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.

Join the OWCN Team!

The OWCN is currently recruiting for two career positions at this time: a Readiness Coordinator and a Facility Veterinarian. A third position (Responder Specialist) will be posted shortly. Details on these positions can be found on the following links:
Final filing dates for these positions will be 19 January 2018.
-Mike

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

Off to a galaxy far far away…

I generally don’t think much about what I’m going blog about until the deadline is either 6 hours away or 6 hours past and today was no different. I remembered it was my turn to blog when I look at our OWCN shared calendar this morning and saw CC Blog.  I thought about Oilapalooza coming up in October, the Oiled Wildlife Specialist training we are all working to develop content for, next year’s full deployment drill, and a bunch of other things we have been working on stop. But then I thought about something more important than any those things and something it is much easier to write about from the heart: Our team.

I have only been on the OWCN Management Team here at the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center in the One Health Institute in beautiful VM3B on the UC Davis campus for two years, but I have been working with the OWCN team since the beginning.  Though I probably can’t provide first and last names of everyone who has been member of the OWCN team I think I could get pretty close and I have fond memories of working with everyone. It is always hard to see them move on. But Friday will especially hard because it will be the last day for one of the nicest, most consistently cheerful people I have ever worked with – Becky Elias, the OWCN Volunteer Coordinator.

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I know we will all dearly miss her smile, her attitude and her efforts for our cause. Becky has worked alongside a full scale model of R2D2 in a cubicle just outside my office since I became an OWCN employee in June 2015. In my mind though, I will always picture her in Tyvek, sitting in a pen in New Zealand, head down and focused on a bird in hand and surrounded by penguins seeking fish. I think that was the first time that I had really worked with her, and I always feel a spill is where you get to know what a person is really like. Becky is someone who works hard behind the scenes to make sure that the little but important things that are the keys to success in a wildlife response are done well. Even a very successful response like Rena is stressful for the people feeding hundreds penguins several times a day.

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Becky as always up for any task no matter how unpleasant or boring it might seem, or how late the hour. Or at least that is the way I will remember her. When she drives off to Washington state with her family this weekend, it may be the end of the Becky Elias Volunteer Coordinator era here at OWCN but I hope she will come back to lend us a hand when we need her in a spill.

As Alexander Graham Bell said “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us”. Becky will make it difficult for all of her friends here in Davis and at all of the Member Organizations to not focus on the door which is closing, but I am also eager to see the new door open and I hope you will be as well. But for now, thanks Becky for all that you have done for all of the people who make up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and from all of those penguins in Rena. You will always be part of the team.

-Curt

Becky new food prep

 

Taking Route 66 all the way to Albuquerque (Zoo)

Reading Chris’s blog last week about her first IOSC and description of it reminded me how long I have been attending and how many great people I have met in the field of oil spill response since my first IOSC in 1991 in San Diego. It is always a great learning experience with great presentations, posters and new products. It is also a chance to catch up with people that you have met or worked with at oil spills, drill or trainings and it always reminds me of how many great people dedicated to their particular profession I have had the opportunity meet and work with over my years. Which leads me to real subject of my blog.

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Grebe research capture

At the end this month, Dr. Christine Fiorello will be leaving her position at OWCN for a new job at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I know her departure will have a tremendous impact on OWCN, and she will be missed. Chris came to OWCN in 2010 in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and the first time I met her was at the oiled wildlife rehab center set up in Theodore, Alabama. I remember her sitting at a table in the office focused on her computer, working away.  Since that time I have had the opportunity to work with Chris on a variety of projects and have always been impressed by her intelligence and dedication to providing a high level of care to her patients as well as her passion for sharing knowledge through both peer reviewed publications and hands-on trainings.

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Sea otter health assessment

To me, the long term impact of her contribution to OWCN and the the profession of oiled wildlife response is clearly reflected in her work on two important OWCN protocol documents. Her leadership, writing and editing of the revision of the OWCN Protocols for the Care of Oil Affected Birds ensures that document will maintain its position as a key reference for oiled bird care around the world. The recent completion of the Protocols for the Care of Oil-Affected Sea Otters was the culmination of several years of writing, editing and dedicated herding of the cat-like creatures who have the knowledge and experience critical to making it a practical and scientific guide setting the world standard for oiled otter care.

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Fitting transmitter for Refugio post-release study

Chris has offered to assist with future OWCN response trainings as well as spill responses, so hopefully we will have the opportunity to work with her again. But for now we offer our thanks for all of her efforts for OWCN and the animals and wish her the best of luck in her next adventure.

Curt

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

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).

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Train derailment, Moser Oregon- WA Department of Ecology

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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.

-Curt