OWCN’s Impact in CA and Beyond

Over the past few months, Mike, Kyra and I have been working with three UC Davis graduate students – Jenny, Mikayla, and Nick – in the Environmental Policy & Management program. They are working on an exciting project assessing OWCN’s influence on oiled wildlife care throughout California and globally. Their work thus far has been phenomenal, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of it with you. 

In this unique Master’s program, students must complete a policy project working with a real-world client, and they chose the OWCN!

After meeting with them initially, they decided on three goals for their project:

  • An independent review of how OWCN has impacted state, national, and international efforts
  • An impact assessment of OWCN competitive grants on generating scientific information and spurring policy change
  • A gap analysis to determine what areas would be most beneficial for OWCN to improve

To complete these goals, the team undertook two main tasks:

1. Literature Review

The purpose of the literature review is to help with all three of the above goals. By searching the literature, they can identify OWCN’s reach across the globe, determine what impact our grant program is having on the literature at large compared to other funding sources, and see which areas of oiled wildlife care are covered (and not covered) in the literature.

They embarked on this daunting mission by first identifying search terms related to oil spills, current OWCN participant organizations, and current OWCN facilities. This provided them with 30 search terms, which they then ran through the Web of Science and Google Scholar.

References picked up from the searches were added to a review software program called Covidence – an unfortunate name for these current times, as Nick points out.

References were then put through an abstract screening process to determine relevance to their scope of work. The team screened a whopping 410 journal articles, and found approximately 230 that would prove pertinent to the remaining work ahead of them. Then they did what every researcher dreads – they read each paper in depth to extract the useful information. That’s 230 papers!! They then coded their key findings into a spreadsheet and are currently incorporating them into a synthesis review to verify what areas are covered by the literature and which are lacking (i.e., the gap analysis).

2. Survey

The purpose of the survey is to capture OWCN impacts that might not be represented in formal publications – things such as on-the job knowledge that Network members could have received through our trainings or documents.

The survey process was way more intense than I would have imagined. They sought out advice from experts as well as from Kyra, Mike, and I (do we not fit into that category?) on how to formulate their questions and then had to submit a draft survey (including a confidentiality agreement and distribution template) to the IRB (Institutional Review Board) to ensure it complied with UC Davis standards as well as related federal laws and international conventions. Please note that in providing input into the survey questions, we took special precaution so as not to bias the questions towards putting OWCN in a good light.

Once they received approval (expedited at that), they distributed the survey to 1,800 people around the world! Some of YOU may have even received this survey! (Please be sure to fill it out if you did!)

The distribution went out to a smattering of the population hailing from 3 different groups:

  • Oiled wildlife response groups internationally, nationally, and within CA (either within OWCN or outside of OWCN but within the oiled wildlife response community);
  • The oil industry; and
  • A random selection of the general public.

The goal of including these different groups was to assess the awareness of OWCN by a variety of stakeholders and industries from both within and outside of (but adjacent to) oiled wildlife rehabilitation, and OWCN’s impact on these groups. Responses from the general public will allow for an assessment of the general awareness of OWCN and peoples’ general attitudes towards oiled wildlife rehabilitation.

Mikayla Elder, Nick Carter, and Jenny Cribbs – our amazing Environmental Policy & Management grad student team

Although their project won’t quite be wrapping up for another several weeks, they already have some pretty fascinating preliminary findings from their literature review.

The first is that rehabilitation of oiled wildlife is controversial. We’ve heard of this before, but it was interesting to see it evidenced in the literature, and to the extent that a team from a non-oiled wildlife background could pick it up so profoundly. If you haven’t read it already, a cool paper on this topic by Laird Henkel and our own fearless leader, Mike Ziccardi, can be found here: https://meridian.allenpress.com/jfwm/article/9/1/296/210512/Life-and-Death-How-Should-We-Respond-to-Oiled.

The second finding was that there are some real limitations and challenges when it comes to research on oiled wildlife rehabilitation and release. And this is understandable. Outside of spill response it’s nearly impossible to appropriately replicate an oiled animal study, and conducting a study opportunistically amidst the chaos of an oil spill can be hectic (to say the least). But what can we do about this? Well, this brings us to finding number three.

The third finding in the literature was an emphasis on spill preparedness. This was great to hear, since this is our emphasis as well! And this goes for everything from the response itself, back to finding number 2- being fully prepared to jump on that opportunity for research when it arises.

The fourth (but certainly not the last finding that this group will discover) was that the OWCN is the most well-recognized organization in spill response. Now, keep in mind that we fund much of the literature out there with our competitive grants program, but perhaps once the survey results are in, this effect can be teased out.

This whole project has been such a fascinating process. Every two weeks since January, we have met with Mikayla, Nick, and Jenny, and they have impressed us with their organization, insights, and progress. We can’t wait to see their final product and to share it with all of you!


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