I am certain, at this point in the pandemic, that you do not need a reminder about the challenges we’ve faced, or the lingering yearning for human interaction that many of us desire as we crawl out of isolation. But today I wanted to share thanks and praise for the technology developments that allow us to connect, albeit virtually and through small portals on our computers or devices.
With regard to our Oiled Wildlife Care Network training program, this past year and a half required us to transform our offerings into a completely online, virtual setting. Inherent challenges aside, we have discovered many benefits to connecting with our oiled wildlife responders located throughout our state:
An online engagement with 60+ new responders in February was a great way to welcome and inform our newest additions and offer direct answers to their burning questions. This successful event confirmed that we should add this format to our engagement repertoire moving forward.
A virtual meet up with our advanced responders in April allowed us to review recent spill responses, practice working through our supervisor/strike team leader job aids, and reserved time to connect and discuss any pertinent topics. This accessible event solved one of our challenges, as we strive to connect with our advanced responders at least annually as they are often the first wave of response during a large incident.
In numerous sessions, we met with students in middle or high school via Zoom who all impressed our staff with their enthusiasm and insightful questions. My personal favorite moment was leading our feather drop experiment live with some middle school students, who were instructed to use a small pipette to release a few drops of water onto a clean goose feather. We had just finished explaining bird feather properties, but we all know seeing is believing, so as we instructed students to apply the drops, we heard numerous, excited exclamations of “It just rolls right off…didn’t soak in at all!” Science sure can be satisfying.
The students seemed to enjoy themselves during the event, and even the parents shared some encouraging words of gratitude:
“We are very thankful for all the work they do! I would have loved this experience when I was in school.”
“We love our school and the opportunities it provides. Neriah just finished a zoom class on oil spills and how they effect wildlife. She had so much fun!!!”
While the world unfurls, you may still have some students you know that could use an interactive activity or two. The OWCN is currently working diligently to update and improve the outreach section of our website. Our plan is to include many different activities and resources for students, teachers, and parents alike.
But as a sneak peak, if you would like to lead an oiled wildlife activity at home, check out these resources:
Thank you to all our responders, students and teachers who have remained as flexible as possible during these unique times. And thank you to technology, for providing us with a pathway of connection that I never realized was so desperately needed.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a wildlife veterinarian? How about what it’s like to work with giant or dangerous species? For Jamie’s first ever blog post, we asked YOU what you’d like to know about our new Care Vet.
What is your favorite land species? Marine species?
Every time I get asked this question, I like to share a little anecdote – When I was around a year and half, my family went camping in Sequoia National Park. As my parents were packing up the car to go home, they put me in my car seat atop the campground picnic table (which also had items left out for one last lunch). All of a sudden, they heard some rustling and when they turned around they saw a bear helping itself to our lunch, right next to my car seat. My parents didn’t want to spook the bear into noticing me or knocking me off the table, so they calmly waited as the bear finished our salami sandwiches, chips and Oreos, then continued on its way. My sister who was 4 at the time watched the whole ordeal from the car with my parents, and to this day she remembers being terrified…but mostly because she didn’t want to share her Oreos. I like to think of this as the first sign that American black bears (Ursus americanus) would become an important part of my life. Since that first encounter, I’ve dedicated nearly a third of life to studying black bear populations and rehabilitating orphaned/injured bears across California. I even have a black bear tattoo! My favorite marine species is the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) because…I love bears.
Fun Fact #1: Jamie was born in California but grew up on the East Coast, until she moved back to California for graduate school.
What’s the biggest animal you’ve ever worked with?
The largest animal I’ve ever worked with is also the largest animal to walk on land – the African elephant (Loxodonta africana). Did you know that African elephants can weigh up to 6 tons and stand over 11 feet tall? I had the opportunity to work with these majestic species during an undergraduate study abroad program in South Africa. As a part of this program, I worked 1-on-1 with wildlife veterinarians from the Kruger National Park to perform health assessments on African lions (Panthera leo), black rhinos (Diceros bicornis), Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), and of course, elephants. Don’t worry, they were all safely sleeping (anesthetized) for their exams!
Fun Fact #2: Jamie was featured on a PBS documentary entitled, “Teens Behind the Wheel.” She was named the safest teen driver, a title she still boasts about today.
What is a usual day like for you?
One thing (of many) that I love about being a wildlife veterinarian is that there is no such thing as a “usual” day. Although every day might be a little (or a lot) different than the last, the daily tasks for an OWCN veterinarian come back to the four “R’s” – Readiness, Response, Research and Reaching out:
Readiness – maintaining and updating inventories of medical supplies, developing and evaluating protocols for any and all species that might be affected by oil, attending continuing education trainings in order to keep our veterinary skills fresh, participating in drills, nurturing relationships with OWCN member organizations, primary care facilities and volunteers
Response – deterring animals from entering oil-affected areas, safely collecting and providing first aid to oil-affected animals, diagnosing and treating concurrent diseases or injuries, washing oil-affected animals, rehabilitating animals post-wash to ensure complete return of fitness, and the ultimate goal…release
Research – writing and reviewing research proposals, obtaining funding for primary research, ensuring appropriate and humane care, use and treatment of any animals involved in research, including correct permitting
Reaching out – conducting trainings for OWCN volunteers, writing for the OWCN blog, teaching/training veterinary students, responding to media requests, publishing research
Fun Fact #3: Jamie was afraid of dogs until she was 14 years old!
What research would you love to conduct?
I love doing research because it empowers me to think of a question, figure out how to answer that question, and disseminate those results to the community. Research is an integral part of OWCN’s mission to provide the best achievable capture and care of oil-affected wildlife and I currently have a few ideas up my sleeve. I am really interested in the use of infrared/thermal imaging for evaluating waterproofing in feathered marine species AND for determining oiling status of hairless/featherless species such as amphibians and reptiles.
Fun Fact #4: Jamie has traveled to 5 out of the 7 continents.
If you had one piece of advice for someone interested in working with wildlife, what would it be?
My best advice for someone interested in a career in wildlife is, GET INVOLVED. Find a way to shadow or volunteer with someone in the field or an organization you are interested in. And don’t be discouraged if you get a few “nos” before you get a “yes.” Your first experience “working with wildlife” may entail filing paperwork, cleaning cages, preparing diets, sweeping the floors, or just watching, but it is a foot in the door. Every opportunity is an opportunity to learn and grow. If you show respect, enthusiasm, and a good work ethic, that door will eventually swing wide open! If you are interested in hearing more about how I applied these principles to my career path, check out this Evotis article.
Thank you to everyone for submitting your questions! If you have any burning questions that weren’t answered, or were sparked by this blog post please leave a comment or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram!
Julie Yamamoto is currently the Deputy Administrator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Her fascination with wildlife began at an early age. “As a kid I watched every episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Jane Goodall TV specials, and read all the books about animals at my local library. My parents probably thought my obsession a little odd but (luckily for me) encouraged me, nevertheless. Fast forward 20 years-ish, I finished an MS in Avian Biology, then pursued a Doctorate in Environmental Toxicology from UC Davis, for which I studied pesticide impacts in raptors. Wildlife toxicology is a very cool blend of physiology, pharmacology and even ecology, and I thought I could do some good for the planet by pursuing a career in studying and trying to fix pollution issues. Once out of school, I worked for a time as a scientist at CalEPA and found it was not a good fit for me; I struggled to feel that my work was making a difference. I was fortunate to 1) realize it was not the job for me; and 2) to have been recruited by a supervisor that I knew at CDFW OSPR, Dr. Rob Ricker.”
OSPR’s mission to provide the best achievable protection of California’s natural resources by preventing, preparing for, and responding to spills of oil and enhancing affected resources really spoke to Julie’s passion for conservation, and she could not pass up the opportunity. “So, I jumped into a career in oil spill response in part because the opportunity presented itself, and it seemed exciting, but also because it allowed me to blend both my toxicology and wildlife expertise. It was also neat because most of my wildlife work had been in terrestrial systems (mainly birds) and at OSPR I had to learn about marine systems, seabirds, sea otters, etc – a whole new frontier for me!” So, in 2000, Julie was hired on with OSPR and began her career as a toxicologist supervisor.
Seven years later, she accepted an executive appointment and has been filling that role with several different titles ever since. “I directly oversee the scientific and technical program in OSPR but also do a lot of work on fiscal, interagency coordination and legislative/policy issues. I have to say – when I was initially thinking about promotions, I had my doubts about whether I was cut out for management; but my early experience as a staff scientist with the state made me think about how important it was that the work of scientists be applied and used in decision making and policy. So that, plus some encouragement from colleagues, changed my mind. Even though I gave up the hands-on science, which was a big consideration for me, it has been a really rewarding path and I love the great variety of work I have on my plate every day. Some of the best times I can recall in my work are during big spill responses, admittedly exhausting and stressful affairs, working alongside really excellent professionals from inside and outside my organization, pushing ourselves to our limits, having each other’s backs, in pursuit of a common mission. You just can’t beat that!”.
I asked Julie about what kind of struggles she faced as a young professional, and as it turns out she was quite lucky. Throughout her career she has been able to avoid discrimination. “I have felt, for the majority of my career, respected and able to do my work. I am aware of course that this has not been the case for a lot of women and some of my own colleagues. Still – there have certainly been times, especially starting out, when I have felt like a bit of an outsider, sort of not ‘belonging’ in the oil spill response, or even my own Department’s, culture. Also, I am a natural introvert and I think that can exacerbate feelings of “invisibleness” in certain situations.” In reflecting on what helped her overcome those things, she said “I think one of the biggest factors has always been the great colleagues that I have had. I came to be good at, and happy in, my work in large part because people around me supported me and were good teammates, mentors, and friends. Everyone feels self-doubt, fear, and frustration at some point in their jobs – having supportive people to turn to, and supporting them as well, is crucial to dealing with these feelings and to developing resilience. Also, I always focused on what my contributions could be to a specific incident or other problem, tried to bring the best science and creative thinking that I could. In other words, I tried to be very competent! And in the end, this allowed me to be a valuable contributor at work and find my place as a team member. It gave me confidence to push myself further.”
Other things that aided her in overcoming obstacles she faced were her persistence, dedication, and having examples of other women scientists and leaders along the way to inspire her. “Early in my career, there were not many such examples, but fortunately that’s changed for the better over the years. I hope by being where I am that I can help the women in my program and elsewhere envision themselves working at this level and beyond. As someone before me has said, ‘If you can see it, you can be it!’” In regard to what it is like to be a woman with a strong career, lots of responsibility and a family, Julie says that she has seen “definite improvements in workplace policies and cultures that promote greater diversity, the right to a respectful workplace for ALL, and accommodating the needs of various groups. I am a mom of 2 with an aging parent, so I know firsthand that family demands of all kinds are a factor for women and their careers. Workplaces with policies and investments that accommodate this reality is critical. I was listening to a podcast about the challenges for working women during the pandemic and loved this quote: “Your job doesn’t understand you have kids, and your kids don’t understand you have a job”. Which ties into a recent global poll of scientists I saw recently that was done by Nature and showed that there are declines in research activity across the board but most acutely for women researchers, early into their careers, with young kids.” I think this speaks volumes about the challenges working women face in their everyday lives, makes us grateful for the changes that have occurred in recent years to support working women, but also shows how much more work needs to be done to allow for the balance of work, family, and children.
When I first set out to write this blog, my intention was to highlight the fact that March is “women’s history month” and that there are currently movements being conducted locally, nationally, and worldwide, to raise awareness about the inequalities women face, and to support a change in the way society sees and values women. I wanted to focus on women in our industry who have broken barriers, exceeded expectations, and influenced the way wildlife response is conducted. As such, I reached out to six women who have been in the wildlife response industry almost as long, if not longer, than I’ve been alive. I asked them if they would be willing to share their stories with me about what it was like for them in the early days of their careers, what challenges they faced, and what some of their career highlights and favorite memories were. Yet in doing this, I soon realized how inspiring these women’s stories are, and decided that one single blog could not capture the importance of all these women’s stories. Over the next three weeks I will be sharing their stories in multiple posts. I hope you enjoy reading their stories as much as I have!
To start off, I’d like to recognize Yvonne Addassi who has been involved with wildlife response since the early 1990’s. Yvonne is currently the Chief of Preparedness for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response. The story of how she got to this point in her career is powerful and inspirational.
I asked her to tell me about how she got involved in the wildlife response industry and why she has stayed. “I am not sure I can say I “decided” to spend my career in this field. I am a biologist by training, had originally thought of medical school and I don’t think I knew anything about emergency response as a career or a field. In all honesty, I just followed my “nose,” so to speak. I followed what had meaning for me. I started in State service implementing a 1988 household toxic products initiative with the Department of Toxic Substances Control. I have always been interested in the nexus between science and policy with the desire to leave the playfield better than I found it. I got a call one day from a woman involved in a working group I facilitated, encouraging me to apply, as an Environmental Scientist with the regulations unit of a new agency call the Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response. It is difficult to explain what a watershed moment the Exxon Valdez oil spill was and I was excited to be a part of an organization to prevent this from ever happening again, and definitely not in California. I had no idea at the time that I would thrive in and be good at, emergency response and would find a home in OSPR. I have stayed at OSPR for 30 years now and although the work is important, it is the people that have kept me here. I can honestly say, I could not imagine working with a group of folks more professional, more dedicated, more committed and more fun to spend long long hours with. It has been both an honor and privilege to be in their company.”
When I asked about career highlights, I realized Yvonne has had a very decorated career. In her own words she has “had a wonderful career at OSPR and the opportunity to work with so many professional and talented people, so it is difficult to single out specific highlights. From a work standpoint, there was the implementation of California’s first Chemical Dispersant and In-Situ Burning use policies in the late 1990s. I was very proud of my first scientific paper accepted in 1997 and my presentation at the Artic Marine and Oil Spill Program Symposium at Vancouver. Working as Wildlife Branch Director for the Cosco Busan oil spill was amazing, especially with Mike Ziccardi as my Deputy. I have presented papers at several International Oil Spill Conferences and Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conferences. I had the opportunity to work every major oil spill in California since OSPR’s inception as well as the Deepwater Horizon Spill. I knew I had “kinda’” arrived when I recognized so many people in the Houma, Louisiana Command Post. And in 2015, I was appointed by Governor Brown as Deputy Administrator of OSPR or more commonly introduced by Tom Cullen as “This is Yvonne. She is my Number 2,” and that was great. Perhaps one of the things I am most proud of personally was receiving a Leadership Award, voted on by my colleagues in 2001, before going into management. As a team and a leader, I am most proud of the work I have been doing these past 5 years as the Chief of Preparedness. We have expanded our program to meet our statewide expansion, hired some amazing people that will take OSPR to the next level after I retire, and we now field the best trained Liaison Corp since OSPR started. I can honestly say the 30 years have gone by quickly.”
In reflecting on the memories she has made over the years, she states that “There are so many memories. And all of them are about the people and the relationships forged.
1) A group of women at OSPR who started a group called the GNO (Girls Night Out), back in the late 1990s. We take in movies (well, we stopped that since our picks were so bad), weekend trips, dinners and at one point, mahjong. We are still meeting, although I am the only person left at OSPR and in a couple of weeks, the only woman not retired.
2) I remember a dinner one night, after one of my first in-situ burning workshops, perhaps 1994. I was 32 years young. Ann-Hayward Walker was the consultant hired by MPA to help me, Kathleen Shimmin a high-level manager from USEPA Region 9 and Bela James (Shell scientist and the only male that night). I picked everyone’s brain about their careers as women (not Bela of course), and Kathleen shared an amazing story of her time as an engineering TA at Berkley, and not being allowed into the tunnels being built for BART, although her male students were, because she was a woman! It was considered “bad luck” to have a woman in the tunnel! It was one of those amazing nights of story telling that changes your life. Bela often told me it was one of the highlights of his career because for one evening, he was just “one of the women” (he probably said girls) and he said he learned more that night than he had in 20 years working in the field.
3) Being a part of the first California Environmental Sensitivity Coastal Mapping efforts probably 1993. I first met Drs. Jacqui Michel and Miles Hayes, titans in the field of geomorphology and worked with and got to know the field environmental scientists, as I was still working in regulations. I remember coming to a spot along the lost coast, and Miles said we had to head down the cliff to finish the transect, put in the marker, etc. And as I looked down, all I saw was thick poison oak, taller than me! When I said, no…, Miles looked at me indignantly and said in his slow southern drawl, “What kinda’ biologist are you?” “A smart one,” was my quick retort. Randy Imai, always the boy scout, cleared a path and Miles and Melissa followed him as I waited on the cliff top along with several other local folks. Well, poor Melissa wound up in the hospital and Miles had to make a trip to the emergency room. After that, Miles often asked my opinion about things, shaking his head and laughing, “a smart one indeed.”
So many memories, of laughter – slap happy after a long day of working with volunteers or waiting all night in an international airport; of triumph – of being declared a “wildlife rehabber” by Mike Ziccardi after a loon defecated on my and a grebe tried to poke out my eye, as we worked into the night, in a trailer, at Pt. Reyes, responding to oil birds in 1997 before we knew it was the Luckenbach; of honor, hosting the Chumash Nation Elders during the Refugio oil spill; of shared sorrow when a helicopter went down in 1992 taking two of our own, Greg Cook and Sonya Hamilton; of pride in watching how far we have come and in my staff thriving, creating new and innovative ways of protecting our coastal resources, and of humility at being in the company of such mighty people. I couldn’t have imagined or asked for more. So I suppose it was good, all those years ago, that I followed my nose and what had meaning. It is has never lead me astray. The same can not be said for my ego!”
Finally, I asked her what advice she has for other women, both in wildlife response and those interested in getting involved and making this part of their career as well. “The field has changed significantly in the 30 years I have been in it. There are more women now, and more women in positions of leadership and management, then when I started, at least in State Service. At OSPR, we have a female Deputy Administrator and two Branch Chiefs, all with scientific backgrounds. I think you need to know what you want and not be afraid to ask for it…in assignments, with special projects, make yourself available to sit on committees, find opportunities to get your work out there, in presentations, in workshops, in papers, in posters, in panel discussions, at lunch time talks. There are probably a lot more opportunities now with the virtual platforms to collaborate with professionals all around the world and don’t be afraid to ask someone if he or she is willing to be a mentor. I mentor a number of men and women, both formally and informally and it is invaluable on both sides. I think it is important to find a cohort of women with whom you can have honest and frank conversations with and help each other in your careers and if possible, in your personal lives. Women have challenges, including greater responsibilities in the home, care for children, elderly relatives, working more for less, etc. It is important that you have a tribe of women with whom you can touch base with and gain perspective. I think it is also very important to develop good working relationships with everyone around you and seek areas of common interests, consensus and create a supportive, team environment in your workplace. Learn the skill of facilitation. It will prove invaluable in your career, in ways you don’t even know about. You may be the only trained facilitator to help guide an important meeting or workshop outcome and people in positions of power will see you in a different light. I think mentoring is key. Find a mentor or two who can help you navigate decisions, provide perspective, given constructive feedback and who is always in your corner. Finally, be a leader and lead by example. I have found in my career that sometimes to lead, you must learn to serve. People do not only follow titles, they follow leadership and I have found that to have been key to being successful. Learn how to be a better leader, find your leadership strengths and learn to build collaboration and win-win situations no matter what level you are currently in your organization. And finally remember, we do nothing alone. I can claim things I am proud of, but all of my personal success has come on the shoulders of those who came before me, some whose names I know and have shared, but more often, there are names of folks I will never know, men and woman who paved the way for me, so that I might have more freedom, more options and more possibilities than they had. This is what I try and do for those who will follow me. In that way, be the change you wish to see in the world. Finally, find what motivates you, what lights you up and cultivate that in yourself, in your choices and in your work environment. And yes, follow your nose.”
All photos were provided by Yvonne Addassi and Mike Ziccardi.
The UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center (WHC) is recruiting for the staff position of Care Veterinarian. Under the direction of the Senior Manager – Care Operations of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), this position will coordinate oiled wildlife primary care and processing readiness and response activities both during and between oil spill responses (including training, equipping facilities, and planning for spill response), work in collaboration and coordination with the Field Veterinarian to ensure “best achievable capture and care,” engage in research activities to advance the science behind oiled wildlife care, and actively participate in teaching and public service functions.
Readiness and Response (70%)
Provide oversight of veterinary care aspects for OWCN’s Care Operations program.
Lead in the development, review, and revision of veterinary aspects of care protocols.
Oversee inventory and maintenance of veterinary equipment and supplies and develop and maintain relationships with vets and techs at OWCN Member Organizations.
During oil spills, lead and/or manage veterinary efforts in the primary care facility for oiled terrestrial and aquatic birds, mammals, reptiles, and/or amphibians.
Perform research to ensure best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife.
Mentor OWCN members in developing research projects and skills.
Present and publish research findings at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals.
Teaching & Public Service (15%)
Engage in consultations, lectures, workshops, and seminars on wildlife care, medical techniques, and research and represent the OHI, WHC, and the OWCN at various meetings.
Assist in providing clinical and research opportunities for veterinary students/residents.
DVM/VMD/BVSc degree (from an accredited school of veterinary medicine) and appropriate federal/California veterinary licenses (or ability to acquire required licenses within 6 months of hire). Be in good standing in any states where currently or previously licensed.
Experience in the treatment of, and captive husbandry for, free-ranging wildlife.
Expertise in captive wildlife preventive medicine (population health).
Knowledge of medical techniques necessary for diagnosis and treatment of disorders of California wildlife (e.g., restraint, anesthesia, phlebotomy, nutritional delivery systems, radiology, etc.)
Skills to perform basic clinical microbiology, parasitology, hematology, serology, and necropsy, and correlate findings in wildlife species with likely etiologies.
Advanced skills in diplomacy, oral and written communication, interpersonal communication, translation of medical information into lay terms, and networking/team building.
In-depth understanding of veterinary medical and animal welfare laws and regulations, the public’s concern for humane care of animals, and the use of animals for teaching and research within the context of those animal welfare laws and regulations.
Often when I sit down to write these posts (not as often these days as in years past), I try to weave information on oiled wildlife response and oil spills with some humor and (somewhat) personal anecdotes. In other words, sticking to the facts while conveying an accurate image of what is happening (in spills, in the news, etc.), but not allowing myself to get swept up in the emotions of the minute.
However, the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent national attention to police brutality and social injustice has disturbed me to my core. It has forced me to do something I often do not like to do – be truly and honestly introspective, admit my ignorance on an important topic, and speak up about it (and, as a strong “I” on the Myers-Briggs spectrum, the last point is possibly the most terrifying).
I grew up in privilege. Suburban San Diego, good schools, ample opportunities. We were not rich by any means (though my friends were) – but I was able to find odd jobs fairly easily to be able to try to “keep up”. Police were there to help us, not harm us. Diversity was not thought about much because it simply did not exist. My friends and I were highly engaged in learning about progressive political views, but I honestly cannot remember racism in the US being particularly high on the list of concerns that we discussed at lengths. Apartheid in South Africa – yes. The Civil Rights movement in the 60s – yes. Systemic racism in today’s society – no. In short, I was naïve and chose to remain that way.
Going to school (and then raising a family) in Davis was simply an extension of my upbringing, albeit in a smaller ecosystem. My wife and I embraced the progressive nature of the city – its acceptance of all viewpoints (except, quite possibly, Tea Party conservatives) and people – and still embrace it today. We did leave Davis in the late 1990s for a work opportunity in Chicago, which gave us a glimpse into how larger cities have historically addressed race issues (e.g., redlining and segregation) and policing (e.g., profiling and aggression). For the first time in my life, I was confronted with overt racism on a regular basis and it was not “comfortable”. We had the opportunity to return to Davis in 2000 and leapt at the chance – telling ourselves that enjoyment of my work, being away from family, the “big city life”, and, yes, the weather, were the reasons. However, I now also see that the discomfort at facing overt racial tension on a daily basis also led to making this call.
Returning to Davis was a balm to our souls. With 1- and 4-year old daughters, we could once again enjoy the progressive nature of a small(ish) college town. Returning to UC Davis, I was once again employed by an organization that embraced Principles of Community, whose tenets include to “strive to build and maintain a culture and climate based on mutual respect and caring.” I was working directly with conservationists and wildlife professionals that cared deeply for the humane treatment of all wild creatures and responding to anthropogenic disasters that damaged our environment. I was collaborating in a vibrant research environment to explore how to better understand health effects in wildlife. And I was supporting diversity through ensuring that gender identity and sexual orientation had no impact in hiring decisions or assignment of responsibilities. However, focusing on the lack of racial diversity within the wildlife community was not at the forefront of my mind, so I remained ignorant on the issues.
With the emergence of COVID-19, the OWCN has had to focus extensively on preparedness in the face of the pandemic – how should we protect ourselves, how would we respond safely where limited numbers of responders could be on scene, how best to modify our protocols to ensure we can fulfill our mandate of “best achievable capture and care to oil-affected animals”. Our One Health Institute (OHI) was fully engaged in better understanding (and providing excellent advice and recommendations on) SARS-CoV-2 as a follow-up to the successful PREDICT project and was fully enmeshed in new efforts to expand its efforts on preventing future pandemics. Working from home has made all of these efforts even more difficult, as the ability to freely discuss “off-topic” issues while on multi-hour Zoom calls is limited at best.
When George Floyd was killed on 25 May, I was horrified as the information related to how he was murdered emerged in the news. I followed closely the subsequent protests, civil unrest, and re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement as best I felt I could – through the news, sticking with the facts. I was immensely proud that our Chancellor and University leaders were stepping up to denounce racism and police brutality and was gratified that many of our OWCN partners were expressing support of these topics. The OHI was supporting the messaging that was coming from UCD and, as such, did not put out its own statement. We did not discuss this in great depth as a unit, but I agreed with this approach. And I remained silent.
However, in my reflecting more on racism as the furor increased in tenor, I delved back into UCD’s Principles of Community as well as reflecting deeply about my views on these issues. I began exploring the information on diversity and inclusion that exists within our University, but also branched into broader topics of systemic racism and the roots of social injustice. The words of Dr. Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility” were particularly impactful to me, as her exploration into not only educating oneself on the issues, but holding ourselves accountable for our actions (or inactions) on topics related to Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color (BIPOC) hit close to home. Similarly, as Ibram X. Kendi describes in his book “How to Be an Antiracist”, “(t)he opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ The opposite of racist is antiracist.” In other words, silence is not considered golden, but complicit in the ingrained racism that exists within our society. Antiracist is active and requires action to lead to success.
As such, I am very happy to report that the OHI has worked hard over the past two weeks on better understanding our role in promoting antiracism and applying action towards the topic. Below is our statement:
“Your Leadership Team believes that our actions will illustrate our commitment more than any, likely inadequate, words that we could put forward. Thus, I share with you now our commitments to addressing these complicated issues in the short and long-term and invite you to participate to the fullest extent possible.
100% of your Leadership Team will be participating in racial justice, diversity, equity & inclusion training.
The OHI will pay the fee associated with any associated student, staff, or faculty member to attend such training.
We have already completed the campus Needs Assessment for Diversity & Inclusion Education focused on systemic racism for the OHI and have requested an institute-wide workshop.
We commit to an external audit of our communications for unconscious bias, following the lead of our SeaDoc Society that had started this process some time ago.
The OHI will organize a facilitated reflection on unconscious bias to be held in our workplace.
We will continue to contribute to the education of our underserved communities and will expand our knowledge-sharing on racial inequities in the following ways:
Deliver One Health and social justice material in the SMASH for high school students from low-income or historically underrepresented backgrounds.
Deliver the same in the COSMOS program for STEM students in grades 8-12 and at the undergraduate, professional, and graduate levels.
Make available educational content on birds of prey and the environment from the California Raptor Center and the SeaDoc Society’s Explore the Salish Sea: A Nature Guide for Kids at no cost to Title I schools and continue to make the book available to every 5th and 6th grader in the Salish Sea regardless of ability to pay.
In order to improve the inclusivity and social awareness in the One Health movement, we will offer at least five $5-10k grants competitively for students, staff, and faculty to develop either improvements in the One Health approach in the area of social and racial inequities or ways to use the One Health approach to address systemic racism.
We will seek donor funding to continue successful approaches in this realm in the long-term.
Leadership commits to continuing to do this important work in all areas of activity of our institute and to demonstrate this commitment in meetings, products, and initiatives.”
It is our responsibility to educate ourselves on key issues regarding BIPOC and to reflect on our own implicit biases, our own actions, and our positions. As such, I encourage you to explore the excellent information becoming more widely available (some suggested links are available in hyperlinks in this blog as well as below) and take action. Personally, I am currently participating in the 21-Day Racial Habit Building Challenge to help me “create effective social justice habits” and to better understand how pervasive systemic racism is ingrained into our society.
I am also committing myself to move past simple “education and love” (as Ibram Kendi states) and closely evaluate how “self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest.” As Dr. Kendi so eloquently states, “(w)hen the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.” I commit myself to use my position as Director of OWCN, as well as my other platforms at UCD, to actively promote antiracism and affect positive change as best I can.
I encourage you to join me, in the words of our Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Renetta Garrison Tull, to “…remember, to think, to read, to listen, reflect, learn, plan and act, recognizing that black lives do indeed matter and that we are all going to go forward together.”
Also please take the opportunity this Juneteenth (19 June) to reject silence. Thank you.
Small sample of our amazing responders who graciously shared their video so we could see their smiling faces!
Thank you to everyone who joined us live last week for our very first OWCN Town Hall: COVID-19, Recent Activities, and Operational Updates. We were thrilled to see over 130 responders gather virtually to listen to a global update (thank you Jonna Mazet!), hear a few OWCN specific operational updates, share lessons learned from our most recent response, meet our newest staff member and ask some excellent questions. You are the Network, and we miss you!
Snapshot of the agenda
If you are an OWCN responder and were unable to join the fun, have no fear, as we have posted PDFs of each presentation, along with a recording of the meeting (available via the responder database, listed under the opportunities tab). If you have any issues finding it, just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since we had so much fun, we are already in the early phases of planning another OWCN Town Hall (version 2.0), likely coming your way in June. But in the mean time, please continue all your efforts to curb the spread of this pandemic, and know that the Oiled Wildlife Care Network remains ready to respond (albeit with some operational modifications).
Note the NEW dates for some of our training courses!
PS. We have just posted our revised 2020 OWCN Training Calendar to the responder database, so don’t forget to check that out as well! A direct email to all responders with this information, plus some additional training course safety protocols, will hit your inbox soon. We hope to see some of you, from at least 6ft away wearing a mask, later this fall!
And if you are not currently an active OWCN responder but wish to learn more about how to become one, please send us an email at email@example.com.
Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning on 21 April 2010 / AP
As OWCN responders, I am sure everyone is aware by now that today, 20 April, marks the 10-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the start of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) that went uncontrolled for more than 80 days. There are a number of excellent pieces on the history and sheer scale of the operation (several of which I will link below), but I wanted to give a personal story to try and give a bit more color to at least my little corner of the incident.
I was one of the many who watched in horror at the early phase of the accident – the rig up in flames, the workers who lost their lives – and then watched as the released oil rose to the surface and made its way toward the Louisiana coastline. As one of the writers of the 2007 Oiled Marine Mammal Guidelines for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), I was quickly brought into the loop on marine mammal and sea turtle issues – in an environment where 30 different species of mammals and 4 of 5 species of turtles were at significant risk. I also reached out directly to BP and International Bird Rescue, as key partners for us in California, and offered the assistance of the OWCN if needed. Rhonda Murgatroyd, acting Wildlife Branch Director for the BP operations and Dr. Teri Rowles, program coordinator for NMFS’ stranding program, both asked me to fly to Louisiana on 27 April to lend assistance for the mammal and turtle effort (as Tri-State Bird Rescue had been mobilized to lead the bird effort). Thus started a 5-month, 9-round-trip, 1300-work-hour operational response for me, but little did I know it would also end up occupying much of the following 10 years in broader preparedness activities!
Mike Ziccardi at the DWH Incident Command Post
After arriving at the Houma, LA incident command post (or ICP), one of the first things I was asked to focus on was working with NMFS staff to identify existing personnel and facilities in the region, make recommendations to what might be needed if the spill required a large-scale rehabilitation effort (recall that the oil stayed off shore for more than two weeks), and to implement the existing protocols to address the effort. Each of those tasks ended up being enormous undertakings. First, no one could predict how large the spill could end up being, so the entire GoM was considered at risk (later that was expanded to Cuba and the Atlantic seaboard, but that’s another story…) and plans had to be developed from Texas to Florida. Next, while excellent facilities and personnel exist in key areas around the Gulf, facilities had not been developed specifically with oil containment in mind. Third, amazing responders and rehabilitators operated from these facilities, but none had the required 24-hour OSHA training necessary to enter a “hot zone” before the event, and volunteers had been expressly forbidden to work in the effort. Last, but certainly not least, the protocols that Dr. Shawn Johnson and I had worked hard on in the mid-2000’s had been based on the current state of knowledge for oiled wildlife care – namely impacts and protocols related to pinnipeds and sea otters, with little detailing cetaceans (and none involving sea turtles). So just a few challenges…
Exam on juvenile sea turtle
As the spill evolved, the Marine Mammal/Sea Turtle (MM/ST) Unit tried to stay one (or more) steps ahead of the “curveballs” that were thrown at us daily. Amazing collaborators and scientists from NOAA (such as Teri Rowles, Sarah Wilkin, Trevor Spradlin, and many others on the mammal side; Barbara Schroeder, Sara McNulty, Alexis Gutierrez, and many more on the turtle side; and Lavonne Hull and a tremendous support team from UCD) took turns rotating into the ICP to work with me to support the management effort, while the key stranding coordinators and scientific staff solved the problems in real time in the field. When very few oiled turtles arrived on the beach in the first two weeks, plans were quickly made to travel more than 100 miles offshore to start combing the oiled sargassum for juvenile animals at risk (complete with aerial assistance to allow for efficient searches). When dead bottlenose dolphins began stranding in large numbers in remote locations, large-scale recovery efforts were mounted to be able to bring the carcasses back so that full post-mortem examinations could be undertaken. When it became clear the scope and breadth of the impacted region, key facilities from the Texas-Louisiana border through to the panhandle of Florida were revamped to accommodate oiled dolphins and turtles (and later expanded appreciably once animals arrived). Additionally, stand-by facilities for oiled cetaceans and turtles were identified in areas outside of that geographical limit, additional sites were found to accommodate oiled manatees should they be captured, and secondary facilities were found that could take de-oiled animals if needed to free up space at the primary sites. When large-scale controlled burns were initiated, an outcry from the general public regarding the potential of animals to be caught in the “burn box” ended up in a rapid, comprehensive, and collaborative approach to survey each and every potential burn site before igniting it. These, and the daily sourcing of caffeine (the subject of which became one of my favorite blog posts during this response) were just a few of the daily challenges that we met and conquered during the response.
Oiled dolphin collected during DWH / NOAA
One of the most memorable things for me personally, aside from trying hard to do what we could for all of the animals at risk, was the public thirst for information on the spill. Because of the sheer scale of the event (with more than 47,000 people working on it at its largest effort), getting key information into the public sphere on the wildlife effort was difficult. With operations spread between four different Sectors (each of which had an ICP that reported to a Unified Area Command), enumerating the impacts to animals accurately was critical – especially in the face of images of heavily-oiled pelicans in the daily press. There were even reports of “black van” and “black boat” operations that prowled at night to collect oiled marine mammals and dispose of them to hide evidence! While we were delivering information to the Unified Command daily related to mammals and turtles, early in the response those data were held close – which ended up translating into little information being released on the overall wildlife effort. To try and do a small part to alleviate this dearth of info, I turned to the OWCN Blog (yes, this blog site) to try and get at least a bit of information out there on the MM/ST planning and response efforts; no numbers, mind you, but some information pertaining to what was being done to benefit those animals at risk. The LAST thing I wanted to do each night was to head back to the La Quinta Inn after a 14-hr shift and wax philosophic, but I felt it my responsibility to try and get SOME info into the public arena to answer the questions of what was being done, and by whom. Aside from some particular literary embellishments (such as comparing the spill at one point to the Sword of Damocles), the blog landed well – and in fact led to additional media interest that then led to the ability to get good messaging out on the wildlife effort. Which leads me to the key point of this section: sharing correct information on excellent work is a critical part of emergency response. While I abhor being in the spotlight, either you control your message, or someone else will control it for you.
NOAA National Guidelines
Ultimately, the well was killed after 87 days of uncontrolled release (and several unsuccessful attempts of stemming the flow). However, the work was far from over at that point. Some absolutely amazing work was started or continued: Lori Schwacke’s work investigating the chronic effects of oil exposure on coastal bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay, LA and Brian Stacy’s continued efforts to fully document the effects in sea turtles and dolphins collected dead during the response to name just two. The response also resulted in an increased effort at an international level by the oil industry to better prepare for, and mitigate the effects of, oil spills, leading to the formation of the IPIECA – International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) Joint Industry Project. The IPIECA-IOGP JIP have focused on 24 key areas of recognized preparedness need for industry – one of which is oiled wildlife preparedness (and has led to the funding and support for the Global Oiled Wildlife Response Service, or GOWRS, Project, of which the OWCN is a proud member). Closer to home, the conclusion of the Deepwater Horizon incident has led to an increased effort by NOAA to better prepare for oil spill responses that may impact either marine mammals or sea turtles. The OWCN (primarily myself and Dr. Greg Frankfurter, with oversight Dr. Rowles and Sarah Wilkin) have helped formulate revised National Guidelines for marine mammal response, inclusive of “lessons-learned” from cetaceans and response actions during this incident. We have also focused on more regional-specific details through Regional Plans and Operational Annexes in each of the NMFS stranding response regions to identify key risk areas/species and available resources. Last, we have been conducting trainings (both operational and OSHA-mandated activities) in most of the regions to ensure the lack of trained and knowledgeable personnel will not hamper responses moving forward. So some tangible “silver linings” have definitely emerged from this disaster.
Washing an adult turtle during DWH
In looking back at this event, it makes me realize that all long-time oil spill responders tell stories of “the big one” – whether that is Exxon Valdez 30 years ago, Treasure 20 years ago, or even Deepwater Horizon 10 years ago. Each and every incident have pearls of knowledge buried within, and it is the responsibility of dedicated responders to unearth them to make things better for the animals (and people) who are involved in the future. While I have been personally disappointed in the lack of legislative motion following this event (as compared to that following the Exxon Valdez incident 30 years ago), I am pleased that we as a community dedicated to the welfare of wildlife have done so much in these 10 years to improve our processes to truly embrace the “best achievable capture and care” mandate that is the OWCN mission.
Mike Ziccardi in his one day out of the ICP!
And, as our previous Volunteer Coordinator Kaiti used to say, you are at 1688 words, so enough already! And if you read to this point, you CLEARLY are either really bored or appreciate my particular bent as to writing, so please feel free to relive 2010 with me in the archives of my blogs linked below.
Take care, and please stay safe in these uncertain times.
Additional links to Deepwater Horizon response stories:
Take a peek at this video to learn what simple 5-minute task you can do today that could change your life as well as the lives of the animals you work with!
The OWCN Mentored Research Program is open to all of our Member Organizations!
Filling out the 5-minute Project Concept Form and submitting it by July 5th to Lorraine Barbosa at firstname.lastname@example.org will afford you the opportunity to be paired with an OWCN mentor to create and submit a Full Project Proposal in time for consideration for this year’s funding. But don’t worry! After July 5th, your Project Concept Form is not late, it just gives you and your mentor even more time to prepare a Full Project Proposal in time for next year’s funding!
It’s no surprise that educational outreach is an important part of OWCN activities, given our affiliation with UC Davis. OWCN management staff recently visited four K-12 classrooms in Davis, sharing the impact of oil on wildlife and the environment, the role of OWCN in responding to a spill, and perhaps an obligatory cute otter photo.
Scott discusses the impact of various oil products on wildlife.
Responder specialist, Scott Buhl, gave a presentation at Davis Senior High School as part of an Earth Day speaker series in teacher Sherri Sandberg’s Chemistry in the Community course. The series was organized by two student clubs, RISE (Recycling is Simply Elementary) and the Environment Club. Despite the presentation being optional and during the lunch hour, more than 30 students attended.
Putting himself in the student mindset, Scott described the challenges of maintaining a constant state of readiness for a spill, saying, “It’s like preparing for a test every day. We’re always trying to improve.”
Scott fielded several questions after the presentation, including how often spills happen, how long responders stay at a spill site, and what students could do to get involved.
“The classroom was filled with environmentally conscious and inquisitive students who spent their lunch break eager to learn about oiled wildlife response,” said Scott. “Our visit left me motivated and impressed about the power of the next generation.”
Kyra and Jennie visit Da Vinci Junior High.
Kyra Mills, deputy director of field operations, and Jennie Hawkins, field operations specialist, visited three 7th grade science classes at Da Vinci Junior High in Davis. During the presentation, students learned how sea otters rely on their fur, rather than blubber, to stay warm in cold ocean waters, and how oil compromises that ability. Students had an opportunity to touch a sea otter pelt to understand its fur density (from 250,000 to 1 million hairs per square inch!) first hand.
Kyra explained that a key responsibility of the field operations team during a spill is to observe an animal’s behavior to determine if it has been affected. Bringing that lesson to life, students were formed into four-to-five member “field ops” teams. Each team received a pair of binoculars and a clipboard with a survey log, and then headed outside to a nearby lawn to “observe” a variety of animal displays and identify whether they were oiled or not.
A student uses binoculars to identify an otter “in the wild.”
“We just finished a project on ecology and endangered species, and our next project is on natural resources, so this presentation and exercise fits in perfectly,” said Da Vinci science teacher Sean Glantz.
A completed survey log.
What’s next for OWCN K-12 outreach? We’ve got a full schedule, including a spill drill exercise with an undergraduate One Health club at Cal Poly-SLO, a booth at Bird Day LA, State Scientist Day at the State Capitol, a visit to an elementary school and a Take our Sons and Daughters to Work Day event in Sacramento. Plans for new educational activities and teacher resources are also in the works. Stay tuned on the blog for updates, and in the meantime, learn more about how we reach out to students, the public and scientific communities.