It Takes a Village! (or a coordinated, pre-trained Network)

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is still currently activated and responding to the Pipeline P00547 Incident. We are on Day 13 of response, and our Wildlife Recovery, Field Stabilization and Care & Processing Groups continue to provide the absolute best achievable capture and care of all oil-affected wildlife. To view current wildlife numbers, please visit our website here.

While the spotlight often shines on our resilient wildlife patients, there is an army of wildlife champions behind the scenes providing some serious world class effort. To date, we have utilized more than 90 affiliated and pre-trained responders filling Incident Command System (ICS) response roles, ranging from volunteers all the way to Deputy Wildlife Branch Director. These responders are representing over 15 of our 44 OWCN Member Organizations, and making us all very proud! (click here to view all 44 OWCN Member Organizations)

In addition to our Network, we work in close collaboration with numerous federal and state agencies during an oil spill response regarding wildlife. We are in step from the beginning with our partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR), as we are activated by this state agency from the very beginning and they usually fill the Wildlife Branch Director role as well as lead Wildlife Reconnaissance efforts (including manning the Hotline). We also are in close communications with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-NMFS) in preparation for any potential oiled marine mammal or sea turtle patients. And we consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding our wildlife response plan for many threatened or endangered species potentially affected by the incident. And a special shout out for this incident to the CDFW Natural Resource Volunteer Program for providing us with personnel and a vehicle for wildlife transport!

As the OWCN Readiness Coordinator for Field Operations, I spend A LOT of my time attempting to prepare the Network for potential incidents just like this one. We recruit talented wildlife professionals, provide ample supplemental oil spill training, and conduct realistic, large scale drills. With all of this done in advance, our ability to respond quickly and efficiently is fine tuned. But even with all the preparation, when a call hits the hotline with the potential for significant wildlife impact, my heart skips a beat. Are the oiled wildlife facilities ready to fire up and begin receiving patients? Are the local 24hr HAZWOPER certified wildlife recovery responders able to head out into the field immediately on such short notice?

While the initial pace was intense, and yes, at some times a bit chaotic, all of my worries were answered with a resounding YES! We were ready to respond and remain ready to help any wildlife in need. So thank you OWCN responders for all your hard work over these past two weeks, and thank you in advance to those who will continue to contribute their time to get us to the finish line.

Each and every Responder should be proud of your own personal readiness, allowing you to quickly jump into action. Your Member Organizations are proud of your tireless efforts. And we, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s Management Team (on behalf of the entire Network), are extremely proud and thankful for your dedicated commitment to our wildlife.

Scott Buhl – OWCN

Pop Quiz: What do Renewable Fuels and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network Have in Common?

You may have come across the term “renewable fuel” or “biofuel” recently, as there has been increased chatter in the news about it. But what do these terms really mean and what are they referring to? A better question to begin with is, why are we even blogging about it this week? So, let’s dive into that first…

A bill that was recently passed, AB148, broadened OSPR’s regulatory responsibility to now include response to Renewable Fuels, in addition to the petroleum spill responsibility. Because of the role that the OWCN plays as a partner to Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), this increased mandate extends to the OWCN as well.  So, in order to understand what this means for us, we need to start with the understanding of what a Renewable Fuel is. So, join me on this ride, as we explore this together!

Renewable fuels are fuels produced from renewable resources and include biofuels and fuels mixed with different amounts of ethanol. Biofuels, also known as Biodiesel (and other proprietary names), are made by using plant and animal fats to make fuel hydrocarbons, which are mixed with diesel stock in varying amounts. These fuels are labeled as B100, B20, B6, etc., with the “B” referring to biofuel and the number referring to the volume percentage of the fuel hydrocarbons that are mixed with the diesel stock. It is much more complex than this, but these are the basics, and we will stick with that for now.

In contrast to renewable fuels, non-renewable fuels include the more commonly known fuels such as natural gas, propane, petroleum and other fossil fuels, as well as nuclear energy. As you can imagine, renewable fuels are overall lower in greenhouse gas emissions, and are more of what you would consider “earth-friendly”. Without getting into the politics and complexities of it all, there has been an overall effort to move more toward using a greater amount of renewable fuel sources for supplying our energy demands.

Getting back to the passing of the AB148 bill: what does this mean for our operations at the OWCN? Well, the short answer is that it ensures a funding source for responding to renewable fuel spills that impact wildlife. And that is great news, as the push for more renewable fuels increases the chance of more renewable fuel spills. And as we know from ‘Spills and Wildlife 101’, anything that fouls the feather or fur structure on the outside of an animal, causes skin irritation and burns or leads to the ingestion/absorption/inhalation of these products, has the potential for greatly impacting wildlife, despite its environmentally friendly-sounding name (“bio” and “renewable”).

One of the Mystery Goo spill birds that was cared for by International Bird Rescue in 2015.

Do you guys remember the Mystery Goo spill in San Francisco Bay in January 2015? This “mystery goo” impacted hundreds of birds that were cared for by International Bird Rescue staff and volunteers at the San Francisco Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in Fairfield (one of OWCN’s primary purpose-built facilities).  This “mystery goo” was only months later identified as a polymerized oil, similar to vegetable oil. At that time, no responsible party was found or came forward, and there was no funding system in place that allowed for the rescue and care of wildlife impacted by non-petroleum products, therefore the costs associated with the care of the affected birds for this spill had to come from donations alone. As a direct result of this event, and in an effort to safeguard a funding source if this ever happened again, a bill was introduced by Bay area senators Mark Leno and Loni Hancock and sponsored by San Francisco Baykeeper and Audubon California (Senate Bill 718), but unfortunately, it did not pass. That was a big disappointment but on the flipside it may have contributed to paving the way for the passing of this new bill.

So as we learn more about these fuels, you can rest assured that the OWCN will be fully embracing our mission of “best achievable capture and care” by gathering information and resources that will allow us examine our current protocols and determine if they need modifications, so when we get activated for a renewable fuel spill, we know how best to care for the animals that become impacted.

But for now, the news of the passing of this new bill is reason to celebrate, as it will allow the OWCN and its 44 Member Organization partners to rescue, stabilize, and care for animals that may be impacted by future renewable fuel spills, and that is great news for the wildlife!


The Pacific Northwest Legacy

If you have had the pleasure of traveling along the Pacific Coast from California to British Columbia, whether by car, boat, plane or train, then you are likely aware of the immense beauty this region boasts. Majestic forests, oceans and rivers full of life, towering snow-covered mountains…can you smell the trees or feel the salty wind in your face?

Clearly, one lasting legacy of the Pacific Northwest has been its bounty of natural beauty. But with this precious gift comes the responsibility to protect it from ourselves. The list of potential environmental threats is long, but one specific concern has been the transportation of oil through this region whether by pipeline, ship, truck or rail.

Discussion around this topic had begun but it was a spill incident in which an oil barge collided with its tug off the coast of Washington in 1988, that officially created the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force (Task Force).

The original Task Force members held their first Annual Meeting in March 1989, and the following day the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound prompting Alaska, California, Oregon and California to join the Task Force. Hawaii became a member in 2001 creating a coalition of western states and British Columbia, united in their efforts to prevent and respond to oil spills across the West Coast.” – Annual Report 2019

This Task Force highlights the importance of cross-border coordination and cooperation while aiming for a clear, unified mission: Working together to improve the Pacific Coast’s prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from oil spills. It also recognized the importance of coordinated wildlife response in this region from the very beginning. You can learn more about their vision, mission and goals here as well as read their latest Task Force Annual Report 2020 here.

Over the years, our colleagues at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response have been very actively involved with this Task Force, representing the state of California. But in addition, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network has supported their work as we share a similar vision and approach. In fact, we feel very attune to the Task Force, as the very essence of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network is cooperation and collaboration amongst our 44 Member Organizations so that we can provide rapid and efficient oiled wildlife response in California.

Given our shared values and vision, it was with great delight that we recognized the names of so many of the wonderful colleagues being honored this year with the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force Legacy Award (full recipient list here). While we wish to congratulate each award winner for their passion and dedication to the Task Force’s mission, we wanted to shower a bit of extra praise on these fine folks:

  • Gary Shigenaka (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): Esteemed scientist and colleague who has massively contributed to the advancement of coordinated spill response. To learn more, check out this write up “Minds Behind OR&R: Meet Marine Biologist Gary Shigenaka“.

  • Judd Muskat (CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response): Our go to Earth Scientist for all of our GIS needs, Judd has been a wonderful and reliable colleague. In addition to supporting California response efforts, Judd has contributed significantly to the advancement of the Task Force over the years.

  • Curtiss Clumpner (Oiled Wildlife Care Network): Our former Deputy Director of Care Operations, Curt has been a wildlife champion his entire life. While his passion has taken him around the world responding to spills, he has always had an extra special spot for his ‘home land’, the Pacific Northwest. And with that spirit, Curt has actively contributed to the Task Force’s efforts for many years and continues to be a strong advocate for coordinated wildlife response in the region. To learn more, check out a previous blog all about Curt – The Man…The Myth…The Legend?

Given the prestigious award announcement this week, I wanted to give Curt a call to wish him a hearty congrats. During our conversation, Curt shared that he was always fond of the Task Force, as it was one of the first efforts to establish interstate coordination and cooperation, specifically focusing on the West Coast region, which was rather unique at that time. He highlighted the fact that this cooperation during non spill times is so effective at allowing state decision makers to communicate and gain familiarity with each other which in turn increases ease of communication and mutual aid requests during oil spills.

He also pointed out that while this Task Force was created initially for oil spill response coordination, it has taken it upon itself to grow and adapt, now expanding efforts into abandoned and derelict vessels and leading a Salish Sea Shared Waters Forum. All in all, Curt shared that he felt very fortunate to be awarded the Task Force Legacy Award and that sharing this honor with Gary and Judd made it even more impactful.

Cheers to all the Legacy Award recipients, and the Task Force in general, as we salute all your hard work and efforts toward a future with No Spilled Oil!

Scott Buhl – Readiness Coordinator

Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response

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 Great North

For this week’s blog, I’d like to familiarize our members a bit with another of our California regions that some may not be very familiar with, Region 1, the “Northern” region.  As you may recall from a previous blog, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:

  • Region 1: Northern
  • Region 2: North Central
  • Region 3: Bay Delta
  • Region 4: Central
  • Region 5: South Coast
  • Region 6: Inland Deserts
  • Region 7: Marine

The Northern region extends from the Oregon border to the southern edges of Mendocino, Tehama and Lassen counties.  There are many beautiful areas in this region to visit, such as Lassen Volcanic National Park, great Redwood forests, the Mount Shasta area and the rugged northern coastline.  As for OWCN, like Region 6, it is a high wilderness area with low human populations and large inland species diversity.  

There are 5 Member Organizations in this region: 

  • Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City
  • Humboldt State University in Arcata
  • Institute for Wildlife Studies also in Arcata
  • Bird Ally X which is a couple miles south of Arcata
  • Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Education in Anderson

I thought it would be also be nice to cover a few terms as they relate to species just in case some people are not as familiar with them:

  • Endemic:  A species native to only that restricted area
  • Indigenous:  Species native to that area but may also be native elsewhere
  • Extirpated:  Species no longer present in that restricted area but still present elsewhere
  • Extinct:  Species no longer present anywhere

Because Region 1 tends to be more wilderness with higher rainfall, there is a more abundance of wildlife, particularly amphibians which often require more moisture-dependent habitats.  I’m very happy to provide you with a few brief but interesting profiles of native California species found only (or predominantly) in this region:

Southern Torrent Salamander (Rhyacotriton variegatus)

This salamander is a CDFW Species of Special Concern that inhabits the humid coastal areas from Point Arena in southern Mendocino County northward into Oregon.  Conservation is particularly important for this species because it can take up to 5 years for it to become sexually mature.

This species has very small lungs, instead relying more on its skin to obtain oxygen, thus depending on moisture to prevent it from drying.  Primarily aquatic, it is usually found in areas of shallow, cold, clear, well-shaded streams, waterfalls and seepages in old-growth forests.  It is active at temperatures between 41 – 50F and is extremely moisture dependent.  If weather or moisture become unfavorable, this small amphibian will shelter itself by burrowing under the stream bed substrate.

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

This apex predator always holds a special interest to me because it had been extirpated from California in the 1920’s but is slowly making its way back via Oregon migrations.  Although no longer a Federally Endangered Species, it is still State Endangered in California.  It has a very restricted range to the conifer forests of Lassen and Plumas Counties where there is adequate deer and elk for food and persistent water sources, while also having a low human presence.  

While there had previously also been a Shasta Pack, the only current pack is the Lassen Pack. However, the young male, “OR-93” recently made a trek of over 600 miles from Oregon’s Mt Hood area all the way south past Lake Tahoe and into Mono County! 

Humboldt Marten (Martes caurina humboldtensis)

This mustelid is a State Endangered and CDFW Species of Special Concern that inhabits old-growth conifer forests of northern Humboldt, Del Norte, and western Siskiyou counties and into Oregon.  It had been thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the Six Rivers National Forest of Siskiyou County about 25 years ago.  Currently, there are estimated to be less than 500 remaining in the wild

Although it is active year-round, the Humboldt Marten adapts its activity level depending on those of its small mammal prey, being active during the day during summer and then active at night during winter. 

Point Arena mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa nigra)  

Don’t confuse this rodent with the North American Beaver you may be more familiar with.  A “Mountain Beaver” can be 1/20th the size of the more well-known American Beaver.  It is also not aquatic although it does require moist habitats and water.  Actually, a mountain beaver’s kidneys cannot effectively concentrate urine so it must always have water available to drink.

Listed as Federally Endangered and a CDFW Species of Special Concern, the Point Arena mountain beaver is endemic to Point Arena in Mendocino County.  Because of its need for water, it is always found near rivers or streams.  It is active year-round, nocturnal and also territorial, however does not venture far from its burrow.

White-footed vole (Arborimus albipes

The last species profile for this blog is the White-footed vole.  This small rodent is found in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties and northward into Oregon.  It is listed as a Species of Special Concern by CDFW.

It inhabits coniferous and deciduous forests, usually found along smaller clear streams.  

This small mammal is mostly nocturnal and active year-round and while it builds its nests on the ground among logs and brush, it usually does its foraging in the trees!

Just this past weekend I took a short trip up to Oregon.  And while I did not see any of the animals mentioned during my stops, I did think of them and kept being on the lookout!


Passion, Commitment, GUILT


I was wondering what to blog about this week when last night I watched our dog try and walk down the hall with a newly fitted Elizabethan collar after eye surgery.  I had just driven back to the vet clinic for meds as the dog wasn’t doing as well as expected. My husband is under deadline stress at work and my dog was sleepily bumping his E collar off the walls when I thought “oh no it’s Spill Time.”

A couple hours post-op

April 2010: My husband Greg and I had just moved across the country from California to North Carolina. Leaving California was a really emotional time for me. We aren’t necessarily great at downsizing, so boxes were literally stacked over 6 feet high throughout the new house. Greg had just started a new job with the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine when my phone rings. The message: the Deep Water Horizon Oil Platform blew out, it looks like a big spill and you’ll have to fly in a few hours.”Hey Honey, there’s a big spill and I’ll be gone before you get home tonight.”   As it turned out, because this spill was so large and Greg has a lot of spill experience, the vet school sent him to help with the response as well, a couple weeks later. The response was so large and affected four states, so we only worked in the same location for a short period of time. We returned home six months later to all the boxes.

North Carolina, Spring 2011: Greg and I came to grips with the need for a couple of storage units and were somewhat settled in our new home at this point and finally received our long awaited beautiful new puppy (the one that today is staring at me with the oversized E collar over its head). At that time, Greg had just started an intensive Analytics Masters program. All was good in our world when…I get a call to respond to a spill in Canada. “Hey Sweetheart, there is a spill in Canada and I have to fly in a few hours.” I left him with school, a big commute and a new puppy that was mostly my doing. I returned home three months later! Soon after that I left for another three-month spill in Montana, and then after that a spill in New Zealand that lasted a couple of months. Needless to say, I spent much more time away than at home in 2011.

That’s how it goes. I’ve responded to a lot of spills in my life and I still haven’t met one that I would call convenient! It’s a commitment I’ve made to do something that I believe is impactful, important, and that I am really passionate about. How I manage the resulting chaos in my personal life has evolved over the years.

When I first started responding to spills in 1992 I had 2 small children and a (different) husband. Having kids definitely complicated my response to spills, but so did the husband. When you drop the bomb that you have to leave for an undetermined length of time in a few hours, even when it’s your job, can be a life challenging event for all. Who is going to take the kids to school, practice, doctor appointments, take care of the animals, pay the bills, home repairs, prepare taxes and go to the store, etc.? Spill response involves and impacts everyone in your immediate life. When you finally come home, and are sleeping a lot and not interacting with your family normally for a week definitely takes its toll. It is difficult for family and friends to really understand what you’ve been doing for the past month(s). They just know you’re gone. Most of all, they know how it’s impacted their lives and wonder why things haven’t returned immediately to pre-spill norms. How can I leave my children at Christmas? Talk about GUILT! It’s happened! My now adult children jokingly(?) talk about the lasting impacts oil spill response has had on their lives.

My entire life has always involved animals and wildlife rehabilitation. I received my first rehabilitation project when I was five. That project was of course supervised.  I have to say that I really think differently about bringing home that rescue animal who needs help or a home at this point in my life.  I guess you could say I am more logical about how my life works these days than when I was younger. At this point our kids are grown and on their own. I met a man on an oil spill response and years later married him. He has also worked many oil spill responses and so understands the ins and outs that we all face – which greatly helps with the guilt that can and most often does accompany spill response. Thankfully for me, he gets it! Even so, he still doesn’t respond to the news with a smile!

I bring all this up not to complain, but to highlight the challenges we face as emergency responders and to also emphasize some of the challenges that one needs to think about before responding. Single people need to consider who will take care of their necessary duties and any animal care needs they may have. Additional costs of animal boarding or home care have to be considered.


Always supportive but still not thrilled I’m leaving again!

In managing my life nowadays I always try to consider my responsibility to my family members, human and animal, for the sake of their and my own emotional health. I try to tend to anything that may be impacted by my absence. Even with that said, there will always be something you leave behind! I have responded many times leaving many of my usual responsibilities to others. I am less likely to do so at this point. I try and make sure I can pay bills, or at least do many of my normal tasks remotely. I try to be upfront with myself, family and friends what I will leave for them to do in my absence. Emergency response only works well when done with understanding and support. I am forever thankful for the people in my life that have helped me do what I love.

Ring Ring… “Hey Sugar, I…………”

Wendy Massey – Field Operations Facility Specialist

What Firefighting and Spill Response Have in Common

Volunteer firefighter performing one of the tasks during his physical test, pre-pandemic

About a year and a half ago, when I moved from Davis to Winters, CA, I decided to apply to become a volunteer firefighter with the Winters Fire Department.  I thought it would be a relatively simple process: you fill out an application and they accept you.  After all, you are a “volunteer”, not getting paid, and dedicating your own time to helping out, right?  I couldn’t have been more wrong! I did fill out an application, then had to show up in person for a pretty strenuous physical test that involved completing different tasks within a certain amount of time…in full turnout gear. After passing that, I had a fairly formal interview with two of the captains, then had to schedule a comprehensive medical exam, get fingerprinted at the Police Department, attend a volunteer orientation, take an oath, and then, and only then, was I “accepted”.

Swiftwater rescue training on Putah Creek in July 2020

Then the real work began: getting all my gear (and there is a lot!), getting fit-tested for the face piece of the SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, sort of like a SCUBA tank and regulator but for above water), and attending the twice month Wednesday evening trainings. This was right around the time that COVID began, so attendance to trainings involved several modifications to insure that we were all protecting ourselves and others as much as possible from COVID exposure.

Trainings at the fire station have included skill-building exercises, such as learning how to put on and operate the SCBA, hose layouts, swiftwater rescue, victim search and rescue at night, learning how to drive and operate the various fire engines, etc. And that is just the training piece. There is also on-the-job training that happens when you are at the fire station, with never-ending tasks in between calls.  It has been a steep learning curve, and continues to be, although my time at the fire department (mostly on weekends or days off) has been incredible.

I have only been a volunteer firefighter for a year, and yet I have learned so much during that time.  So, what does firefighting have to do with oil spill response, you might ask?  The answer is that there is a lot in common between the two, when you think about it (and I have thought a lot about it during the past year). Some of the similarities that stand out for me are the following (and this is by no means an exhaustive list).

Incident Command System (ICS for short)

Firefighting and spill response both operate under this system. The ICS is an organizational management structure that originated for response to fire incidents and has since been adapted for many other emergencies such as spills, floods, missing persons, storms, etc. The ICS has many uses and many benefits, including being able to expand or contract depending on the magnitude and evolution of the particular emergency. The other significant benefit of ICS is the use of common terminology, which helps make responding to an emergency much more efficient and organized, since everyone is using the common language.

Variations on the same theme: one example of an ICS layout

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)


Oiled Wildlife Responders during Refugio Oil Spill in 2015

Prior to 2020 most people did not know what “PPE” stood for, yet this acronym was being thrown around in media outlets left and right. COVID-19 has certainly changed that! PPE is meant to protect from many things (depending on the type of PPE), such as viruses, oil, hazardous chemicals, fire, etc. Most people now know that PPE refers to supplies that help protect you, and PPE can refer to anything from masks, gloves, to goggles, hard hats, face shields, etc.  As an oiled wildlife spill responder, you certainly learn about different types of PPE and which ones you are required to wear either in the field capturing an animal or at a facility while washing oil off an animal.  As a firefighter you also learn about PPE – not only the medical type used to help protect first responders from viruses, bacteria, blood borne pathogens and such, but also the type of PPE that helps protect from heat (turnouts and boots), smoke (SCBA), and physical impacts (helmets, goggles, gloves).



Oiled Wildlife Manager Training (pre-pandemic)

The effectiveness and success of a response system, whether that be firefighting or spill response, is highly dependent on ensuring that the personnel responding to an emergency have the proper training.  Training not only builds capacity and skill, but it also builds confidence as well as less tangible outcomes such as interpersonal relationships and trust-building within a team. These are just as important as learning skills, since teammates that trust each other and have good working relationships (that can only be achieved prior to an emergency), are usually more efficient than teams that have never worked together or have not had the time or opportunity to build trust with each other. Just as training is an important component of firefighting, the OWCN training program is a huge component of our overall program and as such, the OWCN Management Team dedicates a significant portion of our time on planning, preparing, and delivering different trainings throughout the state (or virtually). We consider these trainings to be so important for keeping our responders up to date on protocols, procedures, and skills. Finally, because oil spills that impact wildlife don’t happen every day in California (thankfully!), we often participate or conduct oil spill drills or exercises to help prepare for the real thing.

Emergency Response

This is the reason for our existence! When we are called upon during an emergency, such as to help someone that is in cardiac arrest, to put out a fire in a chimney, or to rescue wildlife that is covered in oil, we are there! Our goal is to be quick to respond, and fully armed with the necessary tools and skills to help out when and where we are needed.

Animals rescued during the Cuyama River Incident in 2020

Passion for Helping

Finally, firefighters and oiled wildlife responders are passionate about helping alleviate suffering and lending a hand where needed. That is why we make the decision to do what we do. No regrets, no apologies. A simple passion for making the world a better place. And that alone is a worthy goal.


Building Capacity: Update from the OWCN Facilities Team

Tim and I, like I’m sure many of you, welcome 2021. As such, we wanted to take a minute to highlight a few of the projects that we hope to take on this year.


COVID hasn’t stopped us but it sure has slowed us down. Here at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we are required to test negative for COVID-19 once a week and satisfy a health survey each day that we plan on working on campus. 

As you can imagine, keeping all of our equipment ready for response and completing many of our projects can’t be done from behind our home desk or via ZOOM. And having to physically distance as well as minimize contact with each other pushes us to prioritize tasks and rethink how we do things, at least for now. We must prioritize and review risks in order to move forward. We are constantly in phone or video contact with each other and kicking around ideas. If nothing else, these challenges have pushed us to think outside the box and optimize the way we regularly do things!

The OWCN Equipment Parade During Pre-COVID Times

Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital 2 (MASH2)

You all are probably familiar with our MASH (our 20 foot stabilization trailer that we have been using since 2010). What you may not know is that we are adding to the MASH family by finalizing the plans for our new MASH 2 so we can proceed with construction. After review and consultation with our new Field Veterinarian, Duane Tom, we have decided to change a few things that we feel will better serve our goals. We are changing the size and placement of our sink, providing a larger wet workspace that is important for function at the front (tongue end) of the trailer. This will also keep most of the plumbing in one area. Unfortunately this will eliminate a much needed and desired workspace that would be used for response documentation and planning. To adjust for this and provide a comparable working space we’ve designed the drop down exam table at the end of the trailer so that it also adjusts to a good working height that can accommodate travel chairs. This allows us not to give up any valuable working space and equipment storage.

San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC) Expansion

We are in the process of expanding our footprint at the SFBOWCEC. We will be placing a much needed new 36’ x 60’ modular building on the connected undeveloped lot. The building offers a large conference/training room, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and 1 office.  We will also be constructing a 40’ x 60’ steel garage building on the lot to be used for equipment storage and much needed workspace.

Tim is in the process of securing all the required permits from Solano County so we can finally break ground on the job. We hope to have the bulk of the project ready for use summer 2021.

A new space at SFBOWCEC

Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network (SBWCN) Breaks Ground 

One of our Member Organizations, the SBWCN, has very recently broken ground on their new Wildlife Hospital! The new hospital has a clinic, offices, spill response supply storage area and oiled animal wash and drying areas. SBWCN expects completion in about a year.  It’s very exciting! Congratulations SBWCN!

We wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year!

Tim and Wendy

Meeting the Challenges of Inland Responses

The OWCN has been responding to spills in the great state of California since 1994. Until 2014 we were responsible for marine incidents, but in 2014 we also became responsible for inland spills. California boasts 163,696 square miles mingled with railways, roadways, pipelines, and plenty of oil fields – each providing an opportunity for oil spill incidents.

Inland spills have been keeping us fairly busy for the past few years. And as with all spills we learn something new every time. Inland spills differ from marine spills in a few ways and in each instance, we evolve to master new challenges. Like I said before, California is a big state, but most of our primary care facilities are closer to the coast. This leaves a vast inland area to be covered.


Inland spills involve patients of all sizes!

Some of the ways inland spills differ from marine spills: terrain, weather, remoteness, scant to no communication capabilities, different types of waterways and different types of animals. Those different types of animals require different hazing techniques, capture, and care from those used for marine animals.

As with almost any problem, having the correct equipment makes solving it easier. To that end, we have a wide array of response equipment and supplies but including a list of all of them would make this the longest blog in history. So for this blog I will showcase only one – THE MASH!

The MASH (“Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital”) is a 20 ft long trailer that helps us meet inland response needs in a big way. Most importantly it provides stabilization and limited care capabilities almost anywhere. If there’s enough room for the trailer – and fairly level ground – we’re good to go. It has been staged on roadsides right off the pavement, in parking lots and even in the middle of a pasture. We also use her for trainings and drills.


Trailer with vestibule and 19’x35’ tent

The MASH was designed, built and delivered to us in 2011 and can be powered by simply plugging into a nearby electrical outlet or its own generator. This gives us great flexibility. Speaking of flexibility, we also have Western Shelter products (large tents that can be outfitted with insulation and electricity) and can expand the footprint of the MASH in addition to increasing its functional capacity. For example, we have a heavy duty soft-sided trailer boot that hooks on the rear adding an additional 56 square feet. This area can store supplies or serve as a holding area for oiled new arrivals until they’re examined. If we want even more space, we add a vestibule to the back of the MASH that connects the trailer to either a 20’ diameter round or 19’x 35’ foot rectangular tent. These structures are fully enclosed and can be heated, cooled and powered providing us with a great deal of portable usable space.


Inside the MASH

Now let’s go inside. This chunky trailer sports a kitchen, exam table and light, a ton of medical and husbandry supplies and even equipment for use outside such as tables, chairs and a pop-up tent. The shelves can be reconfigured or taken out to make room for whatever arrives.

Hopefully you can see that the MASH is functional, versatile and an important piece of response equipment. So much so in fact, we are in the process of designing the “MASH 2” – that is even 4’ larger! Take a look!


Floorplan for MASH 2

Hopefully this gives you a snapshot of just two of our important pieces of response equipment. In future blogs I’ll highlight other items that help Network responders provide best achievable capture and care for California’s oiled wildlife.


Wendy Massey, Facility Specialist

Transitions and Changes

Mike and Curt Enjoying the English Seaside

No, this is not a blog post about auto-tinting eyeglasses (though those are AMAZING). Nor is it an in-depth conversation about grammatically compelling writing styles. Or the lyrics to the amazing David Bowie song. This is an update to the greater OWCN community on some significant changes to the Management Team that have occurred recently, and will be coming up very soon. For those 115+ of you who signed into the OWCN Town Hall yesterday, you have a bit of a sneak preview of this info, but for everyone else, I wanted to share.

Katie Leasure

As everyone is likely aware, Lavonne Hull, our Admin Coordinator extraordinaire, retired earlier this summer after 20 dedicated years helping the OWCN through challenging logistical problems both during and between spills. At the same time, Pam Roualdes, our crack Admin backup, got an amazing job opportunity with UC Davis Health in Sacramento literally across the street from her house! While initially worrisome/panic-inducing to me, Katie Leasure (who previously was working in another One Health Institute program) stepped in masterfully and has really embraced the challenges of the role. We wish the best to Lavonne and Pam, and welcome Katie to the team!

Curt Enjoying a Namesake Beverage

Curt Enjoying a Namesake Beverage

Speaking of retirements, we have another upcoming one to announce. Curt Clumpner, our Deputy Director of Care Operations, has decided to take a well-earned step down from his 5+ years in that role this Fall. I have had the pleasure and honor of working with Curt since the late 1990’s in many different roles, countries, and environments, and have always been amazed at his dedication to animal welfare and his continual search for basic truths (the “whys” behind what we all do). While some can be challenged by this at times, I have always greatly appreciated his inability to accept doing things “just because that is how we have always done it”.

I will say more on Curt as we get closer to his end date, but this is the perfect opportunity to let people know that, as of yesterday, we are recruiting for his successor in leading the Care Ops stream within the OWCN. This is a critical job ensuring that our Network maintains its continual readiness of facilities and rehabilitation personnel to spring into action to provide best achievable care to oiled animals anywhere in California. For anyone up for the challenge, I (or I am sure Curt) would be happy to talk to you about the opportunity. For more information (and how to apply), please click on this UCD HR link.

Dr. Jonna Mazet, OWCN Director, at the 1997 Stuyvesant Spill

One other change on which I have mixed emotions to report. As those of you who have been part of the OWCN for a LONG time, you will recall that Dr. Jonna Mazet was the founding Director of the Network. She, in combination with Dave Jessup, Jay Holcomb, and others took the concept of a cohesive network of rehabilitation organizations working cooperatively during spills from the drawing board into reality. I was fortunate to have been selected to take over for Jonna in 2003 when she moved to becoming the Director of the UCD Wildlife Health Center (under which the OWCN resides) and then the Executive Director of the UCD One Health Institute (the “parent” of the Wildlife Health Center, four other Centers of Excellence, and numerous other large-scale programs and projects). After 11 years at the helm of the OHI, Jonna has decided to return to being “normal” faculty and focus more on her research (and less on administration). As of 1 July 2020, I have been honored to have been selected as her replacement as OHI Executive Director.

So what does this mean for the OWCN? Well, in short, it means I will be phasing out as Director of the OWCN over time – beginning this year at 50% time. This, in combination with Curt’s pending retirement, has given the OWCN Management Team an opportunity to re-evaluate our existing structure and make some changes. First, as stated above, we will be refilling Curt’s position, but that role (as has the Field Ops lead role) has been shifted to being a “Senior Manager”. This is because we will also be hiring an Associate Director in the coming months who will gradually take over the daily administrative roles of running the Network (in combination with Curt and Kyra) from me. As this person will most likely be filling the role as Director moving forward after a few years, per our Memoranda of Understanding with OSPR, a minimum qualification for the position will be a veterinary degree. So, for those wildlife vets in our Network who have an interest in a leadership role, keep your eyes open!

The last change to the structure is to re-embed our Readiness staff within the Field and Care streams. Danene, Scott, and Tim have done an AMAZING job since that stream’s development to better organize and implement trainings, drills, personnel management, outreach, and other cross-stream activities. However, as the OWCN has developed and matured over the past several years, it has become clear that working WITHIN the Care and Field streams will actually make the management of those activities even more integrated and improve their depth. Huge thanks to the “Readiness Renegades” for all of their work, and actually moving readiness forward so well to allow this additional shift!

So, in closing, I think everyone can agree that the only constant in the OWCN is our constant change to try and improve how we work. Only through our continual “tweaking” of our systems can we improve and meet our mandate. On a personal note, I want to thank each and every one of you for your dedication to our shared wildlife, and your continued active involvement in OUR Network. To reiterate: I’m NOT going away – I’m far too stubborn for that. But I look forward to seeing how bringing new ideas and personnel into the OWCN will move us even farther forward!

– Mike