Celebrate the Journey!

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:

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!

Scott Buhl

Welcome to FROGTOWN. We hope you enjoy your stay.

Welcome, friend. We’re glad you’re here. You’ve been through quite an ordeal with all of that nasty oil running through your creek. But now that you’re safe at Frogtown, we’ll be guiding you through a process of healing and rehabilitation. My name is Sam. I am the Care Strike Team Leader here at Frogtown and I’ll be coordinating your journey through the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s world-renowned wildlife rehabilitation program. We have partnered with the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, a local wildlife rehabilitation organization, to provide you and your neighbors with a premium rehabilitation experience. I see that you have selected our Platinum Oiled Amphibian Package. This full-service package includes Processing, Intake, Cleaning, Conditioning, and the best part of all—Release! I promise you will leave here feeling like a new frog!

Now let’s get you through Processing. We just need a quick photo of you holding up your case number. No, don’t worry. It’s nothing like a mugshot. Well, huh. Maybe it’s exactly like a mugshot. But it’s just our standard procedure! And if you would please lift your arms for a moment while I collect an oil sample. Well done. Thank you!

Swabbing the skin to collect an oil sample for evidence is part of the Processing procedure.

Wow! You are quite tiny, aren’t you? Just 0.11 grams and about the size of a honey bee. I’ll need to be extra careful with handling you during the Intake exam. In fact, here, have a seat inside this Tupperware so that I can examine you without risking any injuries. Aside from the oiling, are you feeling alright? Any aches, pains? Your eyes look clear, posture is normal. You appear alert and well-hydrated. Excellent! Hmm. It looks like you have a small injury on your toe. I’ll go ahead and schedule one of our veterinarians to stop by for a more thorough exam later this afternoon.

Whenever possible, frogs were examined inside of containers to prevent accidental injury or escape. Handling was kept to an absolute minimum.

Now just relax in your Tupperware while I prepare your bubble bath. I should tell you, we have an adapted de-oiling protocol designed especially for our valued clients here at Frogtown. You see, in Birdapolis and Mammalton we typically don’t offer spa services until clients have completed a mandatory 1-2 days in our supportive care and hydration Pre-Wash Care session. But from experience, we’ve found that our frog clients thrive when their first stop in the program is with our decontamination experts in the Cleaning Session Spa. You frogs have such incredible (and delicate) skin, after all.

Unlike the submersion wash method used in birds, slippery amphibians are irrigated with syringes of soapy and plain water.

We’ll start with a light rinse of our favorite de-oiling shampoo. You’re correct! It IS Dawn dish soap. Compared with the spas in Birdapolis and Mammalton, Frogtown uses a very mild Dawn solution. And don’t worry, we’ve already dechlorinated all of the water so it is safe for you. Let’s follow the suds with a long rinse in plain water. Good. Now go ahead and soak for a moment in the rinse pool. And voila! You are de-oiled! No need to towel-off, your skin looks its best when it is glistening with moisture. On to the Conditioning Session!

Can you spot the frog in this photo? See end of Blog for reveal. Our daily visual checks on each of the 90+ frog enclosures were time consuming. Their camouflage is impressive!

This is where you will be relaxing for the duration of your stay at Frogtown. Your suite includes a plunge pool, a moss bed, and a variety of seating options such as twigs, rocks, and the always-popular cork bark! Some of our guests also find clinging to the walls to be a fun activity. We know that humidity is so important to the comfort of our amphibian guests, so each suite is thoroughly misted with crisp, dechlorinated water several times per day.

Room service is included in your stay and is served daily at 5:00 PM for your nocturnal feasting enjoyment. Our rotating menu of flightless fruit flies, pinhead crickets, and maggots is very well-reviewed. Of course, we only serve the highest quality LIVE insects dusted with our house blend of multi-vitamin and calcium powders. Don’t be concerned if you start to pack on the grams during your stay with us. Gaining weight in Frogtown is a GOOD thing!

A Baja California Tree Frog feasts on fruit flies.

We do have one house rule that is strictly enforced by the management of Frogtown. No visitors! It’s important for your recovery that you do not invite any of your frog neighbors into your suite during your stay with us. As you know, frogs tend to be a touch cannibalistic and the last thing we want is for Big Hoppa in Suite 114 to have Baby Baja from Suite 105 “over for dinner”. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Size comparison between our smallest patient and our largest. Left: Baja California Tree Froglet <0.1 grams. Right: California Treefrog 7.1 grams.

Our goal is to keep you comfortable and well-fed in Frogtown until oil cleanup operations are completed in your beautiful creekside neighborhood. Once it is safe for you and all of your neighbors to return home, we will handle all transportation arrangements to Release you back to the section of creek where our Recovery team found you. In the meantime, I’ll be back daily for a quick visual check-in to make sure you are enjoying your stay with us. Every third day we will have a short session where I’ll record your weight, feeding progress, mentation, and overall health.

This is one room of Frogtown. 90+ frogs take up much less space than 90 birds!

Be sure to let us know if there is anything we can do to make your stay at Frogtown more pleasant.

92 frogs packaged up for transport back to their habitat. They were grouped by collection location in order to release them as close as possible to their territories.
Farewell, little friend. We hope you enjoyed your stay at Frogtown. Don’t come again!
Were you able to spot the frog?

— Sam

Frogtown staff L-R: Sam, Allison, Patrick, and Dr. Avery

The Frogs of Toro Canyon Creek

This past August OWCN was activated for an oil event at Toro Canyon Creek.  For those who may be unfamiliar with the area as I had been, it’s a creek in the hills just north of Carpinteria. A year-round water source was created after an oil-water separator had been built back in the 1990’s to help contain an existing oil well seepage.  This allowed the oil to be diverted to a tank and the separated water to feed the creek.  When clean, I can imagine how incredible this small oasis could be and the wildlife it would support; however, when we were activated, much of it was filled with thick oil sludge.

Toro Canyon Creek

While the initial animals recovered were found deceased in the oiled creek, we soon began recovering live animals, all of which belonged to 2 species of frogs (plus one Western fence lizard who happened to be in the wrong place during cleanup).  These frog species, the Baja California Treefrog (Baja) and the California Treefrog are often found to be sympatric (found in the same geographic area with each other) in southern California.

Baja California Treefrog

The Baja California Treefrog was by far the most recovered at this event (89 out of 94 frogs).  Prior to 2006, it was classified under one species known as the Pacific Treefrog, but was then separated into 3 separate species with the southernmost population becoming the Baja California Treefrog.  

The name “Treefrog” isn’t very accurate as these frogs are more ground-dwellers of low shrubs and grasses, although like treefrogs they have the typical rounded toepads that make them excellent climbers.

Baja California Treefrog variations

It is a small frog up to 2 inches long that has many different color and pattern variations which can change in response to its background environment.  The one distinguishing characteristic that does not change is the dark stripe that runs across the eyes.  It is an ambush predator that feeds mostly on insects at night, waiting for prey to come its way before lunging and capturing with its sticky tongue.  

During the breeding season from November to July, the frogs are found close to water sources, with the males becoming territorial.  The male makes his calls usually at night to attract females, but sometimes during the day as well during peak breeding season.  It is the most commonly heard frog in its range and the call (click to hear) that has been widely used in movies.

California Treefrog

The lower recovered number of the other species, the California Treefrog, could have been attributed to their different preferred habitat.  This species prefers boulder areas of which there was much less of.  I would always be excited when we’d recover one of these because of the small area they inhabited, in hopes that we could help preserve their presence after the cleaning had been completed.

This frog is just a tad larger in size than the Baja.  It has less color variation with a lighter brownish grey mottled pattern on top and a rougher skin texture with bumps on its back similar to toads you may be familiar with but having those rounded toepads of treefrogs.  The lack of the eye stripe is the best way to tell them apart from the Baja; however, they sometimes can have a faint stripe, which in juveniles may be more distinct.

California Treefrog

This frog prefers mostly boulder type areas for refuge and tends to move further away from water during fall and winter, becoming less active during the colder months.  During the spring they return to the areas of water to breed but usually take 2 years to reach a reproductive age compared to just 1 for the Baja.

Observations from the Field

One interesting oil-related observation that was made during this event is that regardless of how oiled the frog may have been when captured, this visible oil almost immediately would slough away with its slime layer.  Further investigation hopefully will be done on how much oil remains on them that cannot be seen and the effect on amphibians both short and long term.


Trail Camera Trials and Tribulations

Trail cameras, or camera traps as they are often called, are used for many purposes in the scientific community. Biologists use them in a variety of ways including to aid in observing wildlife activity, wildlife behavior, nest predation, developing population estimates, and even identifying how wildlife use different habitat types. Trail cameras are often used recreationally as well. People use them for fun on their own properties to see what wildlife are nearby, what pest species are coming around their house, and what’s eating their garden plants. Additionally, they are often used as a scouting tool by many hunters.

These cameras allow us to see a whole other side of wildlife – their quirky personalities, sun baths, eating habits, sleeping habits, and sometimes even their predatory hunts! Moments we rarely get to see unless we are extremely lucky. I’ve used trail cameras quite a few times, both for professional and personal purposes. My favorite images are those that are a sequence of photos showing an animal walking into the frame, turning their head to look at the camera, stepping toward it, and then the next few images are either into the eye of the animal, up the nose of the animal, or a combination of the two as they explore the trail cameras. Animals can hear the shutter of the camera lens, and see the glow from the flash, so they get up close and personal to investigate. Others will try to play with them. I’ve even heard several stories of bears picking them up, knocking them down, batting them back and forth between their paws and then tossing them down a hill! However, not all species react in a curious manner. Some see it as a deterrent and skedaddle as fast as they can when they hear the click of the lens or see the flash.

Within the OWCN, our mission is to provide the best achievable capture and care of oil affected wildlife, and trail cameras can aid us in accomplishing this in several ways, especially during inland responses. First, many of the species we encounter are nocturnal, meaning they are primarily active at night. However, we are often not approved for night operations during the first few days of a response. Therefore, trail cameras can be our eyes on the ground and allow us to observe what species are in the area when we are not present. Seeing what species are roaming the hot zone while we’re away, allows us to be more prepared for the types of species-specific equipment we might need including traps, nets, housing, and transport necessities. In addition to knowing what species are present, we also need to know if those individuals have come in contact with the oil. Thus, I wanted to know if I could use the trail cameras to aid in identifying whether individuals seen in the photos were oiled or unoiled. Despite my previous experiences with trail cameras, I had never used them in such a context, and therefore, I decided to launch my own study to determine if 1) I could detect crude oil on a dark colored animal during the day (such as a skunk), 2) if I could detect crude oil on a dark colored animal at night (such as a skunk) 3) if I could detect diesel #2 on a light-colored animal during the day (such as a light grey rabbit) and 4) if I could detect diesel #2 on a light-colored animal at night (such as a light grey rabbit).

Due to Covid, I conducted this study in my backyard in Sacramento using a remote-control car, skunk and rabbit pelts, wire, crude oil, diesel #2, nitrile gloves, Tyvek, t-posts and two Bushnell trail cameras. I have not yet finished this study, but I found the initial results interesting and wanted to share them.

As stated in the questions above, I had originally decided to run the study during the day and at night. I ran transects perpendicular to the front of two cameras at a distance of 1m, 2m, 3m, 4m, 5m, 6m, 7m, and 8m from the cameras. As it turns out, it was very obvious during the day if they were oiled or not, and I ended up with tons of photos due to the large number of transects.  I realized that I could pare down my transects and still get a lot out of the data. Therefore, I reorganized the study so that there were only three transects at a distance of 2m, 4m, and 6m from the cameras, and that the studies would only be conducted at night.  I eliminated the 8m transect because the pelts were not outfitted with a heat source and since the trail cameras are triggered by a combination of heat and movement the pelts were unable to trigger the camera at the 8m distance. Below are some photos showing the study design.

Study Layout (Video)

So far, I have conducted one study during the day, and two studies at night. We will focus on the two nighttime studies for this blog, so let’s test your skills! To conduct this study, I used chicken wire to create a mold. Then I placed the pelt onto the mold and attached the pelt to the remote-control car with wire. I then drove the pelt along the transect in front of the cameras at the 2m, 4m, and 6m distances. I started with 0% oiled, then 25% oiled, then 50% oiled, then 75% oiled, and finally 100% oiled. Each transect was driven at the different oiling percentages. Below, are photos of unoiled and oiled skunk pelts (with crude oil), and unoiled and oiled rabbit pelts (with diesel #2, and crude oil). Can you guess which are oiled and which are not? I’ve posted an answer key at the bottom so you can check your answers. Feel free to leave a comment on this post and let us know how you did!






As you may have experienced with the photos above, it can be difficult to tell what is oiled and what is not when looking at still shot photos of wildlife. Check your guesses against the answer key below. Was it difficult to tell which ones were oiled at the 25% oiling? If so, imagine how difficult it would be to tell if the individual in the photo was oiled if they had less than 25% oiling! Thus, based on these few trials, I believe that using trail cameras during a spill response is critical for providing us information on what wildlife are active in the spill zone. However, I don’t think we can necessarily rely on them to determine whether an individual has been affected by oil. Especially if it is a light product on a light species, or a dark product on a dark species, and they are 4 meters or further from the camera lens. I plan to run a few more trials so see if the I get the same results! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please email me at jlhawkins@ucdavis.edu.


Answer Key:

A) Unoiled

B) Unoiled

C) 50% oiled

D) 75% Oiled

E) 75% Oiled

F) 25% Oiled

G) 50% Oiled

H) Unoiled

I) 25% Oiled

J) 25% Oiled

New and Improved Wildlife Recovery App!

BREAKING NEWS!!! We are happy to announce the newest version of the Wildlife Recovery App (WR App 2.1.0)!  This cool Apple application was originally created by the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR), for the purpose of data collection by field teams deployed for spill response.  The WR App has gone through a series of changes over the past few years, based on feedback from people testing it or using it in the field. With each new version, it has gotten better and better! 

Most recently, and thanks to the hard work and dedication of Phil Stone, who is a programmer for the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we now have a freshly enhanced version of the WR App. Some of the aspects that make this newest version so amazing is that it is more user friendly and allows us to gather a lot more information, such as hazing, pre-emptive capture, release post-rehabilitation, and trail camera usage. The data recorded in the app gets uploaded to the OSPR server, where it is accessed by OWRMD (see blog).   This means that for each animal captured, the data collected in the field can be accessed at the Primary Care Facility. 

Sounds pretty great huh?! Well don’t take my word for it, go check it out yourself! Just search “Wildlife Recovery” in the app store on your Apple device (this app is only compatible on apple devices), hit the download button, and get started. You are more than welcome to try it out, but just make sure that you select the “Test” spill ID and don’t transfer your data.

Again, a HUGE thank you to CDFW-OSPR for their original creation of this app, and to Phil Stone for making the changes for the new version! We’re very excited about these updates and hope you are as well! 

Questions? Please contact Jennie Hawkins, Field Operations Specialist, a jlhawkins@ucdavis.edu

Jennie Hawkins, Field Operations Specialist

Meeting the Challenges of Inland Responses

The OWCN has been responding to spills in the great state of California since 1994. Until 2014 we were responsible for marine incidents, but in 2014 we also became responsible for inland spills. California boasts 163,696 square miles mingled with railways, roadways, pipelines, and plenty of oil fields – each providing an opportunity for oil spill incidents.

Inland spills have been keeping us fairly busy for the past few years. And as with all spills we learn something new every time. Inland spills differ from marine spills in a few ways and in each instance, we evolve to master new challenges. Like I said before, California is a big state, but most of our primary care facilities are closer to the coast. This leaves a vast inland area to be covered.


Inland spills involve patients of all sizes!

Some of the ways inland spills differ from marine spills: terrain, weather, remoteness, scant to no communication capabilities, different types of waterways and different types of animals. Those different types of animals require different hazing techniques, capture, and care from those used for marine animals.

As with almost any problem, having the correct equipment makes solving it easier. To that end, we have a wide array of response equipment and supplies but including a list of all of them would make this the longest blog in history. So for this blog I will showcase only one – THE MASH!

The MASH (“Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital”) is a 20 ft long trailer that helps us meet inland response needs in a big way. Most importantly it provides stabilization and limited care capabilities almost anywhere. If there’s enough room for the trailer – and fairly level ground – we’re good to go. It has been staged on roadsides right off the pavement, in parking lots and even in the middle of a pasture. We also use her for trainings and drills.


Trailer with vestibule and 19’x35’ tent

The MASH was designed, built and delivered to us in 2011 and can be powered by simply plugging into a nearby electrical outlet or its own generator. This gives us great flexibility. Speaking of flexibility, we also have Western Shelter products (large tents that can be outfitted with insulation and electricity) and can expand the footprint of the MASH in addition to increasing its functional capacity. For example, we have a heavy duty soft-sided trailer boot that hooks on the rear adding an additional 56 square feet. This area can store supplies or serve as a holding area for oiled new arrivals until they’re examined. If we want even more space, we add a vestibule to the back of the MASH that connects the trailer to either a 20’ diameter round or 19’x 35’ foot rectangular tent. These structures are fully enclosed and can be heated, cooled and powered providing us with a great deal of portable usable space.


Inside the MASH

Now let’s go inside. This chunky trailer sports a kitchen, exam table and light, a ton of medical and husbandry supplies and even equipment for use outside such as tables, chairs and a pop-up tent. The shelves can be reconfigured or taken out to make room for whatever arrives.

Hopefully you can see that the MASH is functional, versatile and an important piece of response equipment. So much so in fact, we are in the process of designing the “MASH 2” – that is even 4’ larger! Take a look!


Floorplan for MASH 2

Hopefully this gives you a snapshot of just two of our important pieces of response equipment. In future blogs I’ll highlight other items that help Network responders provide best achievable capture and care for California’s oiled wildlife.


Wendy Massey, Facility Specialist

Cuyama River Incident: Notes from the Field

“Hey, wait…listen”. I whispered. “Did you hear that?” Wendy and Danene were on the opposite bank, directly across from me. Dressed in Tyvek, a safety vest, lifejacket, a raincoat and a hard hat on, an N-95 mask and safety glasses covering their face, a spotlight and net in hand, the two of them looked like something out of a cartoon.

cuyama team

Our Field Team: Wendy, Danene, Jennie

They stopped walking and listened. The rain was still coming down, but the birds were just beginning to chatter, and the first rays of sunlight could be seen on the horizon. And then there it was again, that throaty vocalization (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4xTYkG8fM0). “What in the world is that?” I asked. “Is that a red-legged frog?” We knew there was a possibility that this threatened species could be in the area and had listened to their calls online, but none of us had ever heard them in the wild before. I turned on my spotlight and scanned the bank near where they were standing. “I don’t see any eyeshine, but it sounds like it’s coming from behind you guys, up near the trees”. I crossed the river and joined Wendy and Danene on the other side. The three of us started heading back toward the newly created dam that had been erected to contain the oil, but also acted as a nice path across the river where we could easily get back to the truck.

western toad1

A Western Toad

We each took a different path through the trees in hopes of catching sight of this odd sounding species. Just before reaching the dam, I shined my flashlight into a little cave in the rock face we were passing. “Guys!” I shouted in excitement “I found something!”. I placed my net over the entrance, shined my light into the cave to make sure there were no other occupants, and then with Wendy’s help, slowly coaxed the Western Toad out of the cave and into the net. Realizing we needed to get going if we were going to make the morning safety tailgate briefing, we placed our new friend in a container we had brought, entered the data into the Wildlife Recovery App, and boogied back to the truck.


cuyama pic1

Searching for Wildlife

This spill response was very different than any others I have been involved with. California was (and still is) under quarantine due to COVID-19, so this spill response was limited as far as staffing numbers to make sure people were kept as safe as possible. In addition, everyone was required to wear an N-95 mask at all times. No exceptions. There were numerous port-a-potties and hand-washing stations set up at each staging site, including several pink “women only” ones. There were people stationed at the river access points that would wipe down your vehicle door handles for you. Lunch was individually bagged and delivered to reduce the potential for germ spread. A six-foot separation was required when working in the field, unless it was absolutely necessary to be in closer contact. All of this made the response slightly more difficult, but the hardest part was with everyone wearing a mask it was a lot harder to hear what they were saying! Despite all the challenges that we were facing during our first COVID-19 spill response, keeping people safe was always our top priority.

Because we suspected we had red-legged frogs in this specific area, challenges or no challenges, the search was on! With the energy level spiked, onto the riverbank we went, determined to capture any affected wildlife. After much searching, I grabbed onto some old wood debris that was pushed up against the bank.  As I did, I heard a plop and saw a frog jump into the water. I scooped it up with my net and, with Wendy’s help, we examined it to see how oiled it was. Based on how much oil was in the water where we captured it, we expected it to be very visibly oiled. However, while it didn’t appear visibly oiled, substantial product came off onto our gloves, so we carefully boxed it up and transported it back to our staging area.


A CA Red-Legged Frog

Upon getting it back to our Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital (MASH), we did a more thorough examination. While its hind legs were more yellow than the tell-tale red that is common, it turned out to in fact be a red-legged frog (but probably a young one). We provided it food, water, and some rest, and the next day gave it a Dawn(r) bath, a new home to recover in, and lots of earthworms. It turns out they really like earthworms! We continued to house and feed our threatened patient until it was able to be released back into the wild.

Overall, this response was a great experience for all of us. There were so many nuances (and some significant challenges), but we further refined our response procedures during unique circumstances, continued to develop more inland-specific techniques, and found ways to improve our field data collection tools. In total, we collected 21 animals (9 Western Pond Turtles, 3 Mallards, 1 Belted kingfisher, 1 fish, 4 Baja California Tree Frogs, 1 Western Toad and 2 California Red-legged Frogs) and successfully released almost 90% of the live ones collected. It just goes to show that pre-planning, adaptability, resilience in the face of uncertainty, and having and working with a great team leads to great success!!



Best in Class: Amphibia

A Green Frog is washed during an oil spill. Credit: Tri-State Bird Rescue 2014

Today, February 19th marks my 1 year anniversary with the OWCN. The year flew by and I’ll be honest—I only know the date because Facebook was kind enough to remind me. So in recognition of my 1 year, I’d like to blog about one of my favorite topics… Amphibians!

Growing up, I spent many summer days watching and sometimes catching the Southern Leopard Frogs in my backyard in New Jersey. I was thrilled to get my first pair of hip waders on my thirteenth birthday. I got my first pet frog when I was 15—an albino


Kevin, my pet African Bullfrog

African Clawed Frog named Steve. He joined me when I attended college and lived to the ripe old age of 11. I’ve owned several species of frogs and salamanders over the years. Currently, my 5 year old African Bullfrog, Kevin, is buried deep in the substrate of his tank, hibernating for the winter. He was the size of a grape when I first brought him home, but now he’s roughly the size of a salad plate and eats a variety of invertebrates and occasionally a small rodent. There’s just something about amphibians that I find fascinating. They are the first ever tetrapods and they evolved almost 400 million years ago. What’s not to love?! Okay, so now that we’ve established that I’m a crazy frog lady…

Amphibians and Oil Spills

How often are amphibians actually affected by oil spills anyway? The answer… often enough. As you probably already know, thousands of oil spills occur in U.S. waters every year. Thankfully, most of these spills are a small volume and not all spills result in wildlife becoming oiled. You might not have heard of amphibians getting oiled. That could be because media attention surrounding small, inland oil spills tends to diminish after a day or two, but these spills still have the potential to affect a wide variety of species, including amphibians. But why should we care? Aren’t there enough amphibians out there? An oil spill couldn’t wipe out that many of them, could it? Unfortunately we don’t really know how many amphibians are directly or indirectly impacted by spills. Historically they comprise just a fraction of the total number of wildlife captured for treatment during spills. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t being impacted, however. While California’s response system is quite robust and the OWCN could be activated for amphibians alone, the rest of the country operates differently. Oiled wildlife responders outside of California might only be activated if a spill is large enough or affects more charismatic species such as birds and mammals. Amphibians can easily be overlooked in the field and someone unfamiliar with their life history may have a difficult time identifying their habitat.

Populations Are Declining

In 2004 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) completed a comprehensive assessment of global amphibian populations. Their findings were alarming. The assessment found that 42% of amphibian species were in decline, 32% of species were threatened, and at least 159 recorded species have gone extinct. I’d venture a guess that things aren’t looking any better for our amphibian friends in the sixteen years since the IUCN’s assessment came out. The biggest threats to amphibian populations are habitat loss and pollution. Other threats include human disturbance, disease, and changes in native species dynamics. Oil spills have the capacity to contribute to each of the above.

Experience with Oiled Frogs and Salamanders

In 2014, California’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) expanded the OWCN’s response range from marine to statewide, including all California state surface waters. This means that inland spills affecting amphibians (and other taxa) now fall under the network’s umbrella. Several OWCN staffers, myself included, have experience handling oiled amphibians. In 2014, when I was working on Tri-State Bird Rescue, Inc.’s oil spill response team I gained valuable experience responding to a pipeline rupture in Ohio. I had the opportunity to collect, wash, and rehab several dozen salamanders and frogs. Unlike a traditional oiled wildlife event with birds or marine mammals, this response effort happened on a small scale—within a single wide trailer on a nature preserve. Each salamander and frog was house individually, but even dozens of these small patients didn’t take up much room.


Salamander housing during a spill. Credit: Tri-State Bird Rescue

Some of the unique challenges with amphibians during an oil spill include:

Their life history is quite different than other taxa.
  • The Ohio spill coincided with the salamander’s natural breeding season during which they congregate in vernal pools to spawn. The oil was in the vernal pool so there was an ongoing concern of new animals becoming oiled throughout the cleanup. This was mitigated with the installation of a drift fence and pit fall traps which allowed un-oiled salamanders to be collected and relocated.
Amphibians are ectothermic, meaning that the regulation of their body temperature depends on external factors.
  • The spill occurred in late March. Daytime temperatures fluctuated between 40-50°F with nighttime temps dipping below freezing. This complicated the overnight collection of the nocturnally active salamanders because there was a risk of them and other non-target species freezing in the pit fall traps.
  • The metabolism of amphibians varies with the season of the year. It was important to minimize disturbance to their environment in order to keep them in their winter state of lower activity=lower metabolism. One way that we addressed this was by maintaining the rehabilitation center (trailer) at a temperature close to the outside conditions.
Amphibians have a unique and delicate integumentary system.
  • Both gas and water are exchanged through their skin. This permeability potentially makes them much more vulnerable to oiling. They also shed their skin periodically as they grow or in response to irritation. Some species will consume their shed skin to conserve the nutrients it contains. We found that many of the oiled salamanders shed their skin after decontamination and when possible, we elected to remove the shed skin from their housing before it could be consumed.

Where Do We Go From Here

There is still so much to be learned about amphibians in oil spills. Until now, ecotoxicology research on them has been focused on larval development in the presence of petroleum products rather than the direct effects of oiling. We still have many questions.

What kinds of internal and external effects of oiling do amphibians experience?
Are there long term effects if they survive the initial oiling?
Are existing wash protocols sufficient? How can they be improved?
What can be done to better plan and prepare for amphibians before and during spills?

The OWCN is working to provide some answers. In 2019 the OWCN funded a research project to investigate “The short-term effects of petroleum exposure and the process of petroleum removal on Northern Leopard Frogs.” We look forward to sharing the project’s findings when they become available.

The OWCN sponsors up to $200,000 annually to support research and technology development efforts in order to ensure that oiled wildlife receive the best-achievable capture and care. Since 1996, over 170 projects have been sponsored, and over $4 million has been allocated to improve our understanding of how oil affects wildlife. Perhaps there will come a day when amphibians are as valued and protected as their more charismatic avian and mammalian counterparts. I am honored to be part of an organization that is helping to make that happen!

The OWCN also sponsors sessions at wildlife conferences such as the National Wildlife Rehabilitators (NWRA) Symposium. Curt and I will be heading to the NWRA Symposium in South Padre Island, Texas next week. Will we see you there? If you aren’t already sick of hearing me ramble on an on about frogs and salamanders, you can come to my talk “Considerations for Treating Oiled Amphibians” on Friday!

–Crazy Frog Lady



Sam and baby Kevin








At 9:18 am Monday morning the OWCN Senior Team received a heads-up text from Julie Yamamoto at California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) alerting us to an accident involving a tanker truck earlier that morning at Dutch Flat on I-80. As you might imagine whenever we get a text that includes “this is not a drill” the adrenaline spikes. At 9:19 the whole OWCN Management team here in Davis looked down as our phones beeped for a Group Me message from Mike Ziccardi with the information from Julie and instructions to confirm we have received it. (How does he type so fast?)

    Blog Julie Y text Dutch flat IMG_5530.jpg                Mike text Group me Dutch IMG_5529.jpg


Immediately those of us who don’t know where Dutch Flat, CA is headed to Google Earth or Maps to get an idea of the location, topography and access roads and then check the temperature and weather at the site.

Dutch flat.jpg

Kyra led a quick informal discussion with the some of the Readiness and Field Operations staff who were working at the Boneyard and came up with a contingency plan to be ready to immediately deploy an initial Wildlife Recovery team directly from Davis if we were activated.

Cal Spill Watch 10;31.jpg


At 10:21 CDFW Cal Spill Watch tweeted a report of the incident and a photo of the wreckage. As we waited for more news, we discussed potential species impacts, wildlife survey recovery methods in steep terrain, equipment needs, and potential care operations locations as we celebrated a staff birthday with lunch out.

Just about the time our burgers and fries arrived, so did an update tweet from Cal Spill Watch detailing efforts in the investigation and the plan to construct a barrier to contain the spill and keep it from the nearby creek when the rain (forecast for later in the day) arrived.

As the day went on and our lunch digested with no call to activate or even formally stand by, our blood pressure and heart rates settled back to normal. While the efforts to remove the truck and clean up the environment continued, we stood down and went back to the daily work of our team. Checking and maintaining equipment, replacing or improving, arranging trainings, and doing all the little things that make it possible to be ready to roll when the call or text lets us know that “this is not a drill”. Waiting for that next jolt of adrenaline those words bring to responders of all kinds including us here in Davis and all of the Member Organizations up and down California.

Cal Spill watch last.jpg


PS Later Monday night we learned that the driver of the truck died in the crash. Although it appears at this time that the damage to the environment was much less that it could have been, we recognize that for the family and friends of the driver it could not have ended worse. Our thoughts are with them today.

Inland Response Readiness Update – With a Video Debut!

The OWCN management staff are busy working on many concurrent projects here in Davis, but one shared project we have all been spending time on has been increasing our inland response readiness.

We have secured additional field and care equipment for inland species, began to draft detailed protocols, added significantly to our mobile response gear, and even welcomed some fantastic new Member Organizations whose locations and expertise immediately improve our inland readiness. If you view the 2018 OWCN Member Organization map below, you will see that we have spread east from the coast, welcoming some amazing new groups over the last few years, including:

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]

As a reminder, the impetus for our inland expansion came from Senate Bill 861 in 2014, which expanded oiled wildlife response to cover all statewide surface waters.  This legislative mandate was based on numerous factors, some of which are discussed in the video below by our illustrious Deputy Directors, as well as brief recap of our first inland Full Deployment Drill held in Quincy in 2017.

Video courtesy of our former Wildlife Health Center communication guru, Justin Cox (we miss you, buddy!)