is cooperation and collaboration amongst our 44 Member Organizations so that we can provide rapid and efficient oiled wildlife response in California.

Given our shared values and vision, it was with great delight that we recognized the names of so many of the wonderful colleagues being honored this year with the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force Legacy Award (full recipient list here). While we wish to congratulate each award winner for their passion and dedication to the Task Force’s mission, we wanted to shower a bit of extra praise on these fine folks:

  • Gary Shigenaka (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): Esteemed scientist and colleague who has massively contributed to the advancement of coordinated spill response. To learn more, check out this write up “Minds Behind OR&R: Meet Marine Biologist Gary Shigenaka“.

  • Judd Muskat (CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response): Our go to Earth Scientist for all of our GIS needs, Judd has been a wonderful and reliable colleague. In addition to supporting California response efforts, Judd has contributed significantly to the advancement of the Task Force over the years.

  • Curtiss Clumpner (Oiled Wildlife Care Network): Our former Deputy Director of Care Operations, Curt has been a wildlife champion his entire life. While his passion has taken him around the world responding to spills, he has always had an extra special spot for his ‘home land’, the Pacific Northwest. And with that spirit, Curt has actively contributed to the Task Force’s efforts for many years and continues to be a strong advocate for coordinated wildlife response in the region. To learn more, check out a previous blog all about Curt – The Man…The Myth…The Legend?

Given the prestigious award announcement this week, I wanted to give Curt a call to wish him a hearty congrats. During our conversation, Curt shared that he was always fond of the Task Force, as it was one of the first efforts to establish interstate coordination and cooperation, specifically focusing on the West Coast region, which was rather unique at that time. He highlighted the fact that this cooperation during non spill times is so effective at allowing state decision makers to communicate and gain familiarity with each other which in turn increases ease of communication and mutual aid requests during oil spills.

He also pointed out that while this Task Force was created initially for oil spill response coordination, it has taken it upon itself to grow and adapt, now expanding efforts into abandoned and derelict vessels and leading a Salish Sea Shared Waters Forum. All in all, Curt shared that he felt very fortunate to be awarded the Task Force Legacy Award and that sharing this honor with Gary and Judd made it even more impactful.

Cheers to all the Legacy Award recipients, and the Task Force in general, as we salute all your hard work and efforts toward a future with No Spilled Oil!

Scott Buhl – Readiness Coordinator