10 Years Ago This Week…

Game-changing. Transformative. Heartbreaking. Many different words encapsulate the oiled wildlife response during, and readiness improvements subsequent to, the Cosco Busan incident in San Francisco Bay.

From the email wayback machine, 7 Nov 2007 @ 14:08hrs:
“Hi all – Just a quick note. The OWCN was activated this afternoon to respond to an allision of a container ship to the Bay Bridge this morning.  We have dispatched two teams of 2 people…to recon and assess wildlife impacts in the area.  At this point, it appears to be a fairly small spill in terms of volume, but has impacted the area around Pier 39, so public visibility and potential to impact birds and sea lions is moderate.  We are working directly with DFG-OSPR…and will have a better idea of the scope of response that will be needed later this afternoon. Let me know if you have questions or concerns. Thx! Mike”

Little did we know what the next several months of response, not to mention the ensuing decade of changes to readiness protocols, would come from this “fairly small spill”.

Today (8 Nov 2017) marks the 10-year anniversary of the day when oiled birds began to be collected by OWCN staff and volunteers and transported to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center. To honor and remember this event, I have written (and re-written) this blog post three different times – each with different emphases, information, and emotional attachments, as the event still triggers in me a variety of conflicting thoughts even to this day.

My first blog post was aimed to be a more general informational post, describing the event, what happened, the early confusion, why it happened, public reaction, and the resulting response efforts that occurred. However, over the past week there have been many insightful and factually accurate articles detailing this type of information, including a series of posts from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration as well as me providing much of that information in the OWCN Blog on the five-year anniversary, so adding to the mix didn’t seem as valuable as other approaches. Besides, there is always Wikipedia.

My second blog post draft was intended to focus on the OWCN’s wildlife response efforts – the 1,084 live birds (of 31 species), the 1,854 dead birds (of 45 different species ), and the 1 live/6 dead mammals that were collected – as well as the overall impact estimates of, among other effects, more than 6,800 birds killed. However, again, there has been wonderful information provided by CDFW-OSPR, NOAA, and the other Trustees this week detailing the estimated losses and how these resources are being restored. So no reason to reiterate points that have been well told already.

My third draft was designed to highlight all of the changes that occurred within CA oiled wildlife response efforts immediately after Cosco Busan, including the addition of numerous wonderful Member Organizations, the OWCN officially being given the mandate to lead recovery (and later hazing) efforts on behalf of the State, revisions to protocols and procedures, increasing and expanding our pool of trained responders, further improving facilities, and the like. But, again, much of was covered previously by me and others, and, aside from showcasing the fact that the OWCN prides itself on a vigorous self-improvement policy (through active internal and external after-action efforts) after each and every incident, to me it didn’t convey the depth of emotions nor the excellent work of all Network Members.

So that leads me to this, the fourth and final draft of my blog post. I simply want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, each and every person that was involved with the wildlife response efforts that so affected us all 10 years ago in the SF Bay region. Your dedication to improving the lives of injured wildlife during this disaster, especially an incident caused by human error, is awe-inspiring, and the OWCN cannot put into words how much we value your time and involvement. I also wanted to thank the OWCN Management Team staff at UCD (both current as well as past) for taking our responsibility as seriously as I do. Lastly, I wanted to recognize one specific individual, the late Jay Holcomb of International Bird Rescue, for his lifelong dedication to marine birds that was exemplified in this event.

To honor as many people as possible that were involved in this massive undertaking, I have added below a slideshow of all the responders that I was able to photograph during the “33 Days of Oil and Soap” that was so eloquently captured by the late artist (and Cosco volunteer) Doug Ross in his T-shirt design above.

Again, thank you!

-Mike

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A Timely Reminder of the Road Ahead

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

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

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Train derailment, Moser Oregon- WA Department of Ecology

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Train derailment, Moser, Oregon – Washington Dept of Ecology

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

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

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

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]

 

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

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

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

-Curt

Gratefulness Comes in Many Colors – Big Lagoon Oil Spill

Greetings from Arcata!

IMG_0090[1]As many of you know, several of us from the OWCN management team arrived here late yesterday to help ensure that we were doing everything possible to find, capture, and treat potentially impacted wildlife resulting from the truck that overturned late Saturday night on Highway 101. The truck that overturned was carrying diesel, which spilled into the nearby Big Lagoon, just north of Arcata. With thousands of waterfowl that consider Big Lagoon a good “hangout”, the fear was that many of these birds would become oiled.

They say that to be a truly happy person, you should be grateful for and recognize the little (and big) things in your life that happen every day. Not sure who “they” are, but I am told they are very wise people who know what they are talking about.  And in the spirit of the holidays, when most people are practicing, or at least thinking about being grateful, I want to share with you some things that I am grateful for these past couple of days:

  1. I am grateful that there are great OSPR folks up here, that reacted quickly and truly care for the amazing wildlife in this area.
  2. I am grateful that after a day and a half of field operations we have yet to see or capture confirmed oiled animals.
  3. I am grateful that this happened in the winter, right before the lagoon breached, which I am told happens each year with the winter rains.  If this spill had happened in the summer, a lot of the spilled diesel would have stayed in the lagoon, and more animals would have likely been oiled.
  4. I am grateful that today was the only sunny day they have had in this area in like 10 years. The forecast is for rain tomorrow (seriously – look it up if you don’t believe me).
  5. I am grateful that the gas stations around here are wide enough and not so crowded that I can drive the Sprinter and the boat trailer up to the gas pump without crazy maneuvering in a small space (it’s not pretty – take my word for it).
  6. I am grateful that we have a wonderful team of responders up here that can be counted on to make sure the wildlife are safe – either by going out in the field (and freezing their buns off – can I say that in a blog?), or getting the facilities ready (at the Marine Wildlife Care Center at HSU, which would be the primary care center for a spill in this area, and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/Bird AllyX.
  7. I am especially grateful for hot coffee in the morning and cold beer at night (not sure if I can say the beer thing either, but there you have it).

There are many things to be grateful for tonight.  The plan for tomorrow is to have two Wildlife Recovery teams searching the Big Lagoon area at first light.  We would be grateful for no sightings of oiled wildlife, but if there are, we are certain that they will be captured quickly and well-cared for by our amazing team of responders.

– Kyra

(Non) Oiled (Non) Wildlife Response

From time to time the OWCN staff gets questions about what we do during non-spill times.  While we do spend a lot of time training and preparing supplies for spill response, we occasionally step out of the oiled wildlife box and put our skills to good use.

The Chief Operating Officer for the Wildlife Health Center put together a bunny trap - nothing could possibly go wrong!

Matt Blake, COO for the Wildlife Health Center, put together a bunny trap – nothing could possibly go wrong!

A few months back an interesting topic came up in my carpool.  One of my carpool buddies works at the UC Davis Arboretum, and it came to her attention that there was a black and white rabbit running around the arboretum that visitors had seen from time to time.  I mentioned that it was a domestic rabbit that someone had probably disposed of, and that we could take it to a shelter where it would have a much better chance of survival.  One day we received a call that the rabbit had been spotted, so part of the OWCN team, plus a few extra hands from the Wildlife Health Center took to the arboretum in search of the mystery bunny.

Thirty minutes into the search we began to think that the phantom rabbit had moved on, and then we saw her hanging out in one of the gardens, munching on some drought tolerant Arboretum All Star plants.  Our team headed into the garden to grab the rabbit – easy, right?  Wrong.  While she did not seem very disturbed by our presence or attempts to capture her, she craftily evaded us by darting past at the last minute, only to resume chomping away at the abundant plant life.

Our wily bunny friend stays just out of reach under some branch cover.

Our wily bunny friend stays just out of reach under some branch cover.

At one point she darted over to the next garden and lodged herself in a very large, very prickly bush, and settled in for what appeared to be a short nap.  Surely we couldn’t allow this little gal to get the better of us, so we did what any good animal lover would do, and climbed into the bush.  Then we got a rather tiny surprise.  Not only was there a black and white bunny in the shrub, but there was a black and white baby bunny as well – that one proved easier to catch!  The little guy was big enough to be eating on his own, but appeared to be the only one left from her litter.  Black and white domestic bunnies in an arboretum full of wildlife do not stand much chance of survival, and juveniles are just the right size for a snack for a hungry predator.

We did manage to catch mom as well (after calling for additional back-up!), and they were delivered safely to the SPCA for adoption.  So long story short, when the OWCN isn’t responding to spills, we like to look out for animals of all kinds in every situation.  Please remember that if you can’t care for your domestic pet, they need to go to a shelter, NOT dumped into the wild!

-Becky

Happy Anniversary Cosco Busan!

Exactly five years ago today, the OWCN received a call from OSPR about a small spill (approx. 140 gallons) in San Francisco Bay from a container vessel that had an “allision” (yes, I had to look that one up!) with the Bay Bridge. At that point, no oiled wildlife had been seen but, as a precaution due to the more than 1.6 million birds that come to the SF Bay each year, two teams were requested to do some initial reconnaissance. Our teams quickly mobilized to the area and observed what looked like a lot more than the original estimate of oil on the surface of the water, as well as a large number of shorebirds and waterfowl throughout the area. Later that afternoon, OSPR and the US Coast Guard developed their own estimate of the volume spilled – 58,000 gallons of intermediate fuel oil – and, as they say, the rest is history; history that has changed the face of oiled wildlife response in California since.

In the ensuing two months, the OWCN mounted its largest oiled wildlife response to date, ultimately collecting 1,083 live oiled birds and 1,854 dead ones before the conclusion of the event. It also mounted the largest field collection effort ever instituted, with more than 300 person-days of search effort and greater than 1200 miles of coastline directly searched (in addition to hundreds and hundreds of miles scanned by recovery and reconnaissance staff and volunteers). At the facility, more than 400 person-days of staff and 1500 person-days of volunteer effort was used, with volunteers giving more than 13,000 hours towards the effort. At the height of the effort, more than 740 live birds were in the never-before-used-for-a-large-spill San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center, fully testing the purpose-built facility to close to its designed capacity with very challenging species such as surf scoters, grebes, waterfowl, and loons. The facility, as well as all personnel involved, responded admirably, ultimately releasing more than 420 clean birds to their natural environment.

This is not to say everything went smoothly – far from it on many fronts. There are many reports and reviews on these issues, so I will just concentrate on a few of those that impacted or related to the OWCN. First, it being a environmental disaster in the backyard of a region that is proud of their strong environmental stewardship, there was a demand from Day 0 from the public and governmental officials to get key information on who was at fault and what they were doing to fix it. Compounding this demand was a sense of distrust from the mis-reporting of the spill volume early in the response, as well as less-than-optimal reporting on response activities. Second, because the SF Bay is a very dynamic waterway, the oil quickly spread throughout the Bay from San Rafael south to Hayward, as well as outside the Bay from Palomarin to Pacifica – making cleanup and recovery challenging. Third, while the OWCN had participated in recovery of oiled wildlife in the past (providing experts to support the effort), it had not been given the mandate to lead such efforts, so training and recruitment of interested personnel was not at the same level as animal care efforts. This led to a sense that not enough field personnel were available and on the beaches. Confounding this was the newly-developed OWCN Hotline for reporting oiled wildlife – a hotline that crashed in the first weekend due to the massive numbers of people calling it to get any available information they could pertaining to the spill. Last (and certainly not least) was the huge number of individuals interested in volunteering to help respond to the spill. Traditionally, the Unified Command sends all of these people to wildlife operations to assist in rehabilitation but, since the OWCN has developed such a robust volunteer corps of more than 2,000 pre-trained individuals, the OWCN needed very few “convergent” or “spontaneous” volunteers. This rejection, coupled with early mis-information, lack of timely messaging, and a large spill area, created a “perfect storm” of public dissatisfaction with the response.

Since the conclusion of the Cosco Busan spill, many audits, reports and inquiries have been done to better understand the problems and flaws of the system to better improve readiness in the future. Several of these included information directly related to the OWCN and its operations. On the whole, the OWCN was highly praised for its animal care systems and capacity to quickly provide “best achievable care to oil affected animals”. However, two key elements in the Department of Finance audit of the response and the US Coast Guard’s Incident Specific Preparedness Review related directly to the OWCN:

  • It was noted that field operations in California needed to be significantly increased to provide a similar level of services to the OWCN’s animal care arm. In working with OSPR and the Legislature, AB 2911 (Wolk) provided additional funds “to officially  make the Oiled Wildlife Care Network responsible for the proactive search for and rescue of oiled wildlife, and improve the number of volunteers and capacity to train volunteers used in rescuing oiled wildlife”. The OWCN has since moved forward aggressively with a Recovery program (and, more recently, with a complementary Field Stabilization program), and now has more than 270 fully trained individuals throughout the state ready and able to respond to oiled wildlife on the beach.
  • It was also identified that volunteers from the public should be incorporated into the response effort if at all possible. Because of the breadth of the OWCN program in California, additional responsibilities for interested individuals needed to be found, as well as working out liability and training issues for such activities. OSPR, in concert with the OWCN and other non-governmental organizations, have since developed a “Non-Oiled Wildlife” Volunteer Plan that identifies a number of other tasks that interested people can take part in, as well as be available to the OWCN should additional volunteers be needed for animal care.

While not directly noted as necessary in the many reviews that occurred after the event, the OWCN has also beefed up other parts to its system post-Cosco, including (but not limited to): 1) a more responsive and robust wildlife reporting hotline that can be rolled to a live attendant or a system like San Francisco’s 211 program during spills; 2) a better communication flow directly from the OWCN, including this blog and other social media outlets; 3) more field stabilization units for deployment nearer to spill locations should the be at a distance from a primary care centers; 4) greater hazing capacities should oiled animals need to be kept from a spill zone; 5) additional recovery equipment such as ATVs, boats and a Mobile Command Post; and 6) increased supply caches at each primary care center.

These are just a few of the many “lessons learned” from the Cosco Busan response, and why it is important to not only do excellent work during the spill, but to critically evaluate the successes and changes needed after each spill to improve systems and capacities. While California is largely considered the most capable and responsive region in the world for oiled wildlife response, events such as these help to remind us that you can never be too prepared should another “allision” occur in the future!

– Mike

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Two Years and Counting…

Last year, on this date, I noted that the DWH spill was still very much in everyones minds and hearts through retrospective media reports, images and personal stories.  Now that we are at two years after the start of the incident, media (and public) interest once again has peaked about the spill, but for more troubling reasons from an environmental perspective.

Reports have begun to surface related to potential impacts on the flora and fauna of the Gulf of Mexico – impacts that scientists are attempting to carefully determine whether they may be associated with the more than 200 million gallons of crude oil and the more than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant applied. These (with appropriate links) include:

However, there is some good news on this front. Scientists, with sizable funding support, are attacking these questions with a voracity that is rarely seen with environmental issues, attempting to ascertain the root causes of these (and other) problems. While it is easy to point the finger and blame the spill outright for such impacts, without using sound scientific principles, the ultimate outcomes can become muddled due to little baseline (pre-spill) information, the possibility of several “smoking guns” causing sick animals, and other confounding issues. With the skills of the folks working these problems, I have little doubt that we will get better results than is often seen after other disasters.

You may say “who cares?” a bit to all this science-speak; the environment is still messed up. And shouldn’t we concentrate on other more important issues, such as increasing prevention and better understanding how to care for oiled animals in the future? Well, I would say: why not do all three? In addition to the Natural Resource Damage Assessment projects going on, we have basic science occuring, with organizations such as the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to better understand the impacts of oil and dispersant on the GoM ecosystem. We also have significant efforts occurring at the Federal level to minimize the risks of incidents such as the DWH occurring in the future, with new innovations on blowout prevention and control coming forward and a newly-aligned MMS focusing on the risks.

On the oiled wildlife front, most oiled wildlife response organizations I know of have taken the time to evaluate their own processes and methods to see how they can do things better. Just this past week, Emily gave a webinar on changes to the OWCN protocols for animal care, and a fully revised version of both the oiled bird as well as mammal protocols, are on the horizon. On the international front, a newly-energized effort has been taking place trying to better develop a method to provide worldwide oiled wildlife response capabilities through a organized collaboration of key organizations. In all, these are exciting times!

This is not to say we should become complacent. The best clean-up effort, after all, is prevention of oiling of our wildlife in the first place. Both Nationally as well as Internationally, we have a long way to go to be able to be comfortable with our plans and systems. On the oiled wildlife side, while we have come a long way in the past decades, we always have things to learn and plans to develop and test to ensure rapid, efficient and effective collection and care, should animals become affected.

In closing, I would like to conclude this blog/discussion/soapbox asking you to join me in remembering the 11 crewmembers of the Deepwater Horizon rig who perished on this day. I wish everyone a safe and healthy April 20th.

– Mike

ICS Training Opportunities

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in ICS training (Incident Command System) offered by the United States Coast Guard. I was so impressed with the professionalism, enthusiasm, and commitment to protecting our nation’s waterways that was shown by all the “Coasties” that I met during the four-day course. When I sometimes start to wonder if all our efforts are making a difference, all I really need to do is re-energize by spending a little time talking with the amazing people that make up our partner organizations and affiliated agencies.

While you may have heard that ICS training can be a little less than stimulating at times…it really is an essential tool for everyone who wants to work on an oil spill response. It’s the system that our government agencies have agreed on to use to organize the response for any disaster. Therefore a basic knowledge of ICS helps the average citizen to be better prepared for any emergency such as wildfire, earthquake or flood that might occur in their “backyard”. In fact the system works so well, that many non-governmental organizations use the same principles to organize events such as concerts, festivals, and community events (4th of July Fireworks displays, parades, etc.).

If you ask any oil spill response veteran to list the three biggest challenges faced when responding to a large oil spill, they will say, “Communication, communication, communication!”

Communication difficulties: http://www.jimbo.info/weblog/?m=200909

One of the main objectives of ICS is to solve this problem.   It does so by setting up an organization system that is:

  • Flexible: Can be scaled to the size of the “event”
  • Establishes a Chain of Command: All responders know who their supervisor is (i.e. who they should report to and who will hold them accountable) and all supervisors know who and what information they are responsible for communicating to their staff.
  • Establishes a common communications plan that includes use of common terminology and protocols.
  • Establishes a single command structure where the most qualified on-scene authority becomes the Incident Commander (single person, mostly in small response) or the Unified Command (Small team of experts that act as single command, larger responses).
  • The response is managed by Incident Objectives that are based on the following priorities:
    • Human safety
    • Incident stabilization & protection of the environment
    • Protection of property or commerce

If you are interested in learning more about ICS, there are several free, online courses. They are offered through FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute. Allow approximately 3 hours to take each course.  You must complete the course in a single uninterrupted session in order to receive your certificate.  If you have to leave the course for a break, do not exit from the course or close your browser window.  Follow the links below, and then click on “Interactive Web Based Course” in the upper right corner of the page.

  1. The Introduction to Incident Command System (ICS-100) introduces the Incident Command System (ICS) and provides the foundation for higher level ICS training. This course describes the history, features and principles, and organizational structure of the Incident Command System. It also explains the relationship between ICS and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS100b.asp
  2. ICS-200, or ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents, is designed to enable personnel to operate efficiently during an incident or event within the Incident Command System, and provides training on and resources for personnel who are likely to assume a supervisory position within the ICS. http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS200b.asp
  3. Additionally, IS-700, which provides an overview of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), is useful and provides additional information related to how government, private-sector, and nongovernmental organizations work together during domestic incidents. http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/is/is700a.asp

If you find ICS training helpful, the FEMA website provides other opportunities for additional on line trainings. It can never hurt to be more prepared!

– Nancy