The Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) spends a LOT of time preparing for the next oil spill. So much so that Readiness is one of OWCN’s four core R’s (Response, Research and Reaching Out complete the set). Readiness includes all of our operations between incidents that enhance our Network’s collective state of preparedness which can include training, drills and exercises, facility maintenance, equipment & supplies, personnel management, communications, etc.
As the Readiness Coordinator for Field Operations, I am rather fond of this perpetual challenge as you can never be ready enough! With that said, it is very satisfying to stop for a moment and reflect on the amazing progress that has been made along the way.
One such example is when our mandate in California expanded in 2014 to cover all state surface waters at risk of oil spills from any source, including pipelines, production facilities, and transportation accidents. This triggered a tsunami of brainstorming about ways to better prepare for inland response, and how to enhance our Network’s Readiness for this expanded responsibility across the entire state.
Part of this brainstorm included the identification and outreach to new potential OWCN Member Organizations that were located far from the coast. One such organization that caught our eye was the California Living Museum (CALM) in Bakersfield. This zoo and wildlife rehabilitation facility is located on 14 acres on the northeast side of Bakersfield, along the south shore of the Kern River. CALM features over 400 species of non-releasable California native animals and plants highlighted through their education, conservation and research programs. CALM also operates the most extensive wildlife rehabilitation center in the Southern San Joaquin Valley.
At this point, if you are scratching your head and asking why would this location be relevant to oil spill preparedness, the answer is simple:
“In 2019, Kern was ranked the #7 oil-producing county in the nation (see figure below), yielding 119 million bbl of oil and 129 billion CF of gas annually, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. These amounts represent 71% of California’s oil production and 3% of the total U.S. oil production.” (Source: https://kernedc.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/KEDF-Economic-Contribution-of-the-Oil-and-Gas-Industry-in-Kern-County_-2021.pdf )
As you can see, a majority of California oil production operations take place in Kern County. This means that Kern County land is rich in underground oil, often expressing as natural seep. It also means that while there are many industry safety requirements in place, production accidents can still occur, resulting in the potential oiling of native wildlife. With this in mind, we were grateful to welcome CALM as one of our Member Organizations in 2017.
After CALM’s formal integration into the Network, our first step was to introduce our operations to CALM’s staff and volunteers and get them involved in our training program, exercises, etc. A few members of our Management Team hit the road in spring 2018 to deliver an engagement presentation. Upon completion of that trip, we had over a dozen new CALM-affiliated responders in our database who were eager to learn more about how they could help oiled wildlife.
The next couple of years focused on increasing CALM’s spill response readiness. Key CALM staff attended our Oiled Wildlife Specialist (OWS) trainings, some of our OWCN Management Team spent time at their facility working alongside wildlife rehabilitation staff and volunteers, and we strategized together what facility improvements would enhance local readiness.
After much discussion and hard work on the behalf of OWCN Management Team, CALM staff and Kern County Superintendent of Schools staff, the daydreams of an inland oiled wildlife facility began to take form as initial sketches and outlines.
Special shout out to Curt Clumpner & Tim Williamson (OWCN), Sharon Adams (CALM) and Stephen Sanders (Kern County Superintendent of Schools) for their extra efforts!
From initial legislative expansion in 2014 to today, we continue to progress and successfully enhance our inland Readiness. It took time, effort, collaboration, patience and a shared goal, but in the end a vision has been slowly turned into a reality. So much so, that this year the construction of this facility has begun!
Construction of CALM’s Oiled Wildlife Facility
If you would like to learn more about this current project, please check out these recent articles and resources:
- Campaign Flyer PDF
A huge thank you to all those involved in this effort, and I am personally looking forward to the future ribbon cutting ceremony and relishing some well deserved celebration. What a journey!