(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!


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

Hello to OWCN’s blog and Facebook friends

I wanted to take the opportunity of writing my first blog for OWCN to say “Hi!” to all OWCN’s blog and Facebook friends. My name is Nancy Anderson. I joined OWCN three weeks ago to provide further support for the Recovery and Transportation team. My background includes providing veterinary care for native northern California wildlife at Lindsay Wildlife Museum and marine mammals at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. I radiotracked and studied energy and water requirements for nocturnal, arboreal snakes in Guam as part of a PhD in ecophysiology. I have taught volunteers, undergraduates, and veterinary students on many topics including zoonotic disease prevention, medicine of domestic & wildlife species, ecology, clinical techniques, etc. I hope to put my previous experience to use by supporting OWCN’s continuing efforts to improve the recovery and care of oiled animals, to train/update volunteers and staff regarding protocol updates, and to perform/support research projects that improve care and document post-release survival.  When I have spare time, my husband and I love to hike, bird watch, canoe, SCUBA, etc. Basically, I enjoy anything that is out of doors. When I do not have time to “get away” I enjoy dancing, horseback riding, gardening and going to concerts. I have two “rescue” conures as pets.

I am really looking forward to working closely with Kyra Mills-Parker as Co-coordinators as well as with the rest of the OWCN team. There is so much to learn from this talented and energetic group of people! I am also excited about the opportunities to meet and work with the staff and volunteers from our partner organizations. Protecting wildlife, the environment, and human safety during a large oil spill is too big of a job for any one group. Watching the teamwork and expertise that was displayed during the recent NPREP drill in Ventura was inspiring. I hope to get to meet you soon (of course, I mean at a drill or training…mind you, I’m not asking for a spill!).


– Nancy

OWCN R&T Staffing Changes

I am happy to announce some new changes to the management of the OWCN’s Recovery & Transportation (R&T) program!

First, after filling the R&T Specialist position since Aug 2010 with distinction, Kyra Parker has accepted a promotion to R&T Co-Coordinator. As everyone is aware, with our program losing both Nils Warnock and Yvette Hernandez two years ago, Kyra has done an excellent job working with me, Winston Vickers of the Wildlife health Center/OWCN, Curt Clumpner of Bird Rescue and Diana Humple of PRBO Conservation Science to keep the field program moving forward in order to provide the best proactive capture of oiled wildlife should spills occur here in CA. Congratulations Kyra on the well deserved advancement!

I am also very happy to announce that Dr. Nancy Anderson will be joining Kyra in the management of the OWCN’s field program as of September.  Nancy joins us most recently from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, where she has been acting Staff Veterinarian since 2010.  Prior to that, however, she worked for ten years as the Director of Wildlife Services/Veterinarian for Lindsay Wildlife Museum – a well-established OWCN Member Organization. She has participated in several oil spills, has attended many OWCN trainings, and has also filled a key spot as a member of the OWCN’s Scientific Advisory Committee in the past. In addition to her clinical veterinary skills, Nancy joins us with a PhD in Ecophysiology from The Ohio State University emphasizing field work and conservation medicine.

Please join me in warmly welcoming our new senior staff to the OWCN!

– Mike

Recovery and Transportation Trainings 2011

Hello All,

Today I thought I would blog about some of the changes we are making to our Recovery and Transportation (R&T) training program. Please help by disseminating this information within your organization.

In 2009 the OWCN added the collection of oiled wildlife to its mission, and since that time we have been expanding our efforts to develop detailed protocols and training. R&T field personnel are highly qualified and experienced people that fill staff roles during oil spill response. As such, training requirements and qualifications need to be met to fill these roles. The OWCN offers the training required to become an R&T Responder.

In 2009 and 2010 we offered R&T training workshops. This year we are expanding those efforts by adding three levels to these trainings, as described below.

R&T Level 1 – This level is a descriptive term ONLY, and represents the OWCN online training webinar (Recovery and Transportation, Level 1). This webinar will air May 14, 2011 (10:00 – 11:00), and will provide an introduction to the OWCN, basics of oil spill response, and requirements for becoming a field responder (if you are associated with an OWCN member organization and wish to take this webinar, please contact Becky Elias, baelias@ucdavis.edu).

Taking this online training does NOT qualify a person for participation as an R&T Responder, but is ONE of the requirements for further R&T training.

R&T Level 2 – To participate as an R&T Responder, personnel must meet the training requirements and qualifications of an R&T Level 2 (at minimum). For personnel at OWCN member Organizations that have either previously worked in wildlife recovery during oil spills or individuals that have significant skills in wildlife fieldwork and are interested in working in this capacity, we are offering R&T Level 2 trainings. These trainings will be 2-day, field-focused classes and, in taking the class, will also satisfy the annual 8-hr HAZWOPER refresher requirement.

Previously offered R&T workshops (in 2009 and 2010) are equivalent to an R&T Level 2 responder.

R&T Level 3 – For key personnel who have already completed the R&T Level 2 course and meet key requirements, an R&T Level 3 workshop will be offered once per year, and will present information on special capture techniques, or other specialized trainings as deemed necessary. Stay tuned for more info on this course.

Maintenance of eligibility as an R&T Responder – Responders may be expected to either re-take a Level 2 or 3 training every 2 years, OR respond to an oil spill at least once every 3 years in order to maintain eligibility.

Requirements for R&T Levels 

R&T Level 1:

Association with an OWCN Member Organization

R&T Level 2:

Staff of an OWCN Member Organization (and approval from that organization).

24-hr HAZWOPER certification.  This certification must be kept current to respond to oil spills.

R&T Levels 1 and 2 trainings provided through OWCN.

ICS (Incident Command System) 100 (required) and 200 (recommended).

R&T Level 3:

Association with an OWCN Member Organization (and approval from that organization).

24-hr HAZWOPER certification.  This certification must be kept current to respond to oil spills.

R&T Levels 1, 2, and 3 training provided through OWCN.

ICS 100 (required) and ICS 200 and 700 (recommended).

Qualifications for Becoming an R&T Level 2 and 3 Responder 

Significant experience handling birds, familiarity with California wildlife species, and experience capturing wild birds.

Experience recording scientific data, familiarity with map-reading, GPS devices, and capture equipment and techniques.

Physically fit – able to hike 5 miles on beaches on rough terrain, an ability to work long hours, including evening/nights and weekends, and outdoors, even in inclement weather.

For more information, please log in to the network members section of the OWCN website.  Thank you, and please let us know if you have any questions.