By Justin Cox
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network poured into Quincy, California last March for the first inland full-deployment drill in the Network’s history. I recapped my experience as an outsider at that drill in an April blog post, so I’ll spare the details here. Instead I’ll share the video above, which gives a sense of the setup required in such a response.
Because the risk of inland oil spills has only recently spiked in the wake of fracking and other domestic drilling, the non-coastal regions of California don’t have the same brick-and-mortar wildlife care facilities as the coast. That means we have to bring everything with us, including the structures, which are tents in this case.
The heavy-duty tents in the video above are for animal intake, washing, drying, and more. In addition to what you see in the video, our team also had vehicles and tents at other locations near the Feather River for animal recovery and field stabilization.
Building this tent city took about four straight hours (we barely beat the pouring rain that would pound on us the following day), but thanks to a GoPro that Greg Frankfurter and I strapped to a tall branch in a nearby tree, I was able to pack it into a 30-second timelapse video. Don’t let the rolling clouds distract you from the OWCN team, which runs like a well-oiled () machine.
Reading Chris’s blog last week about her first IOSC and description of it reminded me how long I have been attending and how many great people I have met in the field of oil spill response since my first IOSC in 1991 in San Diego. It is always a great learning experience with great presentations, posters and new products. It is also a chance to catch up with people that you have met or worked with at oil spills, drill or trainings and it always reminds me of how many great people dedicated to their particular profession I have had the opportunity meet and work with over my years. Which leads me to real subject of my blog.
Grebe research capture
At the end this month, Dr. Christine Fiorello will be leaving her position at OWCN for a new job at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I know her departure will have a tremendous impact on OWCN, and she will be missed. Chris came to OWCN in 2010 in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and the first time I met her was at the oiled wildlife rehab center set up in Theodore, Alabama. I remember her sitting at a table in the office focused on her computer, working away. Since that time I have had the opportunity to work with Chris on a variety of projects and have always been impressed by her intelligence and dedication to providing a high level of care to her patients as well as her passion for sharing knowledge through both peer reviewed publications and hands-on trainings.
Sea otter health assessment
To me, the long term impact of her contribution to OWCN and the the profession of oiled wildlife response is clearly reflected in her work on two important OWCN protocol documents. Her leadership, writing and editing of the revision of the OWCN Protocols for the Care of Oil Affected Birds ensures that document will maintain its position as a key reference for oiled bird care around the world. The recent completion of the Protocols for the Care of Oil-Affected Sea Otters was the culmination of several years of writing, editing and dedicated herding of the cat-like creatures who have the knowledge and experience critical to making it a practical and scientific guide setting the world standard for oiled otter care.
Fitting transmitter for Refugio post-release study
Chris has offered to assist with future OWCN response trainings as well as spill responses, so hopefully we will have the opportunity to work with her again. But for now we offer our thanks for all of her efforts for OWCN and the animals and wish her the best of luck in her next adventure.
This week I attended the International Oil Spill Conference, a huge industry conference that brings together industry, government, and academic partners in oil spill response. Mike, Kyra, and Curt also were there, and we saw many familiar faces in the crowd.
As you can see, it was acronym city at the Long Beach Convention Center! It was the first time I’ve attended this particular conference, and I was impressed with the quality of the science presented. There was an enormous exhibit hall, with a great variety of organizations. The OWCN had a booth, and California’s OSPR (Oil Spill Prevention and Response), our partner, had a booth (and a large contingent of attendees!). There were many nonprofits, oil spill response companies, governmental agencies such as NOAA, and companies that manufacture or distribute response equipment such as trailers, boats, protective gear, software, and boom. An Australian response group was even giving away free hats :-).
There was a whole session on inland preparedness, which is obviously very relevant to us right now, and several sessions on integrating science into response, something that is close to my heart. It was great to be surrounded by so many people dedicated to a clean environment!
The Proceedings for the conference will be online and free to the public. They are not available yet, but if you’re interested, previous issues are available here. I encourage you to check them out, and then check periodically for the 2017 Proceedings.
A few of us OWCN’ers (Tim, Nancy and myself) had a great time educating a few thousand students from area grade schools at the 2017 State Scientist Day held at the State Capitol in Sacramento and hosted by the California Association of Professional Scientists. (more info and pictures here)
It served as a great opportunity for us to set up a few of our educational outreach activities including our ‘blubber glove’ experiment, feather examination station (with magnifying glasses and microscopes), and our go to classic…sea otter pelts.
While the kids were definitely very excited to be out of the classroom for the day, I believe we were able to grasp the attention of many and teach them a few fun facts about our amazing California wildlife. Informal education, especially in a setting like this, can be surprisingly tiring, but equally gratifying, as the raw enthusiasm and hunger for information that these kids bring undoubtedly rubs off on you. In a time where the value of science may be questioned, these children provided a reassuring reminder that the scientific search for answers is priceless!
As many of you know, we recently held our first inland Full Deployment Drill since the expansion of the OWCN’s mandate to cover all surface waters of the State. This was a unique experience that gave us some fresh insight into the challenges that face us when responding away from marine waters. As a follow-up, we sent out a survey to all OWCN responders asking a few questions about volunteering during inland response. We had over a hundred responses to the survey, and were pleased to learn that there is a strong desire in the Network to volunteer during inland response, despite the difficulties that come with responding in remote locations.
Notably, 75% of survey responses indicated people would be willing to volunteer for full day shifts instead of the usual 4 hour shift. This is important since it will be difficult to get many volunteers mobilized to more remote areas, and the willingness to work longer shifts means that we need fewer total volunteers each day. Additionally, we found that if we are able to provide accommodations and reimburse travel expenses, volunteer interest and availability increases dramatically. This is something that we will be taking into account when we plan for volunteers at future inland responses.
Finally, we read through all the comments, which were very helpful. Many of you are interested in more training on how to handle inland species, and many others had comments discussing how providing accommodations would really help – some were even willing to stay in tents during inland responses! Thank you to everyone who had a chance to respond to the survey, and know that this information is very valuable to us as we build our inland program.
National Volunteer Appreciation Week is coming to a close. This week we profiled a few of our amazing spill volunteers from our equally amazing Member Organizations, and a spill staff member who generously donates her spare time to help further the “greening” a spill response cause. It’s important to remember that this is a small snapshot of our volunteer force here at OWCN. We currently have a database of approximately 1,200 oil spill responders who are all incredibly dedicated to oiled wildlife response. I wish there was time to profile each person, but hopefully they all know how much we value them and their commitment to our program.
Thank you to each OWCN volunteer – we truly appreciate you and your time!
National Volunteer Appreciation Week is starting to wind down, but we have another great volunteer to talk to today. Esther Timberlake volunteers for International Bird Rescue (check out their website by clicking here!), and became involved after the goo event. Esther shared this story about being inspired to volunteer:
When I retired in 2013 I had zero interest in volunteering. I worked 50 years and was tired of the commute and routine. I spent leisurely days gardening, traveling and learning tennis. Like many volunteers, the mystery goo event hit at my heart. I found a new interest that I needed to explore. Volunteering at IBR has changed my life. I’ve not only learned new skills and experienced something profoundly new, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I now know my capacity to be patient and compassionate. The feel of a baby BCNH’s grip around my finger makes me giddy and I am thrilled that I am part of its healing and introduction back into the wild. Thanks to the wonderful IBR staff and its patients, I am a better person.
Thank you to Esther and all of the OWCN volunteers for the great work you do at each of our Member Organizations! While we hope for zero spills, it is great to know we have such dedicated volunteers if there is an emergency.