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

Emergency Go Bags – Helpful Packing Tips from Oiled Wildlife Responders

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network currently consists of 45 Member Organizations, encompassing over 1,500 active oiled wildlife responders located throughout the state of California. This emergency response resource is an incredible testament to preparedness that many other states, regions or countries around the globe simply do not have.

In order to maintain our constant state of readiness, our Network responders, including our Oiled Wildlife Care Network Management Team, must be prepared to leap into action at a moments notice. This includes the notion of being ready to depart quickly from wherever responders are located when the mobilization call comes in and for our OWCN management team, always includes grabbing our pre-packed Go Bags.

If your unfamiliar with the term, “Go Bags” are pre-packed mobile packs or luggage, filled with all the essentials that you’ll need when leaving home unexpectedly or on short notice. While vital and a bit customized for most emergency responders, go bags are also used across the board such as residents in areas at risk of wildfires or earthquakes, or even pregnant mothers preparing for the impending trip to the delivery room.

The US Department of Homeland Security has a website here which provides a good starting point for building a basic disaster supplies kit.

For oiled wildlife responders, there are definitely some general items we always recommend to pack, such as:

  • Copy of your drivers license and HAZWOPER Certification (if applicable)
  • Clothes for at least 7 days, including various attire for changing weather conditions (hot, cold, wet, etc)
  • Hats, sunglasses, sunscreen
  • Medications, contact lenses, any other hard to obtain items (if you can’t store in Go Bag, print a list of these items to pack upon departure)
  • Chargers (phone, computer, tablet)
  • Reusable water bottle and travel mug
  • Waterproof boots with good tread
  • Checklist of responsibilities that will need to be addressed during your absence (kids, pets, plants, mail/bills, etc)

While the list above provides a good start, there are always additional items responders like to pack depending on the incident, location, time of year, and personal preference. Below are some additional first hand packing list recommendations from a few of our OWCN management team members.

Kyra Mills, Deputy Director: Field Operations
  • Headphones
  • My pillow (because I love my pillow and hate all others)
  • A warm hat (for those early mornings at the coast)
  • Fuzzy sweatpants and pajama pants for down time in the hotel
Jennie Hawkins, Field Operations Specialist
  • Sunshirts
  • Socks
  • Shoe inserts / KT Tape
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Snacks
  • Workout clothes
  • Sandals
  • Comfy clothes
Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator
  • Headbands
  • Vitamin C
  • Advil
  • Lots of wool socks (calf length)
  • Reusable coffee mug and coffee
  • Scrub top
  • Columbia sunshirts
  • Power bank
  • Extra PPE
Scott Buhl, Responder Specialist
  • Extra eye contacts
  • TONS of socks
  • XL nitrile gloves
  • Healthy snacks (to balance my other unhealthy choices)
  • Flip flops and board shorts (in case of hotel hot tub for sore muscles!)
Tim Williamson, Facilities Specialist
  • Personal hygiene items (nail clippers, razors, etc)
  • 1st Aid Kit
  • Bottle opener & corkscrew
  • Basic tool set
  • Eyeglass repair kit
  • Sewing kit with needles (helpful for splinters)
Curt Clumpner, Deputy Director: Care Operations
  • Rinse nozzle (for washing patients)
  • Wash gloves
  • Max/min thermometer
  • iPad
  • Extratuf low-cut boots
  • Rite in the rain notebook
  • Water pressure gauge
  • Air pods
  • Ginger tea
Mike Ziccardi, Director
  • Travel french press
  • Freshly ground coffee
  • Slippers
Duane Tom, Field Veterinarian
  • Lots of underwear
  • Kleenex
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Extra roll of toilet paper (just in case)
Lorraine Barbosa, Facility Veterinarian
  • Slippers
  • Chocolate bars
  • And more chocolate

Do you have any favorite items? If so, please visit our OWCN Facebook Page, comment on this blog FB post and share your wisdom!

Stay safe out here everyone.

OWCN Management Team

OWCN Town Hall Recap & Revised Training Dates

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Small sample of our amazing responders who graciously shared their video so we could see their smiling faces!

Thank you to everyone who joined us live last week for our very first OWCN Town Hall: COVID-19, Recent Activities, and Operational Updates.  We were thrilled to see over 130 responders gather virtually to listen to a global update (thank you Jonna Mazet!), hear a few OWCN specific operational updates, share lessons learned from our most recent response, meet our newest staff member and ask some excellent questions. You are the Network, and we miss you!


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Snapshot of the agenda

If you are an OWCN responder and were unable to join the fun, have no fear, as we have posted PDFs of each presentation, along with a recording of the meeting (available via the responder database, listed under the opportunities tab). If you have any issues finding it, just shoot us an email at owcn@ucdavis.edu.

Since we had so much fun, we are already in the early phases of planning another OWCN Town Hall (version 2.0), likely coming your way in June.  But in the mean time, please continue all your efforts to curb the spread of this pandemic, and know that the Oiled Wildlife Care Network remains ready to respond (albeit with some operational modifications).

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Note the NEW dates for some of our training courses!

PS. We have just posted our revised 2020 OWCN Training Calendar to the responder database, so don’t forget to check that out as well! A direct email to all responders with this information, plus some additional training course safety protocols, will hit your inbox soon. We hope to see some of you, from at least 6ft away wearing a mask, later this fall!

And if you are not currently an active OWCN responder but wish to learn more about how to become one, please send us an email at owcn@ucdavis.edu.

-The OWCN Management Team

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: A 10-Year Personal Reflection

Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning on 21 April 2010 / AP

As OWCN responders, I am sure everyone is aware by now that today, 20 April, marks the 10-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the start of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) that went uncontrolled for more than 80 days. There are a number of excellent pieces on the history and sheer scale of the operation (several of which I will link below), but I wanted to give a personal story to try and give a bit more color to at least my little corner of the incident.

I was one of the many who watched in horror at the early phase of the accident – the rig up in flames, the workers who lost their lives – and then watched as the released oil rose to the surface and made its way toward the Louisiana coastline. As one of the writers of the 2007 Oiled Marine Mammal Guidelines for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), I was quickly brought into the loop on marine mammal and sea turtle issues – in an environment where 30 different species of mammals and 4 of 5 species of turtles were at significant risk. I also reached out directly to BP and International Bird Rescue, as key partners for us in California, and offered the assistance of the OWCN if needed. Rhonda Murgatroyd, acting Wildlife Branch Director for the BP operations and Dr. Teri Rowles, program coordinator for NMFS’ stranding program, both asked me to fly to Louisiana on 27 April to lend assistance for the mammal and turtle effort (as Tri-State Bird Rescue had been mobilized to lead the bird effort). Thus started a 5-month, 9-round-trip, 1300-work-hour operational response for me, but little did I know it would also end up occupying much of the following 10 years in broader preparedness activities!

Mike Ziccardi at DWH

Mike Ziccardi at the DWH Incident Command Post

After arriving at the Houma, LA incident command post (or ICP), one of the first things I was asked to focus on was working with NMFS staff to identify existing personnel and facilities in the region, make recommendations to what might be needed if the spill required a large-scale rehabilitation effort (recall that the oil stayed off shore for more than two weeks), and to implement the existing protocols to address the effort. Each of those tasks ended up being enormous undertakings. First, no one could predict how large the spill could end up being, so the entire GoM was considered at risk (later that was expanded to Cuba and the Atlantic seaboard, but that’s another story…) and plans had to be developed from Texas to Florida. Next, while excellent facilities and personnel exist in key areas around the Gulf, facilities had not been developed specifically with oil containment in mind. Third, amazing responders and rehabilitators operated from these facilities, but none had the required 24-hour OSHA training necessary to enter a “hot zone” before the event, and volunteers had been expressly forbidden to work in the effort. Last, but certainly not least, the protocols that Dr. Shawn Johnson and I had worked hard on in the mid-2000’s had been based on the current state of knowledge for oiled wildlife care – namely impacts and protocols related to pinnipeds and sea otters, with little detailing cetaceans (and none involving sea turtles). So just a few challenges…

Exam on juvenile sea turtle

As the spill evolved, the Marine Mammal/Sea Turtle (MM/ST) Unit tried to stay one (or more) steps ahead of the “curveballs” that were thrown at us daily. Amazing collaborators and scientists from NOAA (such as Teri Rowles, Sarah Wilkin, Trevor Spradlin, and many others on the mammal side; Barbara Schroeder, Sara McNulty, Alexis Gutierrez, and many more on the turtle side; and Lavonne Hull and a tremendous support team from UCD) took turns rotating into the ICP to work with me to support the management effort, while the key stranding coordinators and scientific staff solved the problems in real time in the field. When very few oiled turtles arrived on the beach in the first two weeks, plans were quickly made to travel more than 100 miles offshore to start combing the oiled sargassum for juvenile animals at risk (complete with aerial assistance to allow for efficient searches). When dead bottlenose dolphins began stranding in large numbers in remote locations, large-scale recovery efforts were mounted to be able to bring the carcasses back so that full post-mortem examinations could be undertaken. When it became clear the scope and breadth of the impacted region, key facilities from the Texas-Louisiana border through to the panhandle of Florida were revamped to accommodate oiled dolphins and turtles (and later expanded appreciably once animals arrived). Additionally, stand-by facilities for oiled cetaceans and turtles were identified in areas outside of that geographical limit, additional sites were found to accommodate oiled manatees should they be captured, and secondary facilities were found that could take de-oiled animals if needed to free up space at the primary sites. When large-scale controlled burns were initiated, an outcry from the general public regarding the potential of animals to be caught in the “burn box” ended up in a rapid, comprehensive, and collaborative approach to survey each and every potential burn site before igniting it. These, and the daily sourcing of caffeine (the subject of which became one of my favorite blog posts during this response) were just a few of the daily challenges that we met and conquered during the response.

Oiled Dolphin During DWH / NOAA

Oiled dolphin collected during DWH / NOAA

One of the most memorable things for me personally, aside from trying hard to do what we could for all of the animals at risk, was the public thirst for information on the spill. Because of the sheer scale of the event (with more than 47,000 people working on it at its largest effort), getting key information into the public sphere on the wildlife effort was difficult. With operations spread between four different Sectors (each of which had an ICP that reported to a Unified Area Command), enumerating the impacts to animals accurately was critical – especially in the face of images of heavily-oiled pelicans in the daily press. There were even reports of “black van” and “black boat” operations that prowled at night to collect oiled marine mammals and dispose of them to hide evidence! While we were delivering information to the Unified Command daily related to mammals and turtles, early in the response those data were held close – which ended up translating into little information being released on the overall wildlife effort. To try and do a small part to alleviate this dearth of info, I turned to the OWCN Blog (yes, this blog site) to try and get at least a bit of information out there on the MM/ST planning and response efforts; no numbers, mind you, but some information pertaining to what was being done to benefit those animals at risk. The LAST thing I wanted to do each night was to head back to the La Quinta Inn after a 14-hr shift and wax philosophic, but I felt it my responsibility to try and get SOME info into the public arena to answer the questions of what was being done, and by whom. Aside from some particular literary embellishments (such as comparing the spill at one point to the Sword of Damocles), the blog landed well – and in fact led to additional media interest that then led to the ability to get good messaging out on the wildlife effort. Which leads me to the key point of this section: sharing correct information on excellent work is a critical part of emergency response. While I abhor being in the spotlight, either you control your message, or someone else will control it for you.

NOAA National Guidelines

NOAA National Guidelines

Ultimately, the well was killed after 87 days of uncontrolled release (and several unsuccessful attempts of stemming the flow). However, the work was far from over at that point. Some absolutely amazing work was started or continued: Lori Schwacke’s work investigating the chronic effects of oil exposure on coastal bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay, LA and Brian Stacy’s continued efforts to fully document the effects in sea turtles and dolphins collected dead during the response to name just two. The response also resulted in an increased effort at an international level by the oil industry to better prepare for, and mitigate the effects of, oil spills, leading to the formation of the IPIECA – International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) Joint Industry Project. The IPIECA-IOGP JIP have focused on 24 key areas of recognized preparedness need for industry – one of which is oiled wildlife preparedness (and has led to the funding and support for the Global Oiled Wildlife Response Service, or GOWRS, Project, of which the OWCN is a proud member). Closer to home, the conclusion of the Deepwater Horizon incident has led to an increased effort by NOAA to better prepare for oil spill responses that may impact either marine mammals or sea turtles. The OWCN (primarily myself and Dr. Greg Frankfurter, with oversight Dr. Rowles and Sarah Wilkin) have helped formulate revised National Guidelines for marine mammal response, inclusive of “lessons-learned” from cetaceans and response actions during this incident. We have also focused on more regional-specific details through Regional Plans and Operational Annexes in each of the NMFS stranding response regions to identify key risk areas/species and available resources. Last, we have been conducting trainings (both operational and OSHA-mandated activities) in most of the regions to ensure the lack of trained and knowledgeable personnel will not hamper responses moving forward. So some tangible “silver linings” have definitely emerged from this disaster.

Washing an adult turtle during DWH

In looking back at this event, it makes me realize that all long-time oil spill responders tell stories of “the big one” – whether that is Exxon Valdez 30 years ago, Treasure 20 years ago, or even Deepwater Horizon 10 years ago. Each and every incident have pearls of knowledge buried within, and it is the responsibility of dedicated responders to unearth them to make things better for the animals (and people) who are involved in the future. While I have been personally disappointed in the lack of legislative motion following this event (as compared to that following the Exxon Valdez incident 30 years ago), I am pleased that we as a community dedicated to the welfare of wildlife have done so much in these 10 years to improve our processes to truly embrace the “best achievable capture and care” mandate that is the OWCN mission.

Mike Ziccardi in the One Day out of the ICP!

Mike Ziccardi in his one day out of the ICP!

And, as our previous Volunteer Coordinator Kaiti used to say, you are at 1688 words, so enough already! And if you read to this point, you CLEARLY are either really bored or appreciate my particular bent as to writing, so please feel free to relive 2010 with me in the archives of my blogs linked below.

Take care, and please stay safe in these uncertain times.



Additional links to Deepwater Horizon response stories:

OWCN Blog – My personnel reflections beginning from Day 1, and continuing…

NOAA Fisheries – Restoring the Gulf: 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

National Audubon Society – Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

IPIECA – Macondo 10 Years On (Macondo being another name for the Deepwater Horizon incident)

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – A Decade Later: Advances in Oil Spill Science Since Deepwater Horizon