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!



A Timely Reminder of the Road Ahead

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

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


Train derailment, Moser Oregon- WA Department of Ecology


Train derailment, Moser, Oregon – Washington Dept of Ecology

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

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

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

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]


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

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

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


Responder Database Update!

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As many of you have probably already seen, our responder database recently got a bit of a face lift!

The good news is that nearly all of the substantial changes are on the admin side, some of which actually address feedback we’ve provided!  Other than a sleek new color scheme and a few name changes (“Sign Up” is now “Opportunities” and “Assignments” is now “Schedule”), you may also notice the help section has been streamlined and now includes a whole host of super-short videos demonstrating how to navigate your account.

Becky and I are working on updating our reference materials to reflect the changes (and also exploring the new options we might take advantage of in the near future), but in the meantime, we encourage you to play around with the pretty new interface – and as always, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions!

Take care,

Steph Herman

OWCN Avian Care Protocols Available


At long last, the Third Edition of the OWCN “Protocols for the Care of Oil-Affected Birds” are available for viewing on the OWCN website. To access them, you will need your Member Organization’s username and password. We are absolutely thrilled that they are finally done. Except, of course, that they are not really “done”; our protocols will always be a moving target, as we continually strive to improve “best achievable care.” We consider the Protocols a living document that we will update as needed.

A huge number of people have contributed to the completion of this document, including Dr. Greg Massey, who started the process of revising the OWCN Protocols years before I started in this position. I want to thank Greg for getting the process started, and for all his input since. Other key contributors include Curt Clumpner, Dee Goodfriend, Diana Humple, and Dr. Erica Miller, all of whom provided extensive comments on earlier drafts that greatly improved the final product. Many others have reviewed and edited the document; too many people to list here. You know who you are, and know that you have our thanks!

The Protocols are designed for use by our Member Organizations; much of the content is specific to the oil spill response structure in the State of California. While many aspects of care may be generally applicable, we are not so presumptuous as to think we know the best or only way to care for oiled birds! That being said, we are strongly in favor of collaborating and sharing information and experience with other like-minded oiled animal care groups.

I hope you find the Protocols helpful and easy to use. If you find mistakes or have suggestions for improvements, please let me know. We intend it to be a living document, although we likely won’t perform another major overhaul for a few years. Keep in mind the OWCN Mentorship Research Program; major changes to our Protocols get incorporated because someone has an idea and the energy and enthusiasm to demonstrate that they work.

Thanks for all you do for wildlife!



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Goodbye and thank you!

As Mike announced in his last post, I am starting vet school here at UC Davis in just a few short weeks, and Friday was my official last day.  It has been a real pleasure to work with such an exciting group over the last three years, and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with so many amazing people, from the OWCN staff here in Davis to the staff and volunteers at OWCN Member Organizations who are the heart and soul of this program.  But for those of you who are standing up to cheer to see the last of me…don’t get too excited!  I’ll still be working part-time for OWCN while I’m in school.  I’ll hope to continue to see you all at OWCN events and conferences!

I can’t write this blog without a plug for the newly vacant position with the OWCN.  If you are interested in joining the team, apply now since the position closes on Friday.  For details, see Mike’s most recent blog.  

– Emily

New OWCN Staff Opening

As most of you know, Emily Whitmer, our technician extraordinaire, has been accepted into vet school here at UCD beginning this Fall. While we are happy for her, we are saddened to lose her as a permanent member of the OWCN team, and need to move forward filling this key role within the OWCN as soon as possible (but definitely before the end of the summer).

As such, please find this position description here. Please note that the role has changed somewhat in that this position will now take a greater role in supporting both field as well as facility aspects of the OWCN. The official University posting (as well as application procedures) can be found here.

If anyone has any questions about the position, I would be happy to speak with folks. Please email me at mhziccardi (at)  Thanks!

– Mike

We have moved!

Last Friday marked the grand opening of the brand new research building on the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine campus, and the OWCN team has the honor of moving in along with our colleagues in the Wildlife Health Center and One Health Institute.

The building has been built to achieve LEED Gold certification, with innovative designs for energy efficiency, natural lighting, and water conservation.  For more information about the new building and the colleagues that we share it with, check out these articles: and