Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Barbara Callahan

Barbara Callahan is the Senior Director of Response and Preparedness Services for International Bird Rescue. She has been a part of oil spill response for the past 25 years and has seen a lot of growth in this industry since she first got started. In the mid 1990’s, there was a lot less acceptance for wildlife response in the broader oil spill response field than there is today, and that is largely due to the time, energy, and dedication of Barbara and others who have worked in this field for years to professionalize wildlife response. These efforts have encouraged the oil industry to be more accepting of the wildlife response component of spill response. 

When Barbara first set out in her quest for a career, she didn’t set out to be in the oil spill business, but she states that “as a biologist and wildlife rehabilitator, I was certainly drawn to the opportunity to help wildlife. It was clear to me that International Bird Rescue really knew how to care for oiled wildlife, particularly aquatic birds and I knew I could learn so much from being part of their team”.  Her first spill out of the U.S. was the Erika spill in France and it was quickly followed by the Treasure spill, which was the largest and most successful spill response ever, with over 20,000 oiled African penguins. She and her team were on that response for over three months. In reflecting on these incidents, she states that “this was the first time in my career that I realized the massive organization required to successfully respond to a spill and when I first became interested in the emergency management side of response. It’s just not enough to know how to care for the wildlife if you can’t merge that knowledge with being able to get the team on the ground, be able to support them well and provide all the equipment and supplies they need”. 

Treasure Oil Spill, South Africa June 2000 Photo credit: International Bird Rescue

When asked about the highlights of her career so far, and the memories that stick out the most, Barbara believes these two go hand in hand. It’s the people she says, and “getting to know colleagues from all over the world, many of whom have become friends I will cherish for life” is one of her favorite aspects. But it’s also the team dynamics that really stick out.  “I realize what an amazing team I got to work with and I’m not just speaking about the International Bird Rescue Team but the wider team including all those we work with in spills”. Furthermore, in respect to her career goals in wildlife rehabilitation, she states that “I know from experience that planning will help save wildlife impacted by oil and that’s what my entire career has been about, so I take a great deal of satisfaction in seeing those improved wildlife plans”. She also notes that she’s “never more proud of the International Bird Rescue team than when we’re responding to an emergency as the dedication and commitment to wildlife is amazing and shows in everything they do during a response.”

Barbara has had a diverse career thus far, and in the spirit of inspiring other women interested in this industry she encourages women to follow their passion and chase their dreams. “Women are present in all aspects of oiled wildlife response, as well as the wider field of oil spill response, including State On-Scene Coordinators and other IMT roles, wildlife trustees, planners and regulators so follow your interest and do good work if you want to help respond to wildlife in oil spills!”. 

Thank you, Barbara, for being such an incredible influence in this industry, and such a wonderful role model for everyone around you!


Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Jonna Mazet

Jonna Mazet is a world-renowned scientist known for her innovative “One Health” approach to complex problems arising from the interface of people, animals, and the environment. Prior to becoming the Director of the One Health Institute, she was the pioneer of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN). When I asked her how she got started in oiled wildlife response she stated that “while finishing vet school, and early on in graduate school, I was helping with some data analysis from the Exxon Valdez spill. I found that work extremely interesting and that is what inspired me to consider the effects of oil on wildlife as a PhD topic. Studying the effects of oil on wildlife for my PhD is really what inspired my deep interest into oiled wildlife response.”  

I asked how she went from studying the effects of oil on wildlife to spearheading the OWCN within OSPR, and then ultimately being able to bring that program to UC Davis. “My studies were primarily funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly Fish and Game). While I was finishing my PhD there was an opportunity to apply for a job with CDFW. All the oil spill response work being conducted at the time was headed by Dave Jessup and contract veterinarians that were hired to do responses, and I was one of those veterinarians. At this point there were enough spills occurring to raise concerns, and the legislation was in place to support the creation of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. They recruited for a position, and I applied.”  That job began at the end of 1994, and Jonna began working as an employee for CDFW, setting up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. 

Jonna explained to me that there was this thing called a sunset clause written into the legislation that was developed to create the OWCN. A sunset clause is “a measure within a statute, regulation or other law that provides that the law shall cease to have effect after a specific date, unless further legislative action is taken to extend the law.” At this time, the legislation for the OWCN was being brought before the legislatures so they could decide whether to keep or get rid of the program. It was ultimately decided that the program would be continued, but that the program should be brought into a University that had a Veterinary Medicine Department. The Vet School at UC Davis already had other interagency connections between the school and the state, so bringing the OWCN to UC Davis made sense. Especially because during this time when the legislation was being brought back before the legislatures for a vote, it had become obvious that there were some issues regarding the building and maintenance of facility infrastructure required to support an organization like the OWCN. These issues included how the facilities would be maintained, how we would know if we were maintaining excellence for the wildlife, and how we would know that we were doing the right thing scientifically. Thus, having this program housed within UC Davis, and the creation of the competitive grants program, created an avenue to overcome these issues. 

As the OWCN transferred from the state to the university, so did Jonna, and thus, that is how the OWCN, and its fearless leader, ended up being a part of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine! It was not long after Jonna began her career here at UC Davis that she was asked to help head the Wildlife Health Center as the Co-Director with Walter Boyce. She led both the OWCN and the Wildlife Health Center until 2003 when Mike Ziccardi was hired as the new Director for the OWCN. With the OWCN off her plate, Jonna continued to lead the Wildlife Health Center until 2014.

I asked Jonna what her initial goals were when the Oiled Wildlife Care Network was in its infancy, and she told me that getting the different stakeholders such as the rehabbers, the state, and the oil industry to communicate with one another was at the top of the list. When she first started, many of these facets were at odds with one another and therefore did not communicate well. Thus, her first task was to listen to these diverse groups, understand their needs, and draw out common ground between them to establish win-win scenarios for all involved. She was successful in this endeavor and credits the academic community for much of this success. “Bringing in the academic community as a neutral voice encouraged the different sectors to use this platform as a sounding board to voice their concerns, needs, and desires so that common goals could be established. One of the most critical components to all of this was getting the rehab community, who was already leading a huge movement to do this work well, the tools, information, and protocols they needed. I didn’t create these protocols, but I listened to what the rehabbers were saying, worked with them to identify their needs, and asked scientists to test out our theories to see if our inclinations were true. It took some time, but we were able to achieve this successfully, and that is something I saw as a major accomplishment.”  

I asked what it was like to be a woman in the wildlife response industry, and if women were represented at all during this time. When Jonna started, at least in the technical capacity, it was “really just me and Yvonne Addassi who were the main players at the state level. There were slightly more women in the university setting in the high-level scientific positions, but overall, women were very much underrepresented. The highest numbers of women in positions of power were within the rehab sector.” Overall though, Jonna says she “felt supported in the movement to improve wildlife response in California, especially by women in the rehab community.” 

While there was a lot of support for the creation of the OWCN, and a desire to improve the wildlife response aspect of spill response, there were some men who made it their mission to attempt to get Jonna fired, both during the time she was a Fish and Wildlife employee and as an employee of the University. These individuals were clearly unsuccessful in their endless attempts to obstruct her success. I asked her why she thought they might have wanted to see her fail, and she told me that at the time she “didn’t take being a woman as being a big part of that, but in retrospect it probably did. I was knee deep into this project, kept my head down, and moved forward without addressing the reasons why they were so intent on impeding my success. In hindsight, ignoring those issues was something I did to survive. I had small children at the time and was trying to do the right thing by family and the right thing at work, and so to be successful at both I just ignored it and soldiered on.” Despite these challenges, she noted there were also men who were incredibly supportive of her as a scientist, as a person and who helped her achieve her goals and her success in the industry. 

Retrospectively, Jonna says that she “wasn’t necessarily being the best role model or forger of ground for other women who would come after me, I was just doing the best I could. In today’s society, these issues are more talked about and more openly addressed and I would handle them much differently now.” Nevertheless, the lessons she learned over the years from facing these issues and challenges instilled in her the hard work ethic and respectful professionalism that continues to empower her today. “I’ve always used, to the best extent of my power, hard work and respectful professionalism to move agendas forward, and I think that is just a basic guideline for women, and men, moving forward.” 

Jonna helped lay the foundation upon which the OWCN was created but could not have done it without the collaborative effort between the rehab organizations, the state, and the oil industry. There are many things we have to be grateful for since the OWCN’s founding; the vast improvements we have seen in the quality of care for oil affected wildlife, the facility infrastructure that has been created, the improvement in response capabilities, and the wonderful network that provides the personnel power to accomplish all of this. So, thank you Jonna, for being the pioneer of our incredible organization, and an inspiration to women for generations to come.  

Photo credits: Jonna Mazet, Mike Ziccardi, and Eunah Cho Preston


Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Wendy Massey

Wendy Massey is currently the OWCN’s Field Operations Facilities Specialist. She has had a huge influence on me since I started here and has taught me an incredible amount about oiled wildlife, response operations, and been my guiding hand through every response I have been a part of. But aside from that, Wendy has been a prominent figure in wildlife response for decades and is a well-known and respected member of this profession. Here is her story.  

My late uncle was International Bird Rescue’s Jay Holcomb – so you might say I was born into the business. Jay was always involved in animal rehabilitation and as soon as I could walk I followed him everywhere. Because of that I have been surrounded by wildlife rehabilitation literally my entire life. Growing up in Marin County meant oiled birds were often in the mix. In the beginning I would help Jay care for and wash oiled birds while standing on a step stool, as I was too young to reach the exam table or sink. Oiled wildlife rehabilitation presents challenges that are much different from the norm so it was a specialty I was drawn to as I grew older. Helping these animals became very important to me so in 1992 I started responding to oil spills with the International Bird Rescue and Research Center.

Back in the early 90’s we were just starting to participate in all the different aspects of spill response we now take for granted in California. Before that we weren’t part of the Operations Group and no one in Planning or Logistics actively supported the wildlife effort. We often took care of the animals in some off-site warehouse away from all the “real” action. When I look back on my early experiences I think it’s important to mention not only was I a young woman but I was also seen as a “Hippy Tree Hugger” to boot. I remember being on site at the McGrath Lake spill, recovering oiled birds, and feeling pretty uncomfortable. Incorporating wildlife response into a spill event was new to the oil industry and not always welcomed or understood. This was one of the first times I worked at an actual spill site shoulder to shoulder with representatives of the responsible party, natural resource trustees, and oil spill response organizations. These were almost always men and I would hear them make a lot of casual sexual comments directed at or made about me. Comments mostly came during conversations carried out over open radio comms that I heard through the handset I was required to carry and monitor. Sometimes these were made face to face with the apparent goal of making me feel I didn’t belong there. Thinking back, it’s amazing to me that these guys felt entitled to just say anything they wanted! I never feared for my safety but definitely was very uncomfortable. If that happened today I certainly would report it, but back then we were lucky just to be there and be allowed to recover the affected animals.

For those who aren’t familiar with the history, the McGrath Lake Response happened before OWCN existed. Wildlife responders worked directly with the newly instituted California Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). For this response our OSPR partners were Dr. Dave Jessup and Tim Williamson. I’m not sure that OSPR knew what to think about working with rehabilitators, but we made it work and Dave and Tim remain friends of mine to this day.

Early in my career I wanted to expand my skills beyond the capture and care of animals. I transitioned to the facilities side of wildlife response where being a woman wasn’t necessarily a plus. Not having purpose-built facilities in California at that time meant we had to find and alter existing structures to suit our special needs. I often dealt with contractors needed to install critical systems. Oiled wildlife care facilities require specific and unusual infrastructure. When explaining my needs to the contractors I would often be met with condescension and comments like “little lady I don’t think you know how plumbing works, so let me try and explain it in a way you can maybe understand”. Although I often dealt with these men’s derogatory attitudes and comments, thankfully there were always other men who supported me along the way. From day one Tim Williamson was one of those men. He always did everything he could to help me succeed.

Some of my favorite memories from my response experiences revolve around the people I was fortunate to work with. I firmly believe you’re only as good as the people around you and I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by some very good people. Every spill event is different. The location, the type(s) of affected animals, product, time of year, how long after the event before you’re activated, etc. always varies and impacts your mission. Despite well-designed protocols, how you care for and recover animals also is very often different. Because of all these variables, and the lessons learned during past responses, I can’t overly emphasize the importance of thinking outside the box. For me the diversity of experiences, those new and constantly evolving challenges, and the reward of helping the impacted animals is what keeps me coming back for more. I learn something different on every spill response that helps broaden my view of what may be successful in spills that follow.

One of my favorite spills was the 1996 M/V Citrus spill. The spill was in the middle of the Bering Sea with oiled birds coming ashore on the Pribilof Islands. International Bird Rescue sent recovery groups out to the islands, but the animal care facility was in Anchorage. I was responsible for our wildlife care facilities which proved to be a big challenge. I believe we wound up with over 200 birds in care. Most of these were King Eiders. Because it was winter in Alaska we had to house operations indoors. I had limited space to work with and had to find a separate dry space for the oiled birds as well as pool space for the clean birds. You can’t discharge pool wastewater outside in an Alaskan winter because it simply freezes on the ground. I had to find a solution to supplying and discharging water without it freezing. That’s when I learned how important it is to be really innovative. That spill pushed me beyond my comfort zone and forced me to find ways to successfully solve our problems. Another reason this response is a favorite is because we worked side-by-side with the U.S. Coast Guard in the facility, all day, every day. At the outset they looked unfavorably on pretty much everything we did. By the end of the response their attitude changed, and they were just as invested and engaged in the wildlife response as we were. It was an incredible experience.

The California oil spill response industry continues to evolve. It’s now a more professional arena that provides a more equitable chance for all parties to succeed, but there are still improvements to be made. I no longer hear offensive comments made over open radio communications, but this doesn’t mean all instances of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior have vanished. Men in the response industry are part of society at large and not divorced from its general problems. Also, wildlife response has matured and become a more professional undertaking. Those working in this field (both female and male) are more easily accepted by responders filling more traditional roles. Unlike in the past, if I encounter a problem today I feel comfortable coming forward with any complaints or concerns.

What advice would I give to women interested in this field? If you can commit to long hours, inconvenient work schedules, and passionately care about wildlife – I highly recommend it. It’s been a great ride and it’s not over yet.

Wendy’s career is definitely long from over, and I for one, look forward to our continued collaboration and innovation for years to come! All photos in this post were provided by Wendy Massey and Mike Ziccardi.


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

Oiled Wildlife Research: Our Pursuit of Knowledge Never Ends

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network spends much of its time focusing on Readiness, Response and Reaching Out. But sprinkled into our daily thoughts, and monthly projects include a healthy dose of Research. This aspect will be highlighted next week, as we virtually host our Scientific Advisory Committee for its annual meeting to review numerous full and small grant proposals. (Click here to learn more about our OWCN Competitive Grants Program)

The OWCN Scientific Advisory Committee includes scientifically qualified individuals from academia, the oil industry, rehabilitation organizations and other research institutions. The Committee reviews completed research and technology development proposals in advance, and then gathers annually to evaluate their scientific merit and quality. To date, the Committee has awarded over $4.5 million of grant funds to more than 190 scientifically meritorious studies.

The core goals of the Competitive Grants Program include:

  • Improve Animal Care
  • Assess Wildlife Health
  • Determine Wildlife Population Information that Aids in Caring for Oiled Wildlife
  • Develop New Technology for Oiled Wildlife Care

Projects supported by this program have included both basic research and applied research projects. The OWCN supports both large-scale research projects, which require more than $15,000 per year for up to three years, and small or pilot projects, which require less than $15,000 for one year of funding. Click here to see some of our previously funded grants.

And in the spirit of scientific research, we wanted to highlight a few recent publications and articles, our last OWCN Town Hall that focused on this very topic and a fantastic spring seminar series hosted by one of our Member Organizations, the Estuary and Ocean Science Center!

Lastly, we wish to provide a huge Thank You to our dedicated Scientific Advisory Committee members for lending us their expertise and support! Science is work in progress, and I can’t wait to see what we discover next.

Scott Buhl – Field Operations Readiness Coordinator

Introducing our new Care Veterinarian!

This week, I am excited to announce the new addition to the OWCN Management Team, Dr. Jamie Sherman!

Dr. Sherman with black bear cub

Jamie’s passion for working with wildlife began during a research abroad program in South Africa, as a part of her undergraduate studies at Syracuse University. She then obtained her Master’s degree from UC Davis, where she conducted research in conjunction with the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to advance California black bear population health. In addition to her research (and later, during her veterinary studies), Jamie spent 10 years working for CDFW, caring for orphaned and injured wildlife and assisting with large-scale population field studies of bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk. Jamie obtained her veterinary degree from UC Davis with a focus on wildlife and zoological medicine.

Dr. Sherman with a big horn sheep

Following graduation, Jamie moved to Reno, NV where she has served as a veterinarian for a mixed animal veterinary practice. As a small and exotic animal veterinarian, Jamie has provided advanced preventative, clinical and surgical care for cats, dogs, companion exotics, and zoological collections at the Sierra Safari Zoo and Animal Ark Wildlife Sanctuary.

Dr. Sherman with a flamingo

Jamie is excited to return home to UC Davis and join the Oiled Wildlife Care Network team. As Care Veterinarian for the OWCN, she is looking forward to influencing the care of wildlife affected by oil spills, expanding response capability through training and public engagement, and advancing research in the field of oiled wildlife science.

We are so excited to have Jamie join our team and can’t wait to share our amazing Network with her!


Is Climate Change Intensifying the Natural Disasters that Affect Wildlife?

Here at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, our mission is to provide the best achievable capture and care to wildlife affected by oil spills in California. But while our efforts to help wildlife are focused on oil spills of anthropogenic origin, our work shares some similarities with other disaster events that can affect wildlife and the environment. Response to natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, winter storms, and floods can end up looking a lot like an oil spill response. Due to the many parallels between oil spills and these natural disasters, we at the OWCN try to keep our finger on the pulse of wildlife disaster response, even when the disaster event isn’t “directly” caused by humans. And I say “directly”, because as anyone can see—in recent years, weather events are becoming more severe and destructive. The mounting scientific evidence tells us that this trend is likely the result of our changing climate.

Wildfires are growing in magnitude and frequency. Drought conditions in parts of the world are devastating both human and animals alike. And just last week Texas faced an unprecedented drop in temperature leaving millions of Texans without heat and power. Climate change, of course, is one of the most complex and even divisive topics of modern day. But one undeniable fact is that we have seen an increase in weather anomalies in the last few years and experts are concerned that this trend indicates that we’ll see even more unpredictable weather in the future.

There are two recent climate-caused wildlife disasters that I’d like to highlight today. One due to heat and one due to cold. In both cases, the affected wildlife were given a chance at recovery thanks to the hard work of some very determined wildlife rehabilitators.

The first disaster has been unfolding annually at wildlife refuges along the California-Oregon border. Avian botulism is a natural occurrence in wetland habitats around the world, but in recent years severe outbreaks of the deadly toxin have been ravaging wild birds along this critical portion of the Pacific Flyway.

“Botulism is a natural toxin produced by a bacterium ( Clostridium botulinum ) commonly found in the soil. There are several types of botulism toxin some of which can affect humans who eat improperly canned foods. Birds get their own kind of botulism that does not affect humans. Botulism is concentrated in aquatic invertebrates that filter feed sediments or water. When birds eat the invertebrates, they get a concentrated package of toxin. A bird-to-bird cycle can also exist where maggots feeding on dead birds can concentrate the toxin and can then be eaten by and poison other birds.”

The United States Geological Survey
Photo credit: Field Manual of Wildlife Disease – General Field Procedures and Diseases of Birds; The USGS National Wildlife Health Cent

So why then, if this is a naturally occurring event, is it necessary for humans to intervene and try to save the affected wildlife? The answer is a complicated one. First, you should know that botulism outbreaks tend to favor wetlands whose water bodies become shallow and hot during the summer. Receding water levels force the invertebrate-seeking birds to congregate in order to feed. And what are they feeding on? That’s right. A lethal dose of botulism toxin disguised as a tasty maggot. Yikes, okay, well it’s tasty for the duck! And so after its meal, the duck eventually succumbs to the effects of botulism and its carcass attracts more maggots which attract more ducks and the cycle continues. And continues. And continues. Until! The wetland dries up or floods. This changes the environmental conditions enough so as to stop the production of toxin by C. botulinum. This is where things get tricky from a responsibility standpoint.

If botulism outbreaks are worsened by decreased water availability, then we humans are already inextricably linked to this disaster event. Water is a human-managed resource in many parts of the world and it’s in scarce supply. When drought conditions prevail, water has to be rationed between a number of stakeholders, including residents, farmers, ranchers, and refuges. With limited options for supplying water to these affected wildlife refuges, another tactic for mitigating a botulism outbreak is removing the dead and dying birds from the environment to break the cycle of infection. Deceased birds are disposed of, but what is the fate of the birds collected live, yet paralyzed by the deadly toxin? Luckily for the birds near the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, there is hope.

A small, but industrious group of experienced wildlife rehabilitators have banded together along with refuge volunteers and wildlife trustees to formulate a plan to help these sick birds recover. This group, led by Bird Ally X, is rising to meet this seemingly insurmountable challenge year after year. In 2020 alone, they were able to treat thousands of botulism birds with a very high success rate. The 2020 animal numbers dwarfed those from the botulism response in preceding years. This discrepancy is largely believed to be tied directly to water availability and refuge managers are working on securing more water for the upcoming season in the hopes that an outbreak can be avoided or minimized.

So come hell or low water, Bird Ally X will be preparing to rescue more botulism-affected birds this year and probably for years to come. Unlike with some oil spills, there is no responsible party to foot the bill of the wildlife response. If you’d like to make a contribution to Bird Ally X’s botulism response efforts, click here.

Scientists at NASA have uncovered evidence that human-generated emissions influence global-scale drought conditions. And what’s more, climate models predict that droughts will become more frequent and severe in the years to come. Of course, botulism outbreaks are only one of the countless ways that droughts affect wildlife.

Shifting over to another extreme, we’ll now dive in to a climate-caused wildlife disaster that’s still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. You may have seen this story on the news or social media. The images are distressing—thousands upon thousands of sea turtles resting on the floors of a conference center in South Padre Island, Texas. If you’ve ever had the privilege of spotting a sea turtle in the wild, you surely took notice of their grace in the water. But on the beach, they are vulnerable—practically defenseless. So to see them lining the halls of a building that normally houses expos and symposiums is quite a shock.

Photo: Sea Turtle, Inc.

The sea turtles have been stunned by the sudden blast of cold temperatures that hovered over Texas and Louisiana in the middle of February. Cold-stunned sea turtles are typically found in more northern waters, but there have been previous occurrences of large numbers being affected along the shores of Texas. In 2018, more than 3,500 sea turtles were cold-stunned in Texas, but this year’s numbers already exceed 5,000 individuals. So what exactly does it mean for a turtle to be “cold-stunned”?

With recent drops in weather and water temperature, many communities on our coasts are seeing hundreds of sea turtles, many of them dead, washing ashore. This phenomenon, known as cold stunning, refers to the changes sea turtles experience when they are exposed to cold water for an extended period of time…

… Sea turtles are reptiles, relying on external sources of heat to maintain their body temperatures. When turtles are cold stunned, usually when water temperatures reach 50 degrees and below, they will experience a decrease in heart rate and circulation causing them to become lethargic. Cold stunning may lead to shock, pneumonia, frostbite, and potentially death, as they are not able to migrate to warmer waters.

With the help of many groups, cold stunned sea turtles can be transported to a rehab facility, placed in a dry tub and evaluated for any other existing health concerns. They will be warmed up slowly and, when appropriate, placed in water and closely monitored by rehab staff. Once fully recovered, the turtles are released.

Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN)

Kemp’s ridleys, hawksbills, loggerheads, leatherbacks and green sea turtles were among the endangered chelonians that washed up on the beach or had to be rescued from the sea. Sea Turtle, Inc., a rehabilitation, conservation, and education organization in South Padre Island led the rescue efforts which drew support from the public, boaters, and even SpaceX who donated a massive generator to heat the still powerless convention center. Texas’s February arctic blast wreaked havoc on humans and animals alike. Why? Because that kind of extreme cold is just not expected in that part of the world. As the climate changes, weather patterns are bound to shift. But why such a sudden and extreme weather change for Texas? Scientists suspect that the out of place arctic temperatures were the result of fluctuations in the jet stream, a band of winds that blow west to east and provide a barrier of sorts between cold, arctic air and the warmer mid-latitudes. While some variation of the jet stream can allow cold air to reach more southern latitudes, scientists warn that Arctic warming could result in an increase in these episodes.

I had the privilege of visiting Sea Turtle Inc. last year. Their sea turtle facilities were world class, but 5,000 sea turtles would surpass any one facility’s capacity. This begs the question: What will happen next year and the year after? Already endangered and facing numerous climate-related threats, such as skewed sex ratios due to rising incubation temperatures, sea turtle populations can be significantly impacted when breeding-age adults succumb to cold-stunning. Sea Turtle, Inc. has already released more than 2,200 recovered sea turtles following February’s record-breaking cold-stun event. Rescue efforts of these proportions could mean salvation for the endangered species. If you would like to contribute to Sea Turtle, Inc.’s lifesaving work you may do so here.

So is climate change intensifying or—at the very least—increasing the frequency of these disastrous weather events and the effects they have on wildlife?

As casualty records continue to be broken and these grand-scale rescue efforts become more and more common, we shall soon have our answer. Climate change and wildlife disasters are heavy topics. As I wrap up this blog post, I’m finding that I need a little positivity to keep me going. Maybe you do too? So I’ll leave you with the wise words of Mr. Rogers…

So look for the helpers. And maybe even become one of them!


Care Ops with the Wildlife Disaster Network (WDN)

Now that we’re out of fire season, I can take a moment to tell you a little bit more about the Care Operations side of the Wildlife Disaster Network.

This blog is part 3 of 3 providing insight into the new network that we previously blogged about here and here.

As you may remember, Scott introduced us to this inspirational new Network (which is modeled after the OWCN) and Duane described the ecosystem effects of California wildfires and our field efforts to locate wildlife in need. Now I’m going to tell you about what happens when injured wildlife are found.

Aside from our team’s reconnaissance efforts, many wildfire-injured wildlife are reported and/or brought in to local rehabilitation centers by the public or by workers who are authorized to enter fire evacuation zones (such as PG&E, CalFire, search and rescue, and others).

In 2020, the majority of wildfire patients were housed and treated at Gold Country Wildlife Rescue in Auburn, while the large predators were cared for at CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Lab in Rancho Cordova. A number of other organizations, including Napa Wildlife Rescue, Wetlands and Wildlife, Project Wildlife, and the Oakland Zoo (to name a few) took in burned animals as well.

Burned paw pads of a bobcat

Patients, the majority of whom were medium to large mammals in 2020, tend to present with severe burns to their paws, often with their entire paw pads missing, and sometimes with digit bones exposed or even missing altogether. With such maladies, these animals cannot ambulate well, cannot catch prey, and subsequently succumb to dehydration and starvation if left in the wild.

Patient treatment generally involves pain medication, antibiotics, vitamin supplementation and extensive wound treatment, including cold laser therapy, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, topical antiseptics, topical anesthetics, and bandaging. It is this multi-modal approach that has proven to be the most effective in treating these severe and extremely painful injuries.

Performing treatments on burned paws of a black bear

Treatment and diagnostic procedures for a wildlife burn victim can be a big event (depending on the size of the patient). Most animals must be sedated or anesthetized due to the discomfort and length of the procedure. Once asleep, a flurry of veterinarians, techs, and assistants descend, each taking a paw to assess and then treat, while still others work to provide additional treatments and run a slew of diagnostics. Such tests include radiographs (x-rays) of the chest (to screen for inhalation injuries), basic labwork (to screen for biochemical indications of toxic effects of wildfire smoke, as well as for any concurrent illnesses), a cardiac troponin level (to screen for cardiac effects of thermal burn injury and smoke inhalation), and often, an echocardiogram (also to screen for cardiac changes).

Certainly many of you have by now heard of the infamous tilapia skin bandages donned by many of our wildfire victims as well. Attaching these biological dressings provides a matrix for the patient’s own cells to move across and begin to grow new skin, and the high levels of collagen have also been shown to offer a nearly immediate reduction in pain in some patients.

Before and after tilapia skin bandage placement on the burned paw of a bear cub

For our medium mammals, a set of new bandages adorn their feet when they awake. For our large mammal patients however, normal bandage material is no match for their teeth and curiosity, and natural bandages of corn husks and rice paper must be placed  to protect the tilapia skins (if they eat these natural products, no harm will come).

Bandaging the burned paws of a bobcat
Coyote with bandages on all four burned paws
Bear with corn husk natural bandages over tilapia skin biological bandages

Our patients typically remain in care for several weeks, sometimes longer. It is a rigorous process, at times hard to watch, but when you see an animal gradually transform from being recumbent from its injuries to one that can gingerly walk and then eventually fully bear weight on its feet again, there is no question it’s worth it.

With the creation of the Wildlife Disaster Network, 2020 saw the most wildlife successfully treated of any fire season thus far.

Our patients in 2020 included:
•    A bear from the North Complex Fire
•    A mountain lion from the Bobcat Fire
•    A bear from the Zogg Fire
•    A coyote from the LNU Complex Fire
•    A bobcat from the LNU Complex Fire
•    A fox from the North Complex Fire
•    A bear cub from the Zogg Fire
•    A coyote from the Glass Fire
•    A mountain lion kitten from the Zogg Fire

But we know there are more out there. If you see any wildlife that has been injured in wildfires or any other natural disaster, please call the WDN hotline (800-942-6459).

If you’d like to support the Wildlife Disaster Network, please visit: http://give.ucdavis.edu/go/wdn or visit our Crowdfunding site here where we are currently raising money to boost our reconnaissance capabilities for this coming fire season (link valid until Feb 28th)! Any amount helps!