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

OWCN Member Organization Engagement

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s Member Organizations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to our amazing member orgs!

-Scott

Deja Vous all over again? Non merci

 

It was with great relief when I read on Monday that the cargo ship Modern Express was back under tow and headed away from land and imminent danger. The 538-foot car carrier with 300 tonnes of fuel and listing at 45 degrees as it drifted ever closer to the southern coast of France last weekend after it’s crew had been evacuated.iu

I learned of the Modern Express’s plight last week shortly after I read about Spain’s Supreme Court sentencing of the captain of the oil tanker Prestige to two years in prison for “recklessness” that resulting in catastrophic environmental damage” and the new threat could not help but bring back memories of my experience capturing and caring for oiled birds in Spain and later France in the days and weeks and following the disaster.

In November 2002, I was on the staff of International Bird Rescue (then IBRRC) and part of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Oiled Wildlife Team that worked under representatives of Xunta de Galicia managing the oiled bird center on a hill overlooking the city of Pontevedre. The wildlife response at that center, as well as other centers to the north as far as France and south into Portugal was truly an international effort. It included wildlife responders from organizations around Europe and around the world. Unsurprisingly one of those was my now boss, Dr. Mike Ziccardi, the Director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. At the time I was amazed at the rugged beauty of the coast of Galicia and the fishing villages all along it and at the devastation that the spill caused to animals and people.

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Prestige oil spill 2002 – kirikou.com

This week I could too easily imagine it all over again if the Modern Express hit the rocks and wondered how a wildlife response would place out if that nightmare should occur.

Regular readers of our blog will remember Mike’s December post about the international group the OWCN is part of which is currently working to develop a system the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) to ensure capacity to rapidly respond to oiled wildlife anywhere in the world. There is still considerable work to be done to accomplish that goal but just the fact that those groups are working on a plan means that if once again the “unthinkable” happens and another Prestige or Erika or Treasure or Deepwater Horizon occurs, we can respond at least a little bit quicker or a little bit better. As you all know when it comes to oiled wildlife, especially in early February in the northern Atlantic, every minute and every trained person counts. Hopefully by the time the next big spill occurs, a global oiled wildlife system, whatever it looks like, will be operational and ready to roll. I am sure if Mike and OWCN have anything to say about it, it will.

  • Curt

International Efforts Paying Off!

I apologize in advance for a lengthy blog post, but it has been awhile since I have written last, and I have some great and exciting news to share on international efforts that the OWCN has been helping to move forward!

Over the past decade or so, as you might or might not know, the OWCN has been collaborating with most of the other larger wildlife response organizations in the world to develop a framework for a shared/mutually supportive international oiled wildlife readiness program. This effort has finally borne fruit this Fall, with the funding (by industry) of what is being called the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (or GOWRS), and I am happy to share the basis of this program with our local OWCN partners!

JIP copyAfter the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo spill of 2010, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) identified 19 areas that they felt required industry efforts to improve overall readiness and response (these recommendations can be found here). Initially, wildlife response was seen as a need, but could not be included in the initial efforts undertaken by a Joint Industry Project (or JIP) due to funding. Fortunately, a second round of funding was able to be found, and the GOWRS was officially launched as JIP20 in April of 2015.

The GOWRS is designed to be a two-year project which aims to involve leading oiled wildlife response organizations in a collaborative effort to:

  • Address the gap between oil spill response preparedness and wildlife response preparedness on a global scale and;
  • Develop the infrastructure for a future Tier 3 (or global) system for wildlife response, including:
    • Commonly agreed animal care principles for oiled wildlife response;
    • A standard operating procedure (SOP) for the collective mobilization of oiled wildlife response organizations;
    • A roadmap for the development of readiness systems (trainings, equipment and exercises) for the oil industry to ensure operational readiness for a Tier 3 wildlife response system; and
    • A governance structure that defines how the system is developed, operated, maintained and governed.

GOWRS_PeopleThe organizations that are helping move this project forward include: Aiuká (Brazil), Focus Wildlife (U.S.), International Bird Rescue (U.S.), UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) (U.S.), PRO Bird (Germany), Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) (UK), SANCCOB (South Africa), Sea Alarm Foundation (Belgium), Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc. (U.S.), Wildbase, Massey University (New Zealand), and Wildlife Rescue Centre Ostend (Belgium).

Currently, all of the partners are working hard (via Skype and e-mail methods) to generate the documents and procedures necessary to allow such an ambitious and far-reaching program to operate. As we move these methods forward, I hope to keep our OWCN Member Organizations better informed about our progress in this exciting effort!

There are other exciting National and International efforts that the UC Davis/OWCN staff are embarking upon to better help animals in need, but I will hold those for another blog, so stay tuned!

Mike