New OWCN-IBR Collaboration Seems Like Old Times

Last month I traveled with Barbara Callahan from OWCN Member Organization International Bird Rescue (IBR) to Baku, Azerbaijan. What made this training especially significant was that this was the first international training project that OWCN and IBR collaborated on as partners from start to finish. Our mission was to help increase the level of preparedness for oiled wildlife response in that country. We were there on behalf of BP, the managing partner of the BTC Pipeline Company. The pipeline runs from south of Baku on the Caspian Sea to the Lesser Caucasus Mountains through Georgia and then to the Ceyhan Terminal in Turkey on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Baku_pipelines.svg

BTC Pipeline (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan)

City of contrasts (1)

City of contrasts: the old and the new

It was not the first time I had been to this corner of the world, and over the years I have come to appreciate this city of contrasts and of seemingly constant change. Simply looking at the skyline provides evidence of the immense influence of oil on this city and country.

While the OWCN continues to expand within California and along with our Member Organizations, we work to increase our readiness and improve our capacity for spills, we are also seeking opportunities to leverage our knowledge and experience to help other areas of the world as well. Through collaborations as represented with this training, as well as other projects we are involved with, such as the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System, we are working to share our knowledge as well as bring back the experiences of those we meet around the world.

The training in Baku included more than 100 participants from a diversity of NGOs, government agencies and industry (a few if them include the Institute of Geology, the Baku Zoo, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Baku Veterinary Department, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, the Azerbaijan Society for the Protection of Animals, the Institute of Zoology, BP, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan and many more).  These various groups came together during the training to learn basic concepts of oiled wildlife response and to develop basic plans for setting up a wildlife facility.  The diversity of backgrounds and participant age enriched the discussion with a variety of perspectives, opinions and questions, increasing the learning and enjoyment for us all.

Facility plan team

Developing a facility plan

Facility exercise AZ training

Presenting the plan to the class

The third day was a hands-on field exercise on a windy Caspian Sea beach outside of the city where nearly 50 participants practiced in the capture of birds and mammals, provided first responder aid to captured wildlife, and made decisions on transport to wildlife facilities.

Caspian seal capture AZ exercise

Exercise: Capturing a seal

This training provided everyone, myself included, with a better understanding of what an oiled wildlife response in Azerbaijan would be like. All in all, a very worthwhile endeavor. I hope the OWCN will have more opportunities to collaborate with International Bird Rescue and other organizations to share our collective experiences.  It is only in collaborating and sharing experiences that we can move forward along the never-ending road to best achievable care.

Curt

Cross Training – OWCN Style!

As we’ve reported here over the past couple years, the OWCN has a mandate to increase readiness for inland oiled wildlife response. We’ve been doing this through drills, mobile facility infrastructure development, and expansion of our network to include responders and centers that are experienced with inland species.

One of the great things about the OWCN is the strength of this expanding network. It not only improves our ability to respond, but gives everyone a chance to learn from each other. While I helped teach the Basic Responder Trainings over the past few months, it was great to see how much value the variety of responders brings to the trainings. I think we all walk away learning something new – either something about a species we’ve never worked with, or a different technique for working with an animal. Interactions like this led to our new Oilapalooza lab series.

This year, this new series will provide cross-training opportunities for everyone through a series of afternoon “101” laboratories. This includes: Pelagic Bird 101, Pinniped 101, Raptor 101, Reptile and Amphibian 101, Sea Otter 101, Sea Turtle 101, Terrestrial Mammal 101, and Terrestrial Bird (non-raptor) 101. We feel this will be a great opportunity for attendees to learn how to work with a new species. If you’re not going to Oilapalooza, think about other cross-training opportunities – maybe attend trainings at other centers, or just get to know rehabbers from other organizations in your area. You never know where the next spill will occur, but you can do your best to prepare for it!

-Greg

The Descent is Always the Trickiest!

As Chris and Scott noted in the last two blogs, OWCN held the first Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit in Davis Oct 14 & 15. Although no one really knew what would happen, everyone showed up ready to participate, share their opinions about the the strengths and weaknesses of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, and brainstorm and propose ideas on how we can improve it. We discussed how to make activation of the wildlife facilities used in an oil spill response smoother, make responses greener, clarify use of protocols, provide better first response, build our skills for inland species, and untangle the web that is chain of custody. chain-of-custody-summit-10-16img_0835

It was a day that truly reflected the founding vision of OWCN as a group of energetic, dedicated, and creative organizations and the individuals that make up those groups. It was a meeting of people who are leaders – in their thoughts, their organizations, their communities, and their actions.

But the true measure of the success of the Summit will not be clear for months. The true danger of climbing a summit, after all, is often on the descent, when you are taking pride in your accomplishment and not focused on making it home safely.

telegraph-com-uk-everest_3203986b

Conquering the summit will not be finished until the conceptualized products our discussions are complete, after many hours of toil by the members of each workgroup. However, we have full confidence that success will occur, based on two primary things: because I know the strong dedication and high work ethic of nearly every person involved, and because I know the history of oiled wildlife response and wildlife rehabilitation here in the Golden State.  As someone born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, it sometimes pains me to admit that California holds a very unique position within the profession and community of oil spill response. It is a leader and has been since before some of us were putting gas at 25 cents a gallon into our cars.  One reason is because the oil industry generates a huge amount of money by extraction, transport, and refining and selling petroleum products here. Another is because of the depth and breadth of the natural wonders in California and the passion that they elicit in people to protect and defend them. That combination has lead to a state that literally puts it money where its mouth (and its heart) is.

And this fact is not just because of money generated by taxes on oil. Long before the Exxon Valdez and American Trader oil spills that sparked the legislation that would require oiled wildlife response as part of the clean up, the public and the wildlife rehabilitation community in California were doing their best to rescue and rehabilitate oiled wildlife as well as other injured and orphaned wildlife that were found every day of the year. Organizations like Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Monterey SPCA, Peninsula Humane Society, and of course International Bird Rescue Research Center all were caring for oiled wildlife during the 70’s and 80’s. If California was not the birth place of wildlife rehabilitation and oiled wildlife response, it was surely the nursery where it grew from diapers to overalls, scrubs, and lab coats. Events like this year’s OWCN Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit, past year’s Oilapaloozas and the just concluded Symposium of California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators (which was held last weekend in Fresno) prove the strong belief in environmental responsibility and stewardship and willingness of divergent people coming together to strengthen and improve that stewardship.  These kinds of events never fail to energize and inspire as well as remind me how thankful I am to have the opportunity to learn from and work with all of you who are so dedicated to mitigating our impacts and making the world a better place for humans and non-humans living in this state and on this planet. I am confident you will all make sure we remain leaders in our field. Stay tuned for the progress reports over the coming year.

Curt

A Timely Reminder of the Road Ahead

As part of the University of California at Davis, May means EPARs to everyone on the OWCN Management Team. What is an EPAR you ask? No it is not EYORE’s cousin in one of those Winnie the Pooh stories your parents used to read you. Nor am I refering to the Escuela de Postgrado de la Armada in Venezuela. I am talking about the Employee Performance Appraisal Report (EPAR). “Why should I care about that” you ask? Good question! Unless you are an employee here you probably shouldn’t. Except going through that process both as an employee and as a supervisor made me think quite a bit about my goals for last year and for the coming year.

When I started at OWCN last June 1, we were all in full spill mode. Once the Refugio spill ended and we got back to “real” life, one of the two biggest priorities the OWCN Management Team was charged with (including me) became developing a detailed plan for inland oiled wildlife response. With the increased transport of oil by rail came the increased risk of an oil spill when a train derails, as illustrated in such a timely manner along the Columbia River outside Portland last Friday (links to news reports can be found here and here).

oregon-train-derailment_27365585192_o

Train derailment, Moser Oregon- WA Department of Ecology

oregon-train-derailment_27170474250_o

Train derailment, Moser, Oregon – Washington Dept of Ecology

It seems likely that the question is when, not if, something like this will occur in California. Oh, don’t worry – I am already doing enough of that for both of us. If an inland spill occurred tomorrow in California, I am confident all of OWCN would drop whatever you are doing and become the super responders you all are. We would catch beavers, turtles, snakes, frogs, river otters, and bears if need be, and transport them and clean them and release them to the best of our ability. We always do. Our mission however is to “provide best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife” and to do that requires planning. Inland wildlife response is a big job with many little pieces that have to fit together nearly perfectly. We have made some real progress in the last year, identifying new areas of risk based on the increasing transportation of oil by rail from the north and east, learning to use some of the environmental mapping resources available through our partners OSPR and California Department of Fish and Wildlife and acquiring or refurbishing more mobile equipment that can be on scene anywhere in California in hours not days, but we still have lots to do.

You might think that since we’ve already had a plan for coastal response for more than than twenty years now, how hard can it be? Someone might say “you’ve got more than 35 Member Organizations, facilities, and equipment up and down the coast. Put on your big boy (or girl) tyvek pants, quit whining and just do it!” Well, they would be right and they would be wrong. It is not quite that easy, though all we (the royal we, the Network Members) have learned together over the years is tremendously valuable in approaching this challenge. All of our knowledge and resources can be leveraged to ensure that California is ready to respond to wildlife impacted during an inland spill, but we can also use this as an opportunity to be even better prepared for spills wherever they occur.

It has been clear from the beginning to anyone who has looked at the OWCN map of Member Organizations that we lack quick response capability inland. Most of our members can smell the salt air from their offices.

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]

 

So a key to success will be to strategically identify and recruit new Member Organizations with experience and knowledge of priority species in these new areas of risk.  They will add geographic range to our coverage and potential sites for deployment of our growing collection of mobile equipment. One of the primary strengths of OWCN has always been the breadth of the Member Organizations both on the map of California and the knowledge and expertise they share and it only makes sense to build on that strength as we extend our reach inland.

While we add depth to our personnel resources in terms of numbers, location, and knowledge, we are also adding equipment to enhance our ability to safely capture and care for a number of new species,  like bears, mountain lions, coyotes, mink and badgers.

wild animal box-9264.jpgWe can be thankful that it is highly unlikely we will ever have to face 100 oiled badgers, but we do need to be prepared for one or two of them as well as most of the other species found in areas of California at risk for an oil spill. There are many examples of spills where species like beaver, muskrat, and mink have been collected alive and oiled in significant numbers across North America. There is no reason to expect it won’t happen here someday. Oiled wildlife preparedness is a journey and we are well down the path, but as Robert Frost almost said “there are miles to go before we sleep”. By this time next year I plan to have many of those miles behind us.

-Curt

Slaking our thirst for knowledge

 

Roomates at NWRA

Last time, Scott talked about the OWCN membership, member engagement and the responsibility of those of us in Davis to support and engage the other members. It was an important point for each of us to remember. We all become better at what we do when we can learn from each other’s experience and we can best do that when we directly engage with each other. Ideally with a cold drink!

Recently Stephanie Herman and I had the opportunity to attend the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association’s (NWRA) annual symposium in Norman, Oklahoma. The NWRA annual gathering is the meeting of rehabilitators anywhere in the world and while most of the attendees are from North America each one also includes a handful of people from other countries such as Canada, Australia, India, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, etc. It is 5 very full days of lectures, labs, workshops, roundtables and tours on everything from “Baby Bird Basics” and “Diarrhea in Cottontail Rabbits” to “Polypropylene Mesh Implantation for Radioulnar Synostosis in Raptors”, literally something for everyone, from the novice rehabilitator to the wildlife veterinarian. It is also a chance to network with long time colleagues and catch up with old friends and meet tomorrows leaders in a rapidly changing and advancing field.

NWRA-135251

While it is often hard to find the time or money when you work in the non-profit world, I have managed to attend many of these conferences over the last 20 years, but they never get old. There are always new topics and new teachers and new takes on something you thought you already knew all about. Every presentation contains a nugget for the curious with a thirst for knowledge and everyone involved is more than willing to share what they have learned and why it is important. OWCN member organizations such as International Bird Rescue, Lindsey Wildlife Experience, Bird AllyX, Monterey SPCA, Peninsula Humane Society and others are regularly among the presenters as well the audience.

Our goal of best achievable care is an elusive one. As in Zeno’s Achilles Paradox, it keeps moving away as we approach, so that when we get to where it was yesterday, it has moved further down the path. All of us must keep moving, learning, and improving if we want to avoid falling farther behind than we already are. In the last year the OWCN has provided support to give all OWCN members (affiliated individuals and organizations, as well as others around the world) opportunities to continue to grow as responders and rehabilitators. This has been through our training programs, our outreach/engagement activities, and through a wide variety of meetings of colleagues at NWRA, the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators Conference, the Pacific Seabird Group, the World Seabird Group, the Effects of Oil On Wildlife Conference, just to name a few.

I hope you had a chance to participate in one or more of these events. If so, I hope you came away with new knowledge and an increased commitment to chasing best achievable care in both response as well as your day-to-day efforts in your organization. I know I did.

-Curt

OWCN Member Organization Engagement

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s Member Organizations

As a member of the OWCN management team located at UC Davis, I am often asked a very simple question: What is the Oiled Wildlife Care Network?  While the answer may seem relatively simple, I find myself often providing a long winded response, as I attempt to portray that the OWCN is a united force composed of diverse organizations that individually excel but collectively impress.  In the words of Aristotle, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

So along with a strong pride for this cohesive resource comes a responsibility to support and engage our member organization community.  While many are likely aware of our public outreach efforts, others may not realize that we also offer internal outreach which we have chosen to term engagement. Member organization engagement provides a fantastic opportunity for OWCN management staff to connect directly with our member organization’s staff and volunteers (some of which are current OWCN responders, others are hopefully future responders).  The format and presentation style of these engagement events can be customized based on the specific member organization involved, but often consists of an informational overview presentation to both staff and volunteers with a specific highlight on how folks can get further involved and properly pre-trained for spill response.

We have already lined up a few of these events in the coming months with member organizations, including:

  • April 28th – The Marine Mammal Center
  • May 21st – Monterey Bay Aquarium & Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center
  • August 12th – Lindsay Wildlife Experience

If you are involved with a member organization listed above and wish to learn more about the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, make sure to attend!

If you believe your member organization would benefit from hosting an OWCN engagement event this year, please let us know by emailing us at spbuhl@ucdavis.edu.

Cheers to our amazing member orgs!

-Scott

What is a Furnado?

If you google ‘Furnado’, you might find yourself wandering off topic, gazing at fantastic photos of Furna Do Enxofre (a volcanic cave located on Portugal’s Azores Islands).  But a Furnado in our context is actually a term I first heard via our colleagues at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC), referring to the tornado of fur seals in distress that have been hitting our California coastline as of late.

cliff-kringle-northern-fur

Northern fur seal pup @ TMMC

Upon hearing that TMMC had rescued more than 30 Guadalupe fur seals by the middle of 2015, and then rescued over 100 Northern fur seals before year end, I recognized that these numbers were truly unprecedented.  In my former staff role at TMMC, I would have been focused on the task of recruiting and training additional volunteers to help care for this onslaught of feisty pinnipeds.  But in my new staff role with the OWCN, two very different thoughts came to mind:

  1. With the current unusual oceanic conditions out there, and the fur seal’s dependence upon their dense fur coat for proper thermoregulation, our network better be prepared for the possibility of responding to these less common pinnipeds should an oil spill occur (Good News: Thanks to Refugio, our Network is more prepared today than we were this time last year to launch a large scale oiled marine mammal response!)
  2. While every one of our 35 Member Organizations is essential to the strength and depth of knowledge comprising our Network, we should send a shout out of thanks to our marine mammal focused Member Organizations, as they had a demanding year in 2015, and may need some words of encouragement going into what looks to be a busy 2016.

So in reference to that second thought above, let me express my attitude of gratitude toward our fantastic marine mammal responders out there, and remind you all that your willingness to go above and beyond does not go unnoticed.  And to prove that point, below are links to just a few articles discussing the very topic of fur seal overload or simply the deluge of pinnipeds over the last year, with each of them specifically highlighting our marine mammal centric Member Organizations which include:

Additional articles on the topic:

Keep up the good work!

Scott