It’s Not Just a Job, It’s an Adventure!

Last week, Mike briefly blogged about the current job openings at OWCN. If you are a regular reader on this site, you know that there have been a number of blogs over the last half year devoted to goodbyes and thank you’s. Friends and colleagues who were formerly key members of the OWCN Management Team have moved on to new and exciting chapters in their lives. Those of us who remain are excited for everything we already have planned for 2018, but we are even more excited to find out who will join our team and what new experience, knowledge, perspective, ideas and enthusiasm they will bring with them.SilhoutesI can honestly say that working at OWCN is never boring or unfulfilling. Each day dawns with tremendous potential. Many days end with my accomplishing little that I planned at the start of the day, but always succeeding in doing something that will make a difference to animals at risk from oil spills in California or around the world.  And that is true for everyone on our team, though, perhaps, we don’t always recognize it. The OWCN Management team is made up of individuals with a wide range of skills, values, and viewpoints and working with them is a unique experience. Every person on our team is expected to be a leader, providing vision and innovation when called upon but easily adapting to take on whatever task is needed to successfully produce Oilapalooza, wash an oiled snake, or do an interview on the radio.

IMGP0107The beauty of working here is you never know what your day will be, but you can bet it won’t be boring. There are few jobs where one night you might be out on the ocean catching murres with the moon just rising, the following week teaching 6 graders about oiled wildlife, and the month after, training oiled wildlife responders in Mexico or Azerbaijan.

2014-12-04 11.35.37 I don’t mean to say that working at OWCN is all fun and games, every single day – it is not.  It can be very hard work, especially during an oil spill activation, with animal lives in the balance. But I think most of us here thrive on wanting to do everything within our power to help prepare for the next spill, which will ultimately help save more animals – our ultimate goal.  So if this sounds like you, who you would like to be, or a team you would like to be part of, I hope you will apply for one of the 3 openings!

-Curt

Responder Specialist:
Final filing dates for the Readiness Coordinator and Vet positions will be 19 January 2018, and the Responder Specialist due 22 January 2018.

Farewell OWCN!

Justin Cox (Fourth from right) joining the rest of the OWCN team during the pre-drill festivities in Quincy, CA

I’ve managed communications for the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, which is home to Oiled Wildlife Care Network, for the past four years. About halfway through my tenure, I booked a week-and-a-half long vacation so that the band I play in could go on a 10-date tour. The first of those shows was on May 20, 2015, which is not an insignificant timeframe for the OWCN.

That’s one day after a pipeline burst and the Refugio Oil Spill began! Of course! I spent the next two days making phone calls and sending emails to put the ducks in a row – coordinating with the UC Davis communications team to make sure they could send people down there to capture photos and document our team’s work.

To take matters to their logical extreme, the bulk of the OWCN team was at a conference in Alaska when the pipe ruptured. They had to fly down in waves as the severity of the spill became clear and seats opened up on flights. Some flew to Davis first to prep equipment and transport it to the spill. I was there to watch Kyra and Tim pack the MASH and head south. Fast and efficient from top to bottom. It was cool to watch.

I reflect on this today because, after four years in my position, I am moving on to an exciting opportunity with the SeaDoc Society in the Pacific Northwest. It’s another Wildlife Health Center program, so I’ll still be part of the family.

I’ve always found the OWCN to be interesting (compared to the many other programs I work with at the WHC) in that there is this constant need for readiness because disaster can come at any time, and those disasters can take many shapes and sizes.

That constant need for improvement is abundantly clear at the Network’s yearly full-deployment drills, where every fathomable curveball gets thrown just to make sure the team has the skills to hit them. If there’s a swing and a miss, then it’s time to talk about ways to improve for next time. That cycle is endless.

There’s no way to ever be 100% prepared, especially with the expansion to inland spill response and the many threats posed by rail transport, but the OWCN does an impressive job of getting as close as possible, and never resting on their laurels.

That extends beyond animal response and care. They manage databases, run trainings, mobilize teams and even handle the bulk of their communications on their own. The fact that they maintain a weekly blog is impressive given their array of other responsibilities. During Refugio, the team provided updates on social media, answered important questions via blog posts and responded to requests from the media.

By the time I made it down to San Pedro where dozens of oiled pelicans were recovering, the most urgent work had been done. The team had seized upon the unfortunate reality of the spill and used it as an opportunity to put trackers on a selection of pelicans to monitor their behavior and survival after the spill. Those results will inform and improve future oil spill responses. Such is the quest for steady improvement at the OWCN. I feel lucky to have worked alongside this team.

I plan on refreshing my HAZWOPER certification in the coming month, so if/when a big one happens, drop me a line and ask my new boss to send me down with a camera and a notepad!

-Justin Cox

NOTE: Me and the entire OWCN team wants to sincerely thank Justin for his behind-the-scenes professional telling of our story over the past several years, and wishes him and his family the best of luck in his new adventure with our sister organization up north on Orcas Island! And, yes, I will be on the phone with Joe Gaydos when we need him! – Mike

OWCN @ State Scientist Day

A few of us OWCN’ers (Tim, Nancy and myself) had a great time educating a few thousand students from area grade schools at the 2017 State Scientist Day held at the State Capitol in Sacramento and hosted by the California Association of Professional Scientists. (more info and pictures here)

It served as a great opportunity for us to set up a few of our educational outreach activities including our ‘blubber glove’ experiment, feather examination station (with magnifying glasses and microscopes), and our go to classic…sea otter pelts. IMG_0809IMG_0808

 

 

 

 

 

While the kids were definitely very excited to be out of the classroom for the day, I believe we were able to grasp the attention of many and teach them a few fun facts about our amazing California wildlife.  Informal education, especially in a setting like this, can be surprisingly tiring, but equally gratifying, as the raw enthusiasm and hunger for information that these kids bring undoubtedly rubs off on you.  In a time where the value of science may be questioned, these children provided a reassuring reminder that the scientific search for answers is priceless!

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-Scott

 

The Value of Science

keep-calm-and-love-science-287Science (noun): the state of knowing; knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.

Over the past week or so, I have started (and restarted) this blog post numerous times as the news cycle has ebbed and flowed. Potential changes to regulations, laws, and personnel at key Federal agencies associated with the new US Administration have created great uncertainty regarding the future of environmental efforts.  No matter what your political leanings, I think everyone can agree that we are living in particularly tumultuous times.

One significant issue that has struck me deeply in the past several months, however, is the great scrutiny/debate over the value and role of science and scientific findings. These efforts (if valued and used correctly) can help to foster legislative and/or societal change for the better; if not, decisions can be made without factual support and are thereby more prone to being swayed by public opinion or conjecture. Stephanie blogged last week on how citizens can help in this effort but, more broadly, it seems as if scientists are embattled on a number of fronts – particularly on environmental issues.

IMG_4207For wildlife conservation (and specifically oiled wildlife response and welfare), much of what we do and know is based on best available information and not hard data, as it can be exceedingly difficult to design studies that can collect and interpret information necessary to answer our key questions. During oil spill responses, the emergent nature of the work necessitates rapid decisions as well as huge allocations of resources. The animals we receive also often have life-threatening health issues that require immediate intervention. Taking the time needed to thoroughly consider appropriate projects, as well as finding the resources (people, time, funding) to conduct the work, is challenging at best.

One of the aspects I am most proud of within our California program (in addition to our wonderful partners!) is the explicit mandate to provide “best achievable” capture and care to those animals in our charge. This legislatively-stated goal further requires us to support a research and technology development program that demands we explore better ways of responding to animals in crisis, as well as having a greater understanding of how oil can affect wildlife species. Since 1996, the OWCN has been proud to fund more than 130 scientific projects with external collaborators, as well as conduct numerous studies led by OWCN Management Team staff. The information gleaned from this work has helped us to better develop treatment protocols, design modular and permanent equipment/facilities, and help to support understanding of long-term ecosystem-level effects that spills can cause.

sea turtle 3While we collectively have a long way to go to understand the complexity of petroleum impacts on environmental systems, recent findings from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 have significantly helped to increase this knowledge pool. As part of the Damage Assessment phase of the spill, an extremely in-depth look at the multitude of direct and indirect effects on all parts of the food chain has been published and is available at NOAA’s Gulf Spill Restoration site, with more detailed information found on the DoI’s Administrative Record site. Additionally, publications are now starting to make their way into the scientific literature detailing the impacts specifically to higher vertebrates, specifically birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. Specifically, a special edition of Endangered Species Research was released just this week containing 20 publications detailing the impacts to mammals and turtles, with a special issue of a prominent toxicology journal to soon detail work on birds.

Thus, while the value of science and scientific inquiry may be debated on a broader level, the efforts of the OWCN and others directed at a more complete understanding of mitigating the impacts of oil should accidents occur cannot be minimized. We, as a program of UC Davis, are committed to continue to do the best investigative work possible to minimize animal suffering as well as more fully understand both the direct as well as indirect effects that spills can create. Due to the forethought of California legislators and voters, the support of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the indefatigable efforts of our partners within the OWCN Member Organizations, we collectively can continue to drive this profession forward for the betterment of our wildlife.

Mike

The Miracle of OWRMD

Unlike my six-year-old, whose list to Santa is comprised mostly of toy weapons, my wishes for the New Year are less tangible. Less war, less poverty, less hunger, less deforestation, fewer emerging diseases, fewer extinctions, lower carbon emissions, no oil spills . . . . you get the idea. Given the current state of the world, it would probably take a miracle for any of those wishes to come true. But one miracle I am counting on is the promise of OWRMD!

Many, many years ago, Mike realized that an electronic medical record keeping system would be a huge boost to animal care during a spill response. After a LOT of work, angst, pain, blood, sweat, tears, and electronic device purchases, we are close to having a truly game-changing system in OWRMD, thanks to Devin Dombrowski and the Wild Neighbors Database Project (a non-profit that is already doing great work providing a free online medical records option for wildlife rehabilitators – follow the link to learn more or to donate).

OWRMD is a medical records database system that is purpose-built for the care of animals during an oil spill response, and it has been worth waiting for.  OWRMD is not exactly the same as the WRMD that is currently used in dozens of rehabilitation centers, but it is closely related. Many operations will be the same, and if you are comfortable with WRMD, getting comfortable with OWRMD will be a snap. It’s intuitive and has a lovely interface design, so even those who are not used to electronic medical records will become accustomed to it in no time.

It’s not quite finished yet, but for those of you who already use WRMD, you can understand how great a tool OWRMD will be. In the coming months, look out for opportunities to learn more about OWRMD, such as participating in drills or specific training sessions. At first, OWRMD will be for birds only, but we will be integrating other species into it as we move forward.

This holiday season, be safe, be healthy, be happy  . . . . and be thankful for whatever miracles come your way!

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Christine

The Descent is Always the Trickiest!

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

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

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

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

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

Curt

Encouragement from the Next Generation

Here at headquarters, we deal with a lot of mail on behalf of the Network – advertisements, catalogues, invitations, and by far the most exciting: notes of encouragement.  Often these notes come from enthusiastic young people who have been learning about oil, oil spills, and the environment.

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By Parshall

We’re always thrilled to receive these thoughtful notes and drawings.  They’re a reminder that not only are we working for the animals, but we’re working to preserve the wonder of the natural world for future generations.  The animals aren’t able to speak for themselves (and if they could, they’d tell us to stay away from them), but these students, our developing researchers, advocates, innovators, volunteers, and spill responders, certainly can.

So I’ll let the voices of our future take it from here!

“Thank you for saving every plant, animal, or any kind of anything… I would want to work there too. But I’m only 9 years old. I’ll probably work there when I’m older.” – Ava

“Thank you for taking care of our environment. Without you, thousands of animals would have perished. We thank you for giving your time and effort… The thing that concerns me the most about an oil spill is that one might hurt the environment for good.” – Sophie

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By Suzanna, Ava, Rhea, Kate, Sarah, and Sam

“We are writing this letter to thank you for saving wildlife from oil spills. Recently, we have been learning about how hard your job is and what it takes to save poor animals from oil. We did experiments that helped us learn about how hard your job would be on a daily basis. We also learned how delicate you have to be with the animals to ensure that they don’t get hurt… We would also like to thank you… again. For the effort and hard work. Also that you save all those animals.” – Nikkie, Lisa, Lily, and Andy

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By Libby

Thank you for helping animals that have been effected by oil spills… I love all animals so when I hear about an oil spill my first thought is, “Are the animals okay?” – a 5th grader

“I am writing to thank you for keeping our oceans and marine life free of oil pollution. My class and I know that it is hard work because we did a pie-pan oil spill cleanup experiment… My group and I discovered that this is not an easy task. We can’t even imagine trying to clean up real-life oil spill in the ocean and handle real, breathing, wiggling animals.  Again I want to thank you so much for volunteering to make a difference for the environment. Your time and effort to keep our ocean life oil-free is highly appreciated by millions and, most importantly, by Mother Earth. Keep up the great work!” – Emma