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

2022 OWCN Training Program Update

As many of you know, the year of 2021 proved eventful in many ways including a pair of recent Network activations during a global pandemic. But through it all, the OWCN Management Team remains committed to providing our Network ample training opportunities, even if many must remain in a virtual or hybrid format.

A Goal Without a Plan Is Just a Wish sign on desert roadOur team recently met to review our 2021 training efforts and map out our 2022 OWCN Training Program Calendar. (Final OWCN Training Program Calendar will be hitting your inboxes in very early January!). As you can see via the graph below, we were able to virtually engage and train many of you this past year and we appreciate your patience and enthusiasm as we transitioned much of our content online.

As we move forward into 2022, we remain cautiously optimistic that we can offer many virtual opportunities paired with a few select hybrid events with small, in person components. In an effort to give you a preview of what’s to come, we have listed all the training types we plan to offer next year. Exact dates and locations will be shared soon. (Please note: to access the OWCN training program, you must be 18 years of age, affiliated with one of our 44 Member Organizations, and have a responder profile in our database; contact us at owcn@ucdavis.edu with any questions)

New Responder Engagement (Virtual)

A great place to start for new responders, if you have recently joined our responder database and seek some assistance in getting started, please join us for this virtual engagement hosted via Zoom. We will provide an overview of our training program, drills and exercise opportunities, and host a Q & A session.

Core Webinar Series (Virtual)

A must for all new responders, these three webinars provide the perfect introduction to our OWCN operations and are available 24/7. After viewing the OWCN Overview, Spill Basics and Responder Involvement content, you must pass the Core Webinar Series Exam, and then you are officially one of our Core Responders!

Basic Responder Training (Virtual & In Person Options)

The Basic Responder Training (BRT) is a one day training that covers common concepts and skills applicable across all areas of oiled wildlife response. The elements are designed to help participants navigate spill response in a prepared manner (i.e. safety, spill structure, core animal handling concepts, etc). Upon completion of this course, you are officially an OWCN Basic Responder and gain access to priority volunteer sign up during incidents. We plan to offer both virtual classes hosted via Zoom, as well as in person classes in 2022.

Oiled Wildlife Specialist Training (Hybrid; 1 Day Virtual & 1 Day In Person)

The Oiled Wildlife Specialist (OWS) Workshop is a two day class for individuals with moderate to advanced hands-on experience related to at least one aspect of oiled wildlife response.  It is open both to species specialists and multi-species responders, and is intended to give participants a deeper understanding of spill response operations, broaden the applicability of the responder’s existing skills, and increase consistency between responders. We currently offer 5 specialization options including Field Operations (Hazing & Recovery), Field Stabilization, Intake & Processing, PreWash Care and Cleaning & Conditioning. We plan to host Day 1 of this training virtually via Zoom and then offer the 2nd day of instruction in person for hands on components.

Oiled Wildlife Manager Training (In Person; Invitation Only)

The Oiled Wildlife Manager (OWM) Training aims to better prepare our veteran and highly experienced responders to fill leadership positions within the Wildlife Branch, including Strike Team Leader, Area Coordinator and/or Group Supervisor with limited supervision. This course is by invitation only.

HAZWOPER Courses (24hr In Person; 8hr Refresher Virtual)

24hr Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Training is a three-day course and an OSHA health and safety requirement for working in the hot zone during oil spill response.  It is required to fill certain OWCN positions within Wildlife Recovery, Hazing, and Field Stabilization, and it is a prerequisite for some advanced training opportunities as well. We are working with OSPR to offer two in person 24hr HAZWOPER training opportunities in 2022.

8hr HAZWOPER Refresher Training is only available to those who have already completed the 24hr HAZWOPER Training course, as this certification must be annually refreshed. The 8hr course is available online 24/7 with online recorded content and a final exam that you must pass.

Lecture Series (Virtual)

New for 2022, we will be offering an online lecture series from January through June, with one lecture hosted via Zoom each month. Stay tuned as final dates and topics will be shared in the coming weeks.

Oilapalooza 2022 (Hybrid)

Oilapalooza is OWCN’s biennial oiled wildlife response conference, and is a chance for responders to meet one another, learn about recent responses, new technologies and procedures, and practice hands-on response skills.  Oilapalooza 2022 will take place at UC Davis in Davis, CA on October 22-23. We plan to offer both in person and virtual participation opportunities.

Continuing Education

And as a reminder to all of our active responders, the OWCN requires engagement with our training program to maintain active status (at least every 3 years for Core and Basic Responders; annually for our Specialists and Managers). Attending any of our options listed above, as well as participating as a volunteer at a drill or spill, refreshes your CE.

Looking forward to a fantastic 2022, and hoping to even see a few of you at an in-person training event!

Readiness Santa Scott

It Takes a Village! (or a coordinated, pre-trained Network)

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is still currently activated and responding to the Pipeline P00547 Incident. We are on Day 13 of response, and our Wildlife Recovery, Field Stabilization and Care & Processing Groups continue to provide the absolute best achievable capture and care of all oil-affected wildlife. To view current wildlife numbers, please visit our website here.

While the spotlight often shines on our resilient wildlife patients, there is an army of wildlife champions behind the scenes providing some serious world class effort. To date, we have utilized more than 90 affiliated and pre-trained responders filling Incident Command System (ICS) response roles, ranging from volunteers all the way to Deputy Wildlife Branch Director. These responders are representing over 15 of our 44 OWCN Member Organizations, and making us all very proud! (click here to view all 44 OWCN Member Organizations)

In addition to our Network, we work in close collaboration with numerous federal and state agencies during an oil spill response regarding wildlife. We are in step from the beginning with our partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR), as we are activated by this state agency from the very beginning and they usually fill the Wildlife Branch Director role as well as lead Wildlife Reconnaissance efforts (including manning the Hotline). We also are in close communications with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-NMFS) in preparation for any potential oiled marine mammal or sea turtle patients. And we consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding our wildlife response plan for many threatened or endangered species potentially affected by the incident. And a special shout out for this incident to the CDFW Natural Resource Volunteer Program for providing us with personnel and a vehicle for wildlife transport!

As the OWCN Readiness Coordinator for Field Operations, I spend A LOT of my time attempting to prepare the Network for potential incidents just like this one. We recruit talented wildlife professionals, provide ample supplemental oil spill training, and conduct realistic, large scale drills. With all of this done in advance, our ability to respond quickly and efficiently is fine tuned. But even with all the preparation, when a call hits the hotline with the potential for significant wildlife impact, my heart skips a beat. Are the oiled wildlife facilities ready to fire up and begin receiving patients? Are the local 24hr HAZWOPER certified wildlife recovery responders able to head out into the field immediately on such short notice?

While the initial pace was intense, and yes, at some times a bit chaotic, all of my worries were answered with a resounding YES! We were ready to respond and remain ready to help any wildlife in need. So thank you OWCN responders for all your hard work over these past two weeks, and thank you in advance to those who will continue to contribute their time to get us to the finish line.

Each and every Responder should be proud of your own personal readiness, allowing you to quickly jump into action. Your Member Organizations are proud of your tireless efforts. And we, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s Management Team (on behalf of the entire Network), are extremely proud and thankful for your dedicated commitment to our wildlife.

Scott Buhl – OWCN

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

Way Down South

For this week’s blog, I’d like to highlight a region you are familiar with but perhaps not in terms of OWCN or the wildlife that is found there. Region 5, the “South Coast” region is the most urbanized region of California, having the top 3 populated counties. Recall that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:

  • Region 1: Northern
  • Region 2: North Central
  • Region 3: Bay Delta
  • Region 4: Central
  • Region 5: South Coast
  • Region 6: Inland Deserts
  • Region 7: Marine

Region 5 consists of the counties along the coast from Santa Barbara down to San Diego, also including the offshore islands in those areas.  

There are 13 Member Organizations in this region: 

  • Santa Barbara County
    • Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute
    • Santa Barbara Zoo
    • Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network
    • Channel Islands Cetacean Research Unit
  • Los Angeles County
    • California Wildlife Center
    • International Bird Rescue (South)
    • Marine Mammal Care Center
    • Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Orange County
    • Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center
    • Pacific Marine Mammal Center
  • San Diego County
    • Sea World San Diego
    • Project Wildlife
    • National Marine Mammal Foundation

This region tends to be drier that most of the others, resulting in more drought-tolerant species and isolated populations of the moisture-dependent amphibians.  Still, there is an abundance of amazing wildlife particularly in the non-urbanized areas.  Let’s cover the profiles of a few that I find particularly interesting.

Coast Range Newt 

This colorful subspecies of the California Newt is a Species of Special Concern endemic to the coast and coastal mountains from Mendocino County south to San Diego County.  It inhabits wet forests, oak forests, chaparral, and rolling grasslands.  This amphibian is terrestrial and diurnal as an adult but aquatic when breeding and uses the same breeding sites throughout its life.

While it is understood among wildlife rehabilitators to watch out for beaks, teeth and claws/talons, this tiny animal can actually kill you.  Adults secrete tetrodotoxin on their skin, the same toxin found in pufferfish. Whenever I hear “tetrodotoxin” I always think of Homer Simpson eating Fugu and his eventful drive home. However, the actual initial signs of toxicity are a tingling, burning and numbing sensation of the lips and tongue, followed by numbness of the face and extremities and eventually leading to death due to respiratory failure.  

Light-footed Ridgway’s Rail

This rail is one of the most endangered shorebirds in California.  Federally and State Endangered as well as CDFW Fully Protected, this bird frequents coastal wetlands from Southern California into Baja California.  

It is pretty easy to distinguish from other rails in that it is large and robust (like an athletic chicken) with a rust-colored neck and breast, barred flanks, and a long, mostly orange beak, particularly the mandible.  Still, you may not see it often because of its reclusiveness and tendency to stay hidden in the dense marsh vegetation.  When threatened it also acts like a chicken in that it often prefers to run rather than fly or swim.


Although the Ringtail inhabits all regions, it is an uncommon small mammal that is rarely seen.  This nocturnal carnivore has a special interest to me because when I first started in wildlife rehabilitation I had not known there were populations in the Santa Monica Mountains until I saw a couple that had been hit by cars along Malibu Canyon Road.  A little while after we noticed them we were fortunate to rehabilitate one at the facility I worked.  Some time later,  while searching for a Golden Eagle one evening in Malibu Creek State Park, we came across a large group of them!

The Ringtail is a peculiar looking animal that perhaps not many of you knew existed in California. They are found in riparian and rocky areas, using hollow trees or large rock landscape for cover. They are listed by CDFW as Fully Protected after their numbers significantly declined due to trapping for their pelts.  

Bald and Golden Eagles

Although less common to Region 5, both the Golden and Bald Eagles can be found here.  Both species of this magnificent raptor are listed as Fully Protected by CDFW, with the Bald Eagle also listed as State Endangered.  They are the two largest raptors in California (excluding the California Condor for those who consider that a raptor). The juvenile Bald Eagle can also sometimes be mistaken for a Golden Eagle, as they are similar in coloration.

Even though they can look similar at certain life stages, these two species differ in many ways.  The Golden Eagle frequents open foothills and mountain regions, preying on mammals; while the Bald Eagle prefers areas next to larger water sources for fish.  Haviing worked with both species, I have found that they also differ greatly in temperament.  The Golden is a very cool and collected customer that will tolerate extended periods of care and handling.  The Bald, on the other hand, is the extreme opposite, very easily stressed and one that would be difficult to rehabilitate for an extended period of time.

San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike 

This shrike is a subspecies endemic to San Clemente Island.  It is darker in coloration than other subspecies but can easily be differentiated simply by the location it is found. It frequents lowlands and foothills with open areas and scattered places for perching and surveying for prey.  I also find shrikes in general to be somewhat fascinating in how they skewer their prey on sharp objects for feeding or caching, although that may be a bit morbid.  

This bird is both Federally Endangered and a CDFW Species of Special Concern.  At one point it was believed to be the most endangered animal in North America.

Most of my time living in California was spent in Los Angeles County, for my veterinary internship, working overnight emergency and then at the California Wildlife Center.  It was where I received most of my experience with wildlife. The common species found there are often quite different from other regions, mostly due to the dry climate and their tolerance of urbanization but each and every region has an amazing diversity of species that can be appreciated.


Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Michelle Bellizzi

Michelle Bellizzi found herself immersed in the oil spill response industry not long after she began volunteering with International Bird Rescue in the winter of 1999. Shortly after she started, she was thrown into the Luckenbach spill incident. The Jacob Luckenbach ship sank in 1953, and over the years that followed began releasing oil that was the cause of many spill responses. This was her first real exposure to the wildlife response aspect of oil spill response, and she dove in headfirst.

Being a part of the response industry has brought both challenges and rewards. She states that “the spill response industry is a very well-established and male-dominated field that prides itself on a job efficiently and effectively done, and some of hardest challenges I have experienced have been trying to explain the patient-driven processes involved in a wildlife response to folks outside of the veterinary/rehabilitation field. When we are able to achieve buy-in and respect from folks who may not have initially been interested is supporting our operations through our professionalism and expertise is a reward that keeps on giving and will help protect wildlife beyond our hands-on response efforts”. 

Despite the challenges, there have been many rewarding experiences. A few of her favorites include “working with the amazing and pointy great crested grebes in south America that survived a month on a gravel substrate, baby pelicans during a spill in Louisiana, and the magic of washing and rinsing every bird”. By her own admission, Michelle states that she became involved with oiled wildlife response, and continues to invest her time, energy, and dedication to the wildlife response industry because the rewards far outweigh the challenges.  At the end of the day, all the sacrifices are worth it because she gets to meet and work with “some of the greatest people and animals, ever, in some of the most beautiful places on earth (the far north, and the far south have been my favorites).  I love what I do because the work always involves an incredible team of people, learning, creating, innovating, and it is truly a  privilege to work with these amazing animals”. 

Michelle’s experience with International Bird Rescue, and other women she met through the spill response industry has been an incredible one. “Most of the professionals I encountered – the directors, workers, and researchers were women.  My own organization, International Bird Rescue, is celebrating our 50th year after being founded by an amazing woman, Alice Berkner, and International Bird Rescue has always attracted lots of women interested in giving back to their communities”. Her advice to others interested in getting involved and making wildlife response a part of their life is “it’s worth getting involved!”.  

Photo Credit: Michelle Bellizzi and Mike Ziccardi


The Great North

For this week’s blog, I’d like to familiarize our members a bit with another of our California regions that some may not be very familiar with, Region 1, the “Northern” region.  As you may recall from a previous blog, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:

  • Region 1: Northern
  • Region 2: North Central
  • Region 3: Bay Delta
  • Region 4: Central
  • Region 5: South Coast
  • Region 6: Inland Deserts
  • Region 7: Marine

The Northern region extends from the Oregon border to the southern edges of Mendocino, Tehama and Lassen counties.  There are many beautiful areas in this region to visit, such as Lassen Volcanic National Park, great Redwood forests, the Mount Shasta area and the rugged northern coastline.  As for OWCN, like Region 6, it is a high wilderness area with low human populations and large inland species diversity.  

There are 5 Member Organizations in this region: 

  • Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City
  • Humboldt State University in Arcata
  • Institute for Wildlife Studies also in Arcata
  • Bird Ally X which is a couple miles south of Arcata
  • Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Education in Anderson

I thought it would be also be nice to cover a few terms as they relate to species just in case some people are not as familiar with them:

  • Endemic:  A species native to only that restricted area
  • Indigenous:  Species native to that area but may also be native elsewhere
  • Extirpated:  Species no longer present in that restricted area but still present elsewhere
  • Extinct:  Species no longer present anywhere

Because Region 1 tends to be more wilderness with higher rainfall, there is a more abundance of wildlife, particularly amphibians which often require more moisture-dependent habitats.  I’m very happy to provide you with a few brief but interesting profiles of native California species found only (or predominantly) in this region:

Southern Torrent Salamander (Rhyacotriton variegatus)

This salamander is a CDFW Species of Special Concern that inhabits the humid coastal areas from Point Arena in southern Mendocino County northward into Oregon.  Conservation is particularly important for this species because it can take up to 5 years for it to become sexually mature.

This species has very small lungs, instead relying more on its skin to obtain oxygen, thus depending on moisture to prevent it from drying.  Primarily aquatic, it is usually found in areas of shallow, cold, clear, well-shaded streams, waterfalls and seepages in old-growth forests.  It is active at temperatures between 41 – 50F and is extremely moisture dependent.  If weather or moisture become unfavorable, this small amphibian will shelter itself by burrowing under the stream bed substrate.

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

This apex predator always holds a special interest to me because it had been extirpated from California in the 1920’s but is slowly making its way back via Oregon migrations.  Although no longer a Federally Endangered Species, it is still State Endangered in California.  It has a very restricted range to the conifer forests of Lassen and Plumas Counties where there is adequate deer and elk for food and persistent water sources, while also having a low human presence.  

While there had previously also been a Shasta Pack, the only current pack is the Lassen Pack. However, the young male, “OR-93” recently made a trek of over 600 miles from Oregon’s Mt Hood area all the way south past Lake Tahoe and into Mono County! 

Humboldt Marten (Martes caurina humboldtensis)

This mustelid is a State Endangered and CDFW Species of Special Concern that inhabits old-growth conifer forests of northern Humboldt, Del Norte, and western Siskiyou counties and into Oregon.  It had been thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the Six Rivers National Forest of Siskiyou County about 25 years ago.  Currently, there are estimated to be less than 500 remaining in the wild

Although it is active year-round, the Humboldt Marten adapts its activity level depending on those of its small mammal prey, being active during the day during summer and then active at night during winter. 

Point Arena mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa nigra)  

Don’t confuse this rodent with the North American Beaver you may be more familiar with.  A “Mountain Beaver” can be 1/20th the size of the more well-known American Beaver.  It is also not aquatic although it does require moist habitats and water.  Actually, a mountain beaver’s kidneys cannot effectively concentrate urine so it must always have water available to drink.

Listed as Federally Endangered and a CDFW Species of Special Concern, the Point Arena mountain beaver is endemic to Point Arena in Mendocino County.  Because of its need for water, it is always found near rivers or streams.  It is active year-round, nocturnal and also territorial, however does not venture far from its burrow.

White-footed vole (Arborimus albipes

The last species profile for this blog is the White-footed vole.  This small rodent is found in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties and northward into Oregon.  It is listed as a Species of Special Concern by CDFW.

It inhabits coniferous and deciduous forests, usually found along smaller clear streams.  

This small mammal is mostly nocturnal and active year-round and while it builds its nests on the ground among logs and brush, it usually does its foraging in the trees!

Just this past weekend I took a short trip up to Oregon.  And while I did not see any of the animals mentioned during my stops, I did think of them and kept being on the lookout!


Building Capacity: Update from the OWCN Facilities Team

Tim and I, like I’m sure many of you, welcome 2021. As such, we wanted to take a minute to highlight a few of the projects that we hope to take on this year.


COVID hasn’t stopped us but it sure has slowed us down. Here at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we are required to test negative for COVID-19 once a week and satisfy a health survey each day that we plan on working on campus. 

As you can imagine, keeping all of our equipment ready for response and completing many of our projects can’t be done from behind our home desk or via ZOOM. And having to physically distance as well as minimize contact with each other pushes us to prioritize tasks and rethink how we do things, at least for now. We must prioritize and review risks in order to move forward. We are constantly in phone or video contact with each other and kicking around ideas. If nothing else, these challenges have pushed us to think outside the box and optimize the way we regularly do things!

The OWCN Equipment Parade During Pre-COVID Times

Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital 2 (MASH2)

You all are probably familiar with our MASH (our 20 foot stabilization trailer that we have been using since 2010). What you may not know is that we are adding to the MASH family by finalizing the plans for our new MASH 2 so we can proceed with construction. After review and consultation with our new Field Veterinarian, Duane Tom, we have decided to change a few things that we feel will better serve our goals. We are changing the size and placement of our sink, providing a larger wet workspace that is important for function at the front (tongue end) of the trailer. This will also keep most of the plumbing in one area. Unfortunately this will eliminate a much needed and desired workspace that would be used for response documentation and planning. To adjust for this and provide a comparable working space we’ve designed the drop down exam table at the end of the trailer so that it also adjusts to a good working height that can accommodate travel chairs. This allows us not to give up any valuable working space and equipment storage.

San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC) Expansion

We are in the process of expanding our footprint at the SFBOWCEC. We will be placing a much needed new 36’ x 60’ modular building on the connected undeveloped lot. The building offers a large conference/training room, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and 1 office.  We will also be constructing a 40’ x 60’ steel garage building on the lot to be used for equipment storage and much needed workspace.

Tim is in the process of securing all the required permits from Solano County so we can finally break ground on the job. We hope to have the bulk of the project ready for use summer 2021.

A new space at SFBOWCEC

Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network (SBWCN) Breaks Ground 

One of our Member Organizations, the SBWCN, has very recently broken ground on their new Wildlife Hospital! The new hospital has a clinic, offices, spill response supply storage area and oiled animal wash and drying areas. SBWCN expects completion in about a year.  It’s very exciting! Congratulations SBWCN!

We wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year!

Tim and Wendy

Transitions and Changes

Mike and Curt Enjoying the English Seaside

No, this is not a blog post about auto-tinting eyeglasses (though those are AMAZING). Nor is it an in-depth conversation about grammatically compelling writing styles. Or the lyrics to the amazing David Bowie song. This is an update to the greater OWCN community on some significant changes to the Management Team that have occurred recently, and will be coming up very soon. For those 115+ of you who signed into the OWCN Town Hall yesterday, you have a bit of a sneak preview of this info, but for everyone else, I wanted to share.

Katie Leasure

As everyone is likely aware, Lavonne Hull, our Admin Coordinator extraordinaire, retired earlier this summer after 20 dedicated years helping the OWCN through challenging logistical problems both during and between spills. At the same time, Pam Roualdes, our crack Admin backup, got an amazing job opportunity with UC Davis Health in Sacramento literally across the street from her house! While initially worrisome/panic-inducing to me, Katie Leasure (who previously was working in another One Health Institute program) stepped in masterfully and has really embraced the challenges of the role. We wish the best to Lavonne and Pam, and welcome Katie to the team!

Curt Enjoying a Namesake Beverage

Curt Enjoying a Namesake Beverage

Speaking of retirements, we have another upcoming one to announce. Curt Clumpner, our Deputy Director of Care Operations, has decided to take a well-earned step down from his 5+ years in that role this Fall. I have had the pleasure and honor of working with Curt since the late 1990’s in many different roles, countries, and environments, and have always been amazed at his dedication to animal welfare and his continual search for basic truths (the “whys” behind what we all do). While some can be challenged by this at times, I have always greatly appreciated his inability to accept doing things “just because that is how we have always done it”.

I will say more on Curt as we get closer to his end date, but this is the perfect opportunity to let people know that, as of yesterday, we are recruiting for his successor in leading the Care Ops stream within the OWCN. This is a critical job ensuring that our Network maintains its continual readiness of facilities and rehabilitation personnel to spring into action to provide best achievable care to oiled animals anywhere in California. For anyone up for the challenge, I (or I am sure Curt) would be happy to talk to you about the opportunity. For more information (and how to apply), please click on this UCD HR link.

Dr. Jonna Mazet, OWCN Director, at the 1997 Stuyvesant Spill

One other change on which I have mixed emotions to report. As those of you who have been part of the OWCN for a LONG time, you will recall that Dr. Jonna Mazet was the founding Director of the Network. She, in combination with Dave Jessup, Jay Holcomb, and others took the concept of a cohesive network of rehabilitation organizations working cooperatively during spills from the drawing board into reality. I was fortunate to have been selected to take over for Jonna in 2003 when she moved to becoming the Director of the UCD Wildlife Health Center (under which the OWCN resides) and then the Executive Director of the UCD One Health Institute (the “parent” of the Wildlife Health Center, four other Centers of Excellence, and numerous other large-scale programs and projects). After 11 years at the helm of the OHI, Jonna has decided to return to being “normal” faculty and focus more on her research (and less on administration). As of 1 July 2020, I have been honored to have been selected as her replacement as OHI Executive Director.

So what does this mean for the OWCN? Well, in short, it means I will be phasing out as Director of the OWCN over time – beginning this year at 50% time. This, in combination with Curt’s pending retirement, has given the OWCN Management Team an opportunity to re-evaluate our existing structure and make some changes. First, as stated above, we will be refilling Curt’s position, but that role (as has the Field Ops lead role) has been shifted to being a “Senior Manager”. This is because we will also be hiring an Associate Director in the coming months who will gradually take over the daily administrative roles of running the Network (in combination with Curt and Kyra) from me. As this person will most likely be filling the role as Director moving forward after a few years, per our Memoranda of Understanding with OSPR, a minimum qualification for the position will be a veterinary degree. So, for those wildlife vets in our Network who have an interest in a leadership role, keep your eyes open!

The last change to the structure is to re-embed our Readiness staff within the Field and Care streams. Danene, Scott, and Tim have done an AMAZING job since that stream’s development to better organize and implement trainings, drills, personnel management, outreach, and other cross-stream activities. However, as the OWCN has developed and matured over the past several years, it has become clear that working WITHIN the Care and Field streams will actually make the management of those activities even more integrated and improve their depth. Huge thanks to the “Readiness Renegades” for all of their work, and actually moving readiness forward so well to allow this additional shift!

So, in closing, I think everyone can agree that the only constant in the OWCN is our constant change to try and improve how we work. Only through our continual “tweaking” of our systems can we improve and meet our mandate. On a personal note, I want to thank each and every one of you for your dedication to our shared wildlife, and your continued active involvement in OUR Network. To reiterate: I’m NOT going away – I’m far too stubborn for that. But I look forward to seeing how bringing new ideas and personnel into the OWCN will move us even farther forward!

– Mike

Refugio Beach Oil Spill Recap: 5 Year Status Update

A little over 5 years ago on May 19th, 2015, an underground pipeline running parallel to Highway 101 ruptured near Refugio State Beach (just north of Santa Barbara). As a result, 123,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled, 50,000 of which ran down a ravine under the freeway and entered the ocean.

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The Oiled Wildlife Care Network was activated and our responders sprung into action to rescue oiled wildlife in need of assistance.  As you can see in the summary table below, this was a significant wildlife response, especially considering the high number of marine mammal patients. Over 90 responders joined the effort from 21 different OWCN Member Organizations, logging over 1600+ hours!

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To summarize the large response operation, lessons learned and heroic efforts of many, the OWCN created a Refugio Incident Report, which you can view here. This document summarizes our responder hotwash hosted at UC Davis after the incident in 2015. In reviewing such documents years later, it is always reassuring to see that many of the challenges listed have been addressed operationally. This ensures that we learn and improve from every response, maintaining our ability to provide the best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife.

And while the focus of OWCN is to provide top notch oiled wildlife response operations from capture to release, there is another aspect of our efforts that does not come to fruition immediately.  The wildlife data we collect, including the summary of both live and dead oiled wildlife, all factor into the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, led by California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW OSPR). Want to learn more about the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process?  Click here.

We are excited to share that just two weeks ago, the draft restoration and assessment plan for the Refugio Oil Spill was presented to the public. You can view the May 13th presentations and FAQs on the CDFW OSPR website here:

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Thank you to all our OWCN responders, CDFW OSPR and everyone involved in responding to this incident.  While we will never forget, we were able to grow from this response and apply lessons learned toward our new and improved operations of present day.

The OWCN Management Team