Off to a galaxy far far away…

I generally don’t think much about what I’m going blog about until the deadline is either 6 hours away or 6 hours past and today was no different. I remembered it was my turn to blog when I look at our OWCN shared calendar this morning and saw CC Blog.  I thought about Oilapalooza coming up in October, the Oiled Wildlife Specialist training we are all working to develop content for, next year’s full deployment drill, and a bunch of other things we have been working on stop. But then I thought about something more important than any those things and something it is much easier to write about from the heart: Our team.

I have only been on the OWCN Management Team here at the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center in the One Health Institute in beautiful VM3B on the UC Davis campus for two years, but I have been working with the OWCN team since the beginning.  Though I probably can’t provide first and last names of everyone who has been member of the OWCN team I think I could get pretty close and I have fond memories of working with everyone. It is always hard to see them move on. But Friday will especially hard because it will be the last day for one of the nicest, most consistently cheerful people I have ever worked with – Becky Elias, the OWCN Volunteer Coordinator.

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I know we will all dearly miss her smile, her attitude and her efforts for our cause. Becky has worked alongside a full scale model of R2D2 in a cubicle just outside my office since I became an OWCN employee in June 2015. In my mind though, I will always picture her in Tyvek, sitting in a pen in New Zealand, head down and focused on a bird in hand and surrounded by penguins seeking fish. I think that was the first time that I had really worked with her, and I always feel a spill is where you get to know what a person is really like. Becky is someone who works hard behind the scenes to make sure that the little but important things that are the keys to success in a wildlife response are done well. Even a very successful response like Rena is stressful for the people feeding hundreds penguins several times a day.

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Becky as always up for any task no matter how unpleasant or boring it might seem, or how late the hour. Or at least that is the way I will remember her. When she drives off to Washington state with her family this weekend, it may be the end of the Becky Elias Volunteer Coordinator era here at OWCN but I hope she will come back to lend us a hand when we need her in a spill.

As Alexander Graham Bell said “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us”. Becky will make it difficult for all of her friends here in Davis and at all of the Member Organizations to not focus on the door which is closing, but I am also eager to see the new door open and I hope you will be as well. But for now, thanks Becky for all that you have done for all of the people who make up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and from all of those penguins in Rena. You will always be part of the team.


Becky new food prep


Jumping on the Training Bandwagon

OK, so I realize that the last three posts have all been centered around a common theme – training!  But we have one more example to share.  In addition to our international assistance training, our regular California-based OWCN training program, and our unique cross-training opportunities at Oilapalooza, this year we have seen an increase in requests for affiliated agency and partner trainings across the state.


Students practicing their animal handling skills.

In June, Kyra and I traveled down to San Luis Obispo (an area I am biased toward as I grew up there), and provided a 1 day training to engaged staff at Padres Associates, Inc. – an environmental science and geoenvironmental consulting firm.  This group has been hired to work on a local remediation and restoration project in an effort to monitor for and reduce the risk of wildlife impacts from exposed hydrocarbons.  In coordination with the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), Padre Associates developed an Oiled Wildlife Contingency Plan and were interested in a training so that OWCN could provide a more hands-on approach for oiled wildlife deterrence, recovery and transport.

CDFWshieldIn addition to project-specific training requests, over the next few months we will also be delivering some oiled wildlife trainings, with a focus on field operations – hazing, recovery and transport, to our colleagues at OSPR.  Their Field Response Teams (FRTs) are often first on scene during an oil spill in California, and have the tough task of determining if there are any oiled wildlife present, or if any wildlife are at risk of potentially becoming oiled.  That task has become an even greater challenge with the inland expansion, as often the FRTs are responding in remote locations, and have limited local resources available should they need it.  So our goal will be to introduce them to some quick yet effective ideas they can implement in the field to deter wildlife from spill sites and if necessary, safely but efficiently capture oiled wildlife and prepare them for transport.

US-FWS-logoAnd last but not least, our colleagues at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have also requested a day of training in September, so that they too can improve their oiled wildlife skills during response.  Many of the USFWS staff are field biologists, 24hr HAZWOPER certified, and are making a concerted effort to improve their readiness should their efforts be needed in the field during inland responses.

Although our calendar is certainly busy these next few months with training dates, it also serves as a pleasant reminder that we reside in a state full of cooperative, collaborative agencies and organizations, all doing their part in maintaining their readiness should an oil spill occur.

A big thank you to all past and future training participants…successful spill response is a team sport and we can’t do it without you!


Cross Training – OWCN Style!

As we’ve reported here over the past couple years, the OWCN has a mandate to increase readiness for inland oiled wildlife response. We’ve been doing this through drills, mobile facility infrastructure development, and expansion of our network to include responders and centers that are experienced with inland species.

One of the great things about the OWCN is the strength of this expanding network. It not only improves our ability to respond, but gives everyone a chance to learn from each other. While I helped teach the Basic Responder Trainings over the past few months, it was great to see how much value the variety of responders brings to the trainings. I think we all walk away learning something new – either something about a species we’ve never worked with, or a different technique for working with an animal. Interactions like this led to our new Oilapalooza lab series.

This year, this new series will provide cross-training opportunities for everyone through a series of afternoon “101” laboratories. This includes: Pelagic Bird 101, Pinniped 101, Raptor 101, Reptile and Amphibian 101, Sea Otter 101, Sea Turtle 101, Terrestrial Mammal 101, and Terrestrial Bird (non-raptor) 101. We feel this will be a great opportunity for attendees to learn how to work with a new species. If you’re not going to Oilapalooza, think about other cross-training opportunities – maybe attend trainings at other centers, or just get to know rehabbers from other organizations in your area. You never know where the next spill will occur, but you can do your best to prepare for it!


Summer Classes and Training

Since summer is our non-spill season (knock on wood), the OWCN management team has been busy working on various aspects of the OWCN Training Program.


Our updated Marine Mammal webinar series is now available online.  This series includes Ecology, Biology, and Natural History, Processing & Intake, and Pre-Wash Care and Cleaning. In addition, we have several other webinars within our webinar library that you can view at any time.

Basic Responder Training:

On July 29th we will host a Basic Responder Training in Chico.  There are still seats left in this class, so sign up now if you’d like to attend.  Two additional Basic Responder Trainings will be held at the end of August in Santa Barbara (August 11th) and Morro Bay (August 13th).  Both classes still have seats open, however, the Morro Bay class is almost full.


Additionally, our last 24-hr HAZWOPER training of 2017 will be held on August 29-31 in Santa Barbara.  This class is filling up fast, so hurry and sign up now, if you are interested.


Finally, registration for Oilapalooza opened a week ago, and we are currently full. This conference will be held in Monterey on October 18th and 19th.

To register for any class or webinar, please log into your volunteer profile and navigate to the “Opportunities” tab to sign up for classes.  If a class is full, you can add yourself to the wait list by going to the “Opportunities” tab, and under “Filter Activities” make sure the box for “only include activities that have openings available” is unchecked, then select “Filter Activities”.  The scroll to the activity you want to sign up for, select the title, then scroll down and select “Add me to the back-up list”.


To Be Prepared is Half the Victory

Screen Shot 2017-07-04 at 3.00.14 PM“To be prepared is half the victory”, according to Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish novelist.  Along those same lines, Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend 6 hours sharpening my axe”.  In our line of work, these quotes ring very true, as we are well aware that the more we prepare for a spill, the better off we (and oiled wildlife) will be when the time comes to respond.

As part of the four R’s that are the cornerstone of the OWCN’s efforts (Readiness, Response, Research, Reaching Out), we spend a lot of time on the preparedness, or Readiness, aspect.  There are many activities that we participate in that encompass Readiness, including drills, such as the BNSF drill described by Nancy in last week’s blog, our first inland full-deployment drill in Quincy, CA last March, the maintenance of equipment already in hand, and the purchase of new equipment that would be used in response.

Even though we spend a lot of our time preparing ourselves and our California Network for the next spill, our Readiness sometimes joins with our Reaching Out mandate to extend outside the boundaries of California when approved by CDFW-OSPR.  Over the past few years we have assisted our neighbors to the south in preparing for recovery and care of oiled wildlife affected by spills in Baja California.  This included a training in Ensenada, Mexico of a group of 25 individuals from a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations.  Currently, we are assisting this group in the development of a written plan.  Even though we have been assisting folks in Mexico for several years, our involvement so far has mostly been limited to the Pacific region.


Group photo on the last day of Tampico training.

This changed a couple weeks ago, when Greg, Curt, and I traveled to Tampico, on the Gulf of Mexico side of Mexico, to train 90 people in the rescue and supportive care of oiled wildlife.  We were invited to do this training by the Mexican Navy (Secretaría de la Marina), which is the group that is in charge of leading oil spill response in Mexico.  The trainings were attended by individuals from several different groups, including the Navy, SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales), students from several local universities, and others.  This area along the coast of Mexico is biologically very rich, as it includes several important nesting sites for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, 29 species of marine mammals, and over 1500 species of birds (14 of which are globally threatened).  It is also an important feeding ground for whale sharks, bluefin tuna, and several species of pelagic seabirds.

Personally, I was impressed with the students’ eagerness to learn; they certainly displayed this enthusiasm with their excellent questions and the lively discussions throughout the day.  We ended the training with a tabletop drill, the goal of which was to give the group a feel for some of the initial actions to protect wildlife after oil has been spilled. Conversations revolved around the wildlife branch structure, who might fill some of these roles, where the recovery staging areas would be, as well as the potential buildings that might be used to hold and do initial wildlife supportive care.  The training concluded with a collective commitment to continue along the path of preparedness for a future spill in this region.


Curt, Jonathan (the Interpreter), Greg, and Kyra.

Whenever I travel outside of California, and especially outside of the U.S., I am always struck by what a great set-up for oil spill response we have in California – something that we often take for granted. Mexico has a long way to go to be fully prepared for a spill, but I feel confident that they now have a greater knowledge of some of the aspects they will need to work on to be better prepared.

I feel so proud to be working for an organization (OWCN) within a state agency (CDFW-OSPR) that is so willing to share its knowledge and expertise outside of the confines of our state.  With the risk of oil spills potentially increasing in the Gulf of Mexico region, it will become increasingly more important for Mexico to prepare for spills that affect their wildlife, but they have taken a great first step along this path.


Inland Response: A New Level of Readiness

Yesterday, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) participated in a drill led by BNSF Railway (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway). Now that the OWCN and Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) have a mandate to extend our work inland, we are working closely with new partners to develop wildlife response plans that will match the excellent standards developed for marine spills over the last 20+ years. While we will be employing much of the knowledge and expertise gained from previous coastal work, inland response entails new challenges such as remote locations, steep terrain, strong currents in rivers and a greater diversity of wildlife species (i.e. bear, mountain lion, deer, snakes, eagles, etc.) that will require a strong team effort to build a comprehensive and effective plan.

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Yesterday’s drill was one more step in this process. The case scenario for this drill was a derailed tanker car that leaked 8,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil onto the ground with an estimated 1,600 gallons finding its way into Hamilton Branch Creek and Lake Almanor. Aside from the human safety issues associated with Lake Almanor being a popular summer time boating and vacation destination, we had great concern for the aquatic wildlife species living in the area. Western grebes were especially vulnerable as Lake Almanor is one of their main breeding areas in California and June is when many grebes start egg incubation. Since western grebes build their floating nests along lake shores and near the edges of marshes, they were at particular risk for oiling.


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In addition, Lake Almanor is located in the mountain ranges of northeastern California. This makes it a relatively remote location. Nevertheless, due to some thoughtful planning which resulted in the recruitment of more inland Member Organizations, we were able to call on two of our newest partners: Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Release & North Valley Animal Disaster Group. They were able to provide personnel for the initial wildlife response while OWCN staff from Davis and from more remote Member Organizations traveled to the area. In addition, local wildlife recovery gear that OWCN had staged near Lake Oroville was available to supply OSPR and local Member Organization responders until OWCN staff were able to haul the rest of our equipment (including plenty of boats and enough tents to build a mobile primary care center) to Lake Almanor.


While drills are not the real deal, they are  incredibly valuable because not only do they allow us to test our readiness, but they also provide us with the chance to interact with our partners and strengthen our team. So while, as always, we were thankful that this was not a real spill, we were also grateful for the opportunity to learn and improve.






Welcome to Summer, OWCNers!

Crazy Hot Temps in Davis!

Well, with the solstice officially occurring last night (with today being the first full day), summer has officially arrived. However, if you are anywhere other than on the coast of CA, you know this already by the soles of your shoes sticking to the street as you walk outside!

A couple of blog-type thoughts for a solstice afternoon:

1) Thoughts from The New Yorker on the historical/geographical/interstellar implications of the summer solstice – a longish read (as is The New Yorker’s bent) but good if you are feeling science-y.

2) For those not wanting a deep read, Vox reports on 7 interesting solstice tidbits in a bit more graphically appealing manner.

3) Last, but certainly not least, CDFW-OSPR reported that a train derailed in the Bakersfield area yesterday, likely due to the extreme heat buckling the tracks. A reminder that, similar to stormy weather, hot temperatures can also cause accidents necessitating wildlife response. Fortunately this one did not need the OWCN to mobilize (I was already planning to load an ice chest to bring with me to the Command Post), as the video showed a pretty remarkable event, but lets all be safe out there!

In any event, enjoy the longest day of the year and please keep cool! Remember, heat exhaustion is not something to mess with – as I am sure everyone remembers from their HAZWOPER, HAZCOM, or Core Webinar info!

– Mike