Reflections from the Pipeline P00547 Primary Care Facility

As we begin to wrap-up primary care operations at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care & Education Center (LAOBCEC) I can’t help but reflect on the amazing effort that the OWCN responders have put into the Pipeline P00547 incident. Since being activated, our Network responders have worked tirelessly to meet the OWCN’s mission of providing “best achievable capture and care to oil affected wildlife”. 

Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center, Managed by OWCN Member Organization International Bird Rescue.
Photo: Danene Birtell, OWCN

To put that into numbers, since the beginning of October, approximately 90 unique responders have clocked over 6,000 hours of time directly working with and for the animals collected during this event. More than half of those hours represented the dedicated team of individuals that were assigned to the Care & Processing Group. This Group was responsible for the documentation and rehabilitation of any animal that our incredible Field Operations Group sent our way. We were met with some unique challenges (or injects as we like to call them during drill time) and I am honored to have worked alongside such a dedicated and talented group of individuals. 

Photo: Eunah Preston, OWCN

With that, I thought it would be great for our readers to get a first-hand glimpse to what it’s like to be an OWCN responder. Here’s what a few of them had to say regarding how they got involved with the OWCN.

I became a member of the OWCN back in 2008 when I started working at International Bird Rescue. International Bird Rescue is one of the primary care facilities and long-term members of the network.  Since then, I have participated in the numerous online webinar courses and in-person training opportunities provided by the OWCN.”

Kylie Clatterbuck, International Bird Rescue

“The organization I work for, Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue), has been responding to oil spills since 1971, playing a lead role in many spills in oiled wildlife processing (species identification, data and evidence collection, and evidence management). In 1997, after I had just completed an internship with Point Blue, I was offered the opportunity to respond to the Kure spill in Humboldt Bay, and that was my first response, conducting wildlife processing. At that time the work was done by Point Blue under OSPR but in close collaboration with OWCN. Shortly thereafter, processing fell directly under OWCN’s umbrella and we began to work even more closely together and have ever since. I’ve been responding to spills for 24 years now, and during much of this time I have been the response and preparedness coordinator for Point Blue, one of OWCN’s many member organizations.”

Diana Humple, Point Blue Conservation Science

“I got involved with OWCN back in 2015 during the Refugio Oil Spill Incident.  I had been volunteering at the International Bird Rescue (IBR) Center in San Pedro at the time of the spill, having been working in the capacity of animal care/support volunteer since 2014.  During the spill response, I served under the guidance of OWCN and IBR staff at the IBR center, assisting with washing oiled wildlife and providing overall clinic support.  I decided to take my 24-hour HAZWOPER Training subsequent to that as well as the OWCN Basic Responder Training to ensure that I would be eligible to be activated to the field should volunteers be needed for help in another oil spill response.”

Diana Burke, OWCN Responder 

Dr. Duane Tom & Kylie Clatterbuck examine a western grebe. Photo: OWCN

Depending on the complexity of a response there may be just a few or many roles to fill. As the response expands and contracts individuals may be asked to shift around, sometimes filling multiple roles to meet the demands of the incident, such as those described below.

“During Pipeline P00547 I was part of the animal care staff who stabilized, washed, and conditioned the animals affected by the oil spill for release back into the wild. As Center Manager of International Bird Rescue, I also worked on logistics and alongside the OWCN team members to coordinate responders.”

Kylie Clatterbuck

      “Care Vet and Intake and Processing” (Duane also worked as Wildlife Recovery Staff and was the Field Stabilization Group Supervisor before joining the team at the Primary Care Facility.)

Dr. Duane Tom, UC Davis/OWCN Management Team

“I was the Processing Strike Team Lead, overseeing a small team of biologists who conducted the species identification, data and evidence collection, and evidence management of the oiled wildlife – predominantly the birds – collected during the response. We were responsible for doing this for all the birds found dead, while working alongside the Care staff to help collect this for the live birds, in order to allow them to focus as much as possible on the animal care side of things.”

Diana Humple

“My role at the Primary Care Facility was to assist the OWCN and IBR oil spill responder staff with anything they needed, whether that be assisting in replacing and refilling buckets of water during a bird wash, setting up or cleaning enclosures, preparing food and gavages for tube feeding, etc.”

Diana Burke

Diana Humple and Dr. Jamie Sherman examine a Snowy Plover. Photo: OWCN

Emergency response can be challenging yet rewarding. When asked to reflect on their favorite and most challenging part of the response here’s what members of our team had to say:

“The hardest part is the need for speed, efficiency, and accuracy that are all critical to a successful response, and the pressure that comes from working in such an environment. The pressure can be intense during a response, but it also a challenge that it is exciting to have to rise to, as it is a privilege to be able to participate in this capacity and to know that ultimately what we are doing is in the best interest of the wildlife impacted and to future wildlife and natural resources.”

“Although it didn’t take place at the Primary Care Facility, probably my favorite experience was when I was able to attend the release on Huntington Beach of some of the Snowy Plovers and Sanderlings that had been rehabilitated and cleaned.”

Diana Humple

“One of my favorite parts of the response was getting the chance to work more closely with Snowy Plovers. I also really enjoyed getting to meet and work more closely with many of the newer team members of the OWCN.”

“The hardest part of any response is taking the time to insure you are maintaining a good self-care routine.”

Kylie Clatterbuck

Favorite Part: Getting to work with all the great people at IBR” 

Hardest Part: “The intricacies of Processing.  And NOAA Chain of Custody forms!”

Dr. Duane Tom

“One of my favorite experiences during the response was my assignment as a field operations volunteer.  I reported for duty at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center field operations staging area in Huntington Beach and was paired up with an amazing veterinarian from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Dr. Alissa Deming, to survey a designated part of the beach looking for oiled wildlife.”

“Undoubtedly, the hardest part of the oil spill response for me was having to accept that it is not always possible to rescue every bird which may need care.”

Diana Burke

Kylie Clatterbuck & Samantha Christie release a ruddy duck and eared grebe. Photo: Paul Beresbach, Orange County Register

After each response we go through a process of outlining “what we learned”, “what went well”, and “what can we do to improve future responses”, AKA the “hotwash”. Following this process, we always walk away with lessons learned, such as:

“I had better be sure to get the species correct the first time for processing because correcting it after the fact is very involved!”

Dr. Duane Tom

“For me, I learned to slow down a bit and take the time needed to provide for these nuances and appreciate the challenges that come with each type of animal.”

Kylie Clatterbuck

            “A million! I am so impressed by how prepared California is to respond to oil spills, and how seriously the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, that I am a part of, takes that preparedness; in fact, we do a lot of work outside of actual spill response so that we can meet the next event with an even stronger response, and even better “best practices”.

Diana Humple

“The number one lesson learned was that although I strive to do my best as a responder, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will always be possible for me to rescue all wildlife which I come across in an oil spill response. It is a heartbreaking fact, but it’s something I have had to learn to accept.”

Diana Burke

As we approach the final phase of the response, Demobilization, I reflect on how fortunate we are to have the support of CDFW-OSPR and our amazing Network of responders. We thank YOU for your ongoing dedication to the OWCN’s mission.

Dr. Jamie Sherman examines a western grebe. Photo: OWCN

I’d also like to give an extra special shout out to our Care Veterinarian, Dr. Jamie Sherman who is the currently the last deployed responder. She is currently in San Pedro providing care and veterinary oversight for the last few patients. 

Take care, and for those who were deployed – get well deserved some rest!

~Danene

Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator – Care Operations

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