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.


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