Yesterday, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) participated in a drill led by BNSF Railway (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway). Now that the OWCN and Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) have a mandate to extend our work inland, we are working closely with new partners to develop wildlife response plans that will match the excellent standards developed for marine spills over the last 20+ years. While we will be employing much of the knowledge and expertise gained from previous coastal work, inland response entails new challenges such as remote locations, steep terrain, strong currents in rivers and a greater diversity of wildlife species (i.e. bear, mountain lion, deer, snakes, eagles, etc.) that will require a strong team effort to build a comprehensive and effective plan.
Yesterday’s drill was one more step in this process. The case scenario for this drill was a derailed tanker car that leaked 8,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil onto the ground with an estimated 1,600 gallons finding its way into Hamilton Branch Creek and Lake Almanor. Aside from the human safety issues associated with Lake Almanor being a popular summer time boating and vacation destination, we had great concern for the aquatic wildlife species living in the area. Western grebes were especially vulnerable as Lake Almanor is one of their main breeding areas in California and June is when many grebes start egg incubation. Since western grebes build their floating nests along lake shores and near the edges of marshes, they were at particular risk for oiling.
In addition, Lake Almanor is located in the mountain ranges of northeastern California. This makes it a relatively remote location. Nevertheless, due to some thoughtful planning which resulted in the recruitment of more inland Member Organizations, we were able to call on two of our newest partners: Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Release & North Valley Animal Disaster Group. They were able to provide personnel for the initial wildlife response while OWCN staff from Davis and from more remote Member Organizations traveled to the area. In addition, local wildlife recovery gear that OWCN had staged near Lake Oroville was available to supply OSPR and local Member Organization responders until OWCN staff were able to haul the rest of our equipment (including plenty of boats and enough tents to build a mobile primary care center) to Lake Almanor.
While drills are not the real deal, they are incredibly valuable because not only do they allow us to test our readiness, but they also provide us with the chance to interact with our partners and strengthen our team. So while, as always, we were thankful that this was not a real spill, we were also grateful for the opportunity to learn and improve.