A Timely Reminder of the Road Ahead

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

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

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Train derailment, Moser Oregon- WA Department of Ecology

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Train derailment, Moser, Oregon – Washington Dept of Ecology

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

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

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

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]

 

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

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

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

-Curt

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