The Frogs of Toro Canyon Creek

This past August OWCN was activated for an oil event at Toro Canyon Creek.  For those who may be unfamiliar with the area as I had been, it’s a creek in the hills just north of Carpinteria. A year-round water source was created after an oil-water separator had been built back in the 1990’s to help contain an existing oil well seepage.  This allowed the oil to be diverted to a tank and the separated water to feed the creek.  When clean, I can imagine how incredible this small oasis could be and the wildlife it would support; however, when we were activated, much of it was filled with thick oil sludge.

Toro Canyon Creek

While the initial animals recovered were found deceased in the oiled creek, we soon began recovering live animals, all of which belonged to 2 species of frogs (plus one Western fence lizard who happened to be in the wrong place during cleanup).  These frog species, the Baja California Treefrog (Baja) and the California Treefrog are often found to be sympatric (found in the same geographic area with each other) in southern California.

Baja California Treefrog

The Baja California Treefrog was by far the most recovered at this event (89 out of 94 frogs).  Prior to 2006, it was classified under one species known as the Pacific Treefrog, but was then separated into 3 separate species with the southernmost population becoming the Baja California Treefrog.  

The name “Treefrog” isn’t very accurate as these frogs are more ground-dwellers of low shrubs and grasses, although like treefrogs they have the typical rounded toepads that make them excellent climbers.

Baja California Treefrog variations

It is a small frog up to 2 inches long that has many different color and pattern variations which can change in response to its background environment.  The one distinguishing characteristic that does not change is the dark stripe that runs across the eyes.  It is an ambush predator that feeds mostly on insects at night, waiting for prey to come its way before lunging and capturing with its sticky tongue.  

During the breeding season from November to July, the frogs are found close to water sources, with the males becoming territorial.  The male makes his calls usually at night to attract females, but sometimes during the day as well during peak breeding season.  It is the most commonly heard frog in its range and the call (click to hear) that has been widely used in movies.

California Treefrog

The lower recovered number of the other species, the California Treefrog, could have been attributed to their different preferred habitat.  This species prefers boulder areas of which there was much less of.  I would always be excited when we’d recover one of these because of the small area they inhabited, in hopes that we could help preserve their presence after the cleaning had been completed.

This frog is just a tad larger in size than the Baja.  It has less color variation with a lighter brownish grey mottled pattern on top and a rougher skin texture with bumps on its back similar to toads you may be familiar with but having those rounded toepads of treefrogs.  The lack of the eye stripe is the best way to tell them apart from the Baja; however, they sometimes can have a faint stripe, which in juveniles may be more distinct.

California Treefrog

This frog prefers mostly boulder type areas for refuge and tends to move further away from water during fall and winter, becoming less active during the colder months.  During the spring they return to the areas of water to breed but usually take 2 years to reach a reproductive age compared to just 1 for the Baja.

Observations from the Field

One interesting oil-related observation that was made during this event is that regardless of how oiled the frog may have been when captured, this visible oil almost immediately would slough away with its slime layer.  Further investigation hopefully will be done on how much oil remains on them that cannot be seen and the effect on amphibians both short and long term.



As many of our faithful blog readers are aware, 2021 is proving to be yet another record year for wildfires in the west, with overall fire seasons starting earlier and ending later than long-term averages. What this means in terms of on-the-ground firefighting is that resources are stretched thin across the state. Resources, in this sense, include different types of fire engines, aerial firefighting aircraft, and personnel. Along with these resources, though, is the intricate structure to support all those resources such as food, water, hotels, fuel, to name a few. 

Because of the breadth, intensity, and duration of the wildfires, fighting these types of disasters relies heavily on mutual aid agreements between fire departments, counties, states, and even at the federal level. Mutual aid agreements are in place ahead of the emergency to formalize the promise of assistance when local emergencies, such as fires, exceed local capacities. 

One of the many California fires, this one within miles of my house in 2020.

The OWCN, as many of you know, is a formalized network of 44 Member Organizations that work together for a common mission: to capture and provide care to oil-affected wildlife. In following the common theme of this blog of “mutual aid”, the OWCN operates within this common framework for oil spills – working together for the common good. As we all know, though, oil spills are not the only crisis that can show up in our day-to-day lives.

This was such the case recently when there was a seabird crisis in Long Beach Harbor. Thousands of Elegant Tern chicks that had fledged on two barges in the harbor were falling off into the water before being able to fly. Because the barge edges were so steep, once they fell into the water, many chicks were drowning as they were unable to get back on the barge.

A wet Elegant Tern chick that was rescued. Red dye was used to mark the chicks to help monitor them after they were released (OWCN Photo).

Fortunately, International Bird Rescue (IBR) quickly jumped into action and, with the help of several partners, was able to rescue more than 2,000 chicks. As of August 12, there were still 105 chicks in care at the San Pedro wildlife center. IBR is one of OWCN’s key partners, managing our two largest bird rehabilitation centers, and when IBR’s Executive Director JD Bergeron asked us to assist, we were more than happy to deploy two staff and one of our inflatable boats down to Long Beach. While there, days consisted of scooping up drenched tern chicks, giving them a quick medical exam, marking them, and placing them back on the barge if they did not need medical attention.  Otherwise, the chicks were placed in a box and transported to the center in San Pedro for further care.

Jamie taking a bit of a breather in between captures, with Wendy at the helm (not pictured; OWCN Photo).
One of the Elegant Tern chicks that was rescued (OWCN Photo).

If you would like to learn more about the Elegant Tern incident, we invite you to join our next Town Hall on Friday, September 10, from 1200-1300 via Zoom. This particular Town Hall will include a panel discussion on lessons learned from this incident, with participants from IBR, OWCN, CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.  You won’t want to miss this!

The simple act of reaching out to the wider community when a crisis occurs can provide a great benefit to animals that may need our assistance. And, as Aristotle so wisely put it, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  If the last year-and-a-half has shown us anything, it has shown us that we are all intricately connected and part of a larger whole. Helping one another – as individuals, organizations, or communities – makes the world a better place.  And I don’t know about you, but that is the type of world I prefer to live in.


Pop Quiz: What do Renewable Fuels and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network Have in Common?

You may have come across the term “renewable fuel” or “biofuel” recently, as there has been increased chatter in the news about it. But what do these terms really mean and what are they referring to? A better question to begin with is, why are we even blogging about it this week? So, let’s dive into that first…

A bill that was recently passed, AB148, broadened OSPR’s regulatory responsibility to now include response to Renewable Fuels, in addition to the petroleum spill responsibility. Because of the role that the OWCN plays as a partner to Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), this increased mandate extends to the OWCN as well.  So, in order to understand what this means for us, we need to start with the understanding of what a Renewable Fuel is. So, join me on this ride, as we explore this together!

Renewable fuels are fuels produced from renewable resources and include biofuels and fuels mixed with different amounts of ethanol. Biofuels, also known as Biodiesel (and other proprietary names), are made by using plant and animal fats to make fuel hydrocarbons, which are mixed with diesel stock in varying amounts. These fuels are labeled as B100, B20, B6, etc., with the “B” referring to biofuel and the number referring to the volume percentage of the fuel hydrocarbons that are mixed with the diesel stock. It is much more complex than this, but these are the basics, and we will stick with that for now.

In contrast to renewable fuels, non-renewable fuels include the more commonly known fuels such as natural gas, propane, petroleum and other fossil fuels, as well as nuclear energy. As you can imagine, renewable fuels are overall lower in greenhouse gas emissions, and are more of what you would consider “earth-friendly”. Without getting into the politics and complexities of it all, there has been an overall effort to move more toward using a greater amount of renewable fuel sources for supplying our energy demands.

Getting back to the passing of the AB148 bill: what does this mean for our operations at the OWCN? Well, the short answer is that it ensures a funding source for responding to renewable fuel spills that impact wildlife. And that is great news, as the push for more renewable fuels increases the chance of more renewable fuel spills. And as we know from ‘Spills and Wildlife 101’, anything that fouls the feather or fur structure on the outside of an animal, causes skin irritation and burns or leads to the ingestion/absorption/inhalation of these products, has the potential for greatly impacting wildlife, despite its environmentally friendly-sounding name (“bio” and “renewable”).

One of the Mystery Goo spill birds that was cared for by International Bird Rescue in 2015.

Do you guys remember the Mystery Goo spill in San Francisco Bay in January 2015? This “mystery goo” impacted hundreds of birds that were cared for by International Bird Rescue staff and volunteers at the San Francisco Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in Fairfield (one of OWCN’s primary purpose-built facilities).  This “mystery goo” was only months later identified as a polymerized oil, similar to vegetable oil. At that time, no responsible party was found or came forward, and there was no funding system in place that allowed for the rescue and care of wildlife impacted by non-petroleum products, therefore the costs associated with the care of the affected birds for this spill had to come from donations alone. As a direct result of this event, and in an effort to safeguard a funding source if this ever happened again, a bill was introduced by Bay area senators Mark Leno and Loni Hancock and sponsored by San Francisco Baykeeper and Audubon California (Senate Bill 718), but unfortunately, it did not pass. That was a big disappointment but on the flipside it may have contributed to paving the way for the passing of this new bill.

So as we learn more about these fuels, you can rest assured that the OWCN will be fully embracing our mission of “best achievable capture and care” by gathering information and resources that will allow us examine our current protocols and determine if they need modifications, so when we get activated for a renewable fuel spill, we know how best to care for the animals that become impacted.

But for now, the news of the passing of this new bill is reason to celebrate, as it will allow the OWCN and its 44 Member Organization partners to rescue, stabilize, and care for animals that may be impacted by future renewable fuel spills, and that is great news for the wildlife!


The Pacific Northwest Legacy

If you have had the pleasure of traveling along the Pacific Coast from California to British Columbia, whether by car, boat, plane or train, then you are likely aware of the immense beauty this region boasts. Majestic forests, oceans and rivers full of life, towering snow-covered mountains…can you smell the trees or feel the salty wind in your face?

Clearly, one lasting legacy of the Pacific Northwest has been its bounty of natural beauty. But with this precious gift comes the responsibility to protect it from ourselves. The list of potential environmental threats is long, but one specific concern has been the transportation of oil through this region whether by pipeline, ship, truck or rail.

Discussion around this topic had begun but it was a spill incident in which an oil barge collided with its tug off the coast of Washington in 1988, that officially created the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force (Task Force).

The original Task Force members held their first Annual Meeting in March 1989, and the following day the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound prompting Alaska, California, Oregon and California to join the Task Force. Hawaii became a member in 2001 creating a coalition of western states and British Columbia, united in their efforts to prevent and respond to oil spills across the West Coast.” – Annual Report 2019

This Task Force highlights the importance of cross-border coordination and cooperation while aiming for a clear, unified mission: Working together to improve the Pacific Coast’s prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from oil spills. It also recognized the importance of coordinated wildlife response in this region from the very beginning. You can learn more about their vision, mission and goals here as well as read their latest Task Force Annual Report 2020 here.

Over the years, our colleagues at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response have been very actively involved with this Task Force, representing the state of California. But in addition, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network has supported their work as we share a similar vision and approach. In fact, we feel very attune to the Task Force, as the very essence of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network is cooperation and collaboration amongst our 44 Member Organizations so that we can provide rapid and efficient oiled wildlife response in California.

Given our shared values and vision, it was with great delight that we recognized the names of so many of the wonderful colleagues being honored this year with the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force Legacy Award (full recipient list here). While we wish to congratulate each award winner for their passion and dedication to the Task Force’s mission, we wanted to shower a bit of extra praise on these fine folks:

  • Gary Shigenaka (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): Esteemed scientist and colleague who has massively contributed to the advancement of coordinated spill response. To learn more, check out this write up “Minds Behind OR&R: Meet Marine Biologist Gary Shigenaka“.

  • Judd Muskat (CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response): Our go to Earth Scientist for all of our GIS needs, Judd has been a wonderful and reliable colleague. In addition to supporting California response efforts, Judd has contributed significantly to the advancement of the Task Force over the years.

  • Curtiss Clumpner (Oiled Wildlife Care Network): Our former Deputy Director of Care Operations, Curt has been a wildlife champion his entire life. While his passion has taken him around the world responding to spills, he has always had an extra special spot for his ‘home land’, the Pacific Northwest. And with that spirit, Curt has actively contributed to the Task Force’s efforts for many years and continues to be a strong advocate for coordinated wildlife response in the region. To learn more, check out a previous blog all about Curt – The Man…The Myth…The Legend?

Given the prestigious award announcement this week, I wanted to give Curt a call to wish him a hearty congrats. During our conversation, Curt shared that he was always fond of the Task Force, as it was one of the first efforts to establish interstate coordination and cooperation, specifically focusing on the West Coast region, which was rather unique at that time. He highlighted the fact that this cooperation during non spill times is so effective at allowing state decision makers to communicate and gain familiarity with each other which in turn increases ease of communication and mutual aid requests during oil spills.

He also pointed out that while this Task Force was created initially for oil spill response coordination, it has taken it upon itself to grow and adapt, now expanding efforts into abandoned and derelict vessels and leading a Salish Sea Shared Waters Forum. All in all, Curt shared that he felt very fortunate to be awarded the Task Force Legacy Award and that sharing this honor with Gary and Judd made it even more impactful.

Cheers to all the Legacy Award recipients, and the Task Force in general, as we salute all your hard work and efforts toward a future with No Spilled Oil!

Scott Buhl – Readiness Coordinator

OWCN’s Impact in CA and Beyond- Final Project Update!

Back in May, I blogged about an awesome project being carried out by a team of UC Davis graduate students – Jenny, Mikayla, and Nick – in the Environmental Policy & Management program

They had embarked on an assessment of OWCN’s influence on oiled wildlife care throughout California and globally, with their three main research objectives being:

  1. Understand the overall impact that the OWCN has had on state, national, and international efforts to focus on oiled wildlife actions
  2. Explore the impact of the OWCN’s competitive grants program on developing information that has led to policy changes
  3. Develop a gap analysis to identify areas where additional OWCN focus would be best

At the time of the previous blog, the team was just finishing up an extensive literature review, and was about ready to send the survey they had created out to oiled wildlife response groups, the oil industry, and the general public. You can read about their project development process here.

Well, it has been only a couple of months and not only have they finished their literature review and received their survey results, but they have interviewed competitive grant recipients as well and have created a complete report, including a video final report for the OWCN on their findings and recommendations, which can be viewed here:

And with that, the work is now in the hands of the OWCN to assess and incorporate these recommendations into our future efforts to continue to improve the best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife.


A jacuzzi for oiled birds?

In this blog from May, we explored the finer details of the rinse process and I gave a sneak peek at a new device being designed for the OWCN. That device, designed by engineering students from UC Davis, is now complete.

Introducing the Recirculating Wash System, or as we sometimes call it, the Jacuzzi for Oiled Birds:

The pump and battery housing is contained on the left while the animal is washed within the tub on the right. The device is designed to work with a range of wash tub sizes.

First, let’s get into some background on this collaboration. This is the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s second year sponsoring projects with School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. OWCN management team member, Jennie Hawkins, discovered this excellent opportunity for collaboration and worked with the first teams to design projects such as a net gun and hazing line launcher. We submit project proposals detailing the need for a custom device to accomplish or improve a task related to our mission of providing hazing, capture, and care to oil-affected wildlife. Student teams then select the project they are most interested in and work with their sponsor throughout the semester to develop a design. In non-COVID years, the students build a physical prototype, but without access to their lab, the past two years have concluded with written reports instead.

I worked with the student design team over the spring semester to help guide them through the process of developing such a niche device. Our objective was to develop a handheld device that can be operated by the bird washer in a wash tub. The device will propel water in a controlled direction beneath the surface of the water, similar to a jacuzzi tub jet. The purpose of such a device is to significantly cut down on both the duration of the wash process and the physical exertion of the human washer.

We developed the following design criteria to meet our needs for safety while ensuring implementation of the device would be practical.

  • The concentration of soap in the water and the water temperature is important to the decontamination process, so ideally the handheld jet will recirculate the wash tub’s water rather than introduce new water.
  • The device must be operational underwater and in the presence of soap and petroleum oil.
  • The device should be able to be operated by one hand, ideally either right or left.
  • The device should be relatively quiet (conversation volume or lower) so as not stress our patients.
  • The device should be able to be taken apart and cleaned as needed.
  • The device intake should have a grate to keep feathers from clogging it since loose feathers will occasionally be in the wash tub. The operator can occasionally manually remove feathers built up on the grate.
  • The device must be safe for both the operator and the bird. No trauma or electrocution hazard.
  • The device should be rechargeable or have a waterproof battery compartment or plug-in (if feasible).
  • The device should be able to run for at least 1 hour on a single charge or have a replaceable battery.
  • The output of the device should have enough pressure to flush water through feathers, but not so much that it would cause discomfort or injury (less than 60 PSI).
  • The device should generate a minimum amount of bubbles, as bubbles decrease visibility during the wash process.

Throughout the design process, the students identified solutions to meeting each of these criteria. The total weight of the device is under 30 pounds, meaning that it can easily be deployed to a spill along with our other response equipment. It operated with a rechargeable battery which can run for at least an hour on a single charge. The design can also be adapted to plug-in for power. Using a flow simulation process (that is way over my head), the students also managed to ensure that the device would attain our desired water pressure of 40-60 PSI.

While the design was initially intended to compliment the wash process in a tub with detergent, we also came up with additional potential uses along the way. From the beginning, we anticipated the potential of having excess bubbles from the detergent. Afterall, there’s a reason you don’t want to add suds to a jacuzzi! However, we are still optimistic that the bubbles generated by the system will be manageable. If they prove to be overwhelming, we propose using the device in a plain water rinse tub instead of a soapy wash tub. In a rinse tub, the device would assist with flushing the soap from feathers before the bird is transferred to a traditional out-of-water rinse station.

Another potential use involves a taxa that can be a big challenge in regards to decontamination: marine mammals. Removing very large cetaceans or pinnipeds from the beach in order to decontaminate them may sometimes not be feasible. In these cases, we might look for a way to bring the washing to them. Having a portable, recirculating washing device with strong water pressure would be an asset for this kind of in-situ washing scenario.  

We are still considering all of the possibilities that the Recirculating Wash System might provide. If we do move forward with building a physical prototype, it will be thoroughly tested before it gets the greenlight for live animal decontamination. Exploring new technologies is an exciting frontier for us at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. We know that there is much to be learned and much to be gained when we strive to improve on existing technologies and practices.

We’d like to thank Jordan, Jenna, Sean, Jonathan, Nicholas, and Carlos from our student design team for their hard work, enthusiasm, and professionalism! And another big thank you to the Wildlife Health and Technology Group who developed the awesome 3D-printed wildlife rinse nozzle featured in the design drawings.


OWCN Logo – The Next Generation!

(Apologies to Gene Roddenberry)

At its inception in 1994, the OWCN had a truly beautiful pen-and-ink drawing of a southern sea otter, brown pelican, and harbor seal commissioned to reflect the scope of its mission. This amazing piece of art was fantastic when reproduced on laser printers and in our professional single-colored publications, but it had one key flaw – when published in color and when the resolution of its reproduction was not the best, it had some, er, interesting interpretations.

In 2004, due to some of these challenges and the desire to have a more modern feel, I asked Alison Kent and Greg Massey to work at taking the spirit of the original logo and re-imagine it in a version that could be better applied to all formats. Thus, the advent of the paintbrush-style logo. This allowed MUCH easier interpretation on logowear, allowed us to better apply it in color publications, and reflected the evolution of the program to a more modern state.

Fast-forward to 2015, when the mandate of the OWCN shifted from being marine only to one where we respond anywhere in California – Bakersfield to Bodega Bay – as long as animals were affected in surface waters of the state. As we have expanded and morphed the program to allow for this, it became clear to us that our logo – highlighting three key marine species – didn’t fully encompass our new charge. Thus, the need for another change.

In thinking about how to do this, we had a number of thoughts: Do we completely change it to a different construct? Add a fourth image to the existing logo? Poll the Network? Bring in a graphical consultant? At this point, it hit us that: 1) We need to honor the history of the OWCN, 2) by altering one species, it could allow for the shift we desired while not drastically changing it, and 3) we need to select a representative terrestrial species that looks similar to one on the logo but has an interesting ecological role and story in California.

Therefore, our choice of a replacement species is the American badger (Taxidea taxus), replacing the harbor seal (and, no, this was not done from some personal conceit due to it being my personal spirit animal as some have suggested!). American badgers are burrowing carnivores that use their claws to excavate dens for protection, sleeping sites, food storage, places to give birth, and as focal areas for foraging – thus at high risk of coming into contact underground should oil be spilled into den habitats. Badgers were once very common throughout California, but whose populations have been at high risk of extirpation due to a combination of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, rodent poisoning, and predator control. Badgers have important ecological roles as bioturbators and predators on rodents, but studies on population trends by Williams (1986) reported that badgers, while still widespread throughout California, were much less common than reported by Grinnell (1937) and were likely threatened with significant future decline. As a result, the badger was designated a species of special concern (SSC) to encourage governmental agencies to prioritize badger conservation in land and resource management decisions in order to avoid state or federal endangered species listing in the future. Because of the need for better science (another tenet of the OWCN), the CDFW has even set up an online reporting system for sharing sighting info!

So, I am proud to unveil our new, new logo, effective July 1! We will be slowly changing logowear and swag items (for those attending the upcoming Oilapalooza, keep your eyes out!), but all electronic media will have this change applied immediately. While we never want to see an oiled badger in our centers, we are happy that our new logo reflects three species of historical and ecological import for our state and conveys a better representation of all that we, as a Network, strive to be ready for!


Getting animals from Point A to Point B – Let’s talk Transport!

Photo: Total number of airplanes airborne at 08:20 AM PST on 6/22/21. Source: Flighttradar24

Whether you’re driving your car from point A to point B or working out the logistics of your next big trip (yes, we can start to think about safely traveling again!), transportation is one way or another part of our daily lives. Having a partner that works in the airline industry, I often find myself in inquiry about flight operations and how we can apply it to spill response. This leads me to frequently quizzing my husband with questions, such as: How do they figure out which plane is going to operate which flight? How does operations ensure the correct baggage is on the flight with its passenger? What happens when a pilot gets sick or exceeds their duty time? And how to they manage air traffic with so many flights in the air at once? What I’ve discovered is airline operations are a dynamic environment that requires a tremendous amount of planning, round-the-clock personnel, and the ability to rapidly respond to an ever-changing environment. Oh, and did I mention technology? In the past I’m sure there was a lot done on paper, but now almost everything is electronic. Gone are the days of carrying around a 50-pound bag full of charts. Now it’s a 2-pound iPad. By now you’re probably asking yourself “how does this curiosity play into what the OWCN does?” Great question! Let’s explore this a little further. Oiled wildlife response involves pre-planning (or readiness), ongoing operations, and A LOT of logistics. So, from the 10,000 ft. level the concepts are somewhat similar – coordinating a lot of moving parts in a very dynamic environment.

OWCN Organizational Chart

For the sake of this blog, we’re going to focus on one aspect of Field Operations –Yep, you’ve guessed it Transportation (but we’ve abbreviated it Transport)! Now, you may be wondering isn’t Transport just the intermediary step between field and care?” Yes, it is! In our ICS organizational chart, Transport is housed under the Recovery Group and includes a Transport Coordinator, Transport Staff and potentially some Transport Volunteers. All personnel will report to the Transport Coordinator (TC), who reports to the Wildlife Recovery Group Supervisor (WRGS).

Now that we know where Transport lives on the org chart, let’s talk about how important (and sometimes forgotten) animal Transport is to the success of the response. Looking at the organizational chart it may not look like a significant portion of the response, but it is a VERY important part. We cannot CARE for our patients that the field teams collect and stabilize without proper focus on getting the animals FROM the field (either from the recovery teams or Field Stabilization sites) TO the Primary Care Facility (PCF). It may sound as easy as putting the animals in a vehicle and driving them to the facility, but there is much more involved. Over the last two years the OWCN Management Team has been focusing on ways to streamline the transport process, including minimizing the amount of paperwork necessary by incorporating new technology and streamlining how we communicate between the Recovery, Field Stabilization, and Care & Processing Groups.

However, we cannot do our jobs without proper resources, or as I like to say, “staff and stuff”. Some essentials include a secure vehicle that allows for separation of the drivers and animals, as well as the ability to control temperature since some species need temperature regulation. Additionally, we need species-appropriate carriers, bungies, etc. to make sure carriers are secure; thermometers or other temperature monitoring devices; drivers; iPads or cell phones; Vehicle Protection Equipment (VPE) kits; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); documentation (Animal Collection Tags, mileage tracker, etc.); and a map – just in case technology fails us! Oh, and I almost forgot one of the most important parts, personnel training, which occurs prior to an incident AND during an incident. 

The OWCN Ford Transit Transport Vehicle

Now back to technology – we are very excited to give you a sneak peek into the new system we are developing! Our aim with this system is to streamline vehicle inventory and assignments and communication flow within Transport and to the other pertinent areas of the response, and to track the location of animalsthroughout the transport process. To decrease the mounds of paper and numerous phone calls, we’ve tried to shift some of the documentation and communications to electronic platforms by:

  • Utilizing QR codes linked to a fillable form via JotForm (see image below), so that we can track vehicle information, including vehicle check-in/out and mileage 
  • Electronically checking out Vehicle Protection (VPE) kits and conducting inventory upon return to the staging area
  • Incorporating the use of a shared Google sheet for transport requests
  • Transitioning to a QR code and fillable form system (JotForm) to communicate which animals are being transported from Point A to Point B. This also allows us to track how many animals, what type of animal, species of special concern and animals that may need to be prioritized for treatment in each batch of animals being transported

Information entered into the JotForm system automatically exports to a Google sheet which can easily be monitored by the Transport Coordinator and the Group Supervisors. Our hope is for this system to cut down on the amount of phone calls between personnel, thus allowing for more time to focus on patient recovery and care. But don’t forget there is still a lot of coordination that goes into safely moving animals during a response. I’ve included a flow chart to illustrate the flow of animals through this process. 

Example Animal Flow Through Transport System

So, what do you need to do if you are interested in becoming a Transport driver or maybe even a Transport Coordinator? Well, be sure to keep your OWCN responder database profile (in Better Impact) up to date, complete your Core Webinars, the Basic Responder Training, and the Animal Transport webinar. Also, not required, but you may let us know that you’re interested by contacting us at

In the meantime, have a safe and happy summer. If you’re traveling, safe travels and be kind to those who are on the front lines making sure you get from point A to point B safely. You’re their number one priority!

~Danene Birtell

Making Mental Health a Priority in Spill Response and Beyond

May is mental health awareness month, and even though it is now June, mental health should be something that we are aware of, and actively work towards, every day of the year. 

The pandemic has given us many lessons, but one of the most poignant lessons is that mental health is essential for overall well-being in everyday life. And mental well-being can be affected by many factors, including sickness (of ourselves or someone we care about), the loss of a loved person or a pet, the loss of a job, divorce, etc. These stressful events that can greatly impact our mental health will happen in everyone’s life. These challenging events are usually beyond our control. However, how we respond to stressful or otherwise challenging events IS within our control, even though sometimes it is difficult to believe this and may take years of practice. 

When difficult times come our way and cause us anger, sadness, and frustration, changing how we relate to and think about our emotions can have a powerful effect on our overall mental health. Instead of pushing away difficult emotions and labeling them as “good” or “bad”, if we are able to view emotions as indicators or data points and realize that we are not our emotions (“I am noticing sadness” instead of “I am sad”), this can help us be more resilient in the face of challenging times. For more on this, I encourage you to watch this powerful TED talk by Susan Davis.

When we experience difficult emotions, knowing that they won’t last forever (after all, nothing does) can be a powerful tool in helping us be in the driver seat, instead of our emotions taking over the steering wheel. Easier said than done, right?  Having the right tools for any job can help make that job easier, as is the case with mental well-being and resilience. Each person is different, so knowing what tools might help is the first step.  Tools can include practices of mindfulness, meditation, exercise, walks in nature, journaling, yoga practice, warm baths, prayer, or talking with a friend or therapist. These are just a few of many potential options that could make a difference in how you relate to challenging emotions and events, and build resiliency as well as improve mental well-being.

So where does spill response fit in all this?  Well, being involved in any type of emergency (either as a bystander or as an active participant), can be a highly stressful experience. Not only is it a stressor, but for those that are deployed, it usually means long hours day after day, and can sometimes mean exposure to animal suffering, which can only add to the overall challenge of these events. 

The OWCN recognizes that responder mental health during spills is essential for overall success of that response. By providing support and resources to wildlife responders, both before and during a response, and increasing awareness and importance of wellness, we are hoping to collectively increase our resilience and help avoid responder burnout. 

The OWCN has worked hard to incorporate awareness of the importance of mental well-being into trainings, and offers a webinar (“Trauma Resiliency”) that can be accessed any time through the Volunteer profile if you are in the Better Impact database. Additionally, one of the working groups that was formed during our last Planning Summit was the Responder Wellness Group. Since Oct. 2020 this group has been meeting regularly to develop ideas for increasing wellness tools, both before and during response. I don’t want to spoil the surprise by announcing all the cool things this group has been working on, but stay tuned!

As we slowly return to more of a “normal” post-pandemic life, let’s make sure we are all taking care of our mental health. As mentioned, there are tools that we can use to help our mental health, but also know that sometimes that is not enough and we need to reach out for help, and that is OK. Know that seeking help is a sign of courage, not weakness. We are all in this together. There are many online resources, but one place you can start is here.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 in case of emergency.


Trail Camera Trials and Tribulations

Trail cameras, or camera traps as they are often called, are used for many purposes in the scientific community. Biologists use them in a variety of ways including to aid in observing wildlife activity, wildlife behavior, nest predation, developing population estimates, and even identifying how wildlife use different habitat types. Trail cameras are often used recreationally as well. People use them for fun on their own properties to see what wildlife are nearby, what pest species are coming around their house, and what’s eating their garden plants. Additionally, they are often used as a scouting tool by many hunters.

These cameras allow us to see a whole other side of wildlife – their quirky personalities, sun baths, eating habits, sleeping habits, and sometimes even their predatory hunts! Moments we rarely get to see unless we are extremely lucky. I’ve used trail cameras quite a few times, both for professional and personal purposes. My favorite images are those that are a sequence of photos showing an animal walking into the frame, turning their head to look at the camera, stepping toward it, and then the next few images are either into the eye of the animal, up the nose of the animal, or a combination of the two as they explore the trail cameras. Animals can hear the shutter of the camera lens, and see the glow from the flash, so they get up close and personal to investigate. Others will try to play with them. I’ve even heard several stories of bears picking them up, knocking them down, batting them back and forth between their paws and then tossing them down a hill! However, not all species react in a curious manner. Some see it as a deterrent and skedaddle as fast as they can when they hear the click of the lens or see the flash.

Within the OWCN, our mission is to provide the best achievable capture and care of oil affected wildlife, and trail cameras can aid us in accomplishing this in several ways, especially during inland responses. First, many of the species we encounter are nocturnal, meaning they are primarily active at night. However, we are often not approved for night operations during the first few days of a response. Therefore, trail cameras can be our eyes on the ground and allow us to observe what species are in the area when we are not present. Seeing what species are roaming the hot zone while we’re away, allows us to be more prepared for the types of species-specific equipment we might need including traps, nets, housing, and transport necessities. In addition to knowing what species are present, we also need to know if those individuals have come in contact with the oil. Thus, I wanted to know if I could use the trail cameras to aid in identifying whether individuals seen in the photos were oiled or unoiled. Despite my previous experiences with trail cameras, I had never used them in such a context, and therefore, I decided to launch my own study to determine if 1) I could detect crude oil on a dark colored animal during the day (such as a skunk), 2) if I could detect crude oil on a dark colored animal at night (such as a skunk) 3) if I could detect diesel #2 on a light-colored animal during the day (such as a light grey rabbit) and 4) if I could detect diesel #2 on a light-colored animal at night (such as a light grey rabbit).

Due to Covid, I conducted this study in my backyard in Sacramento using a remote-control car, skunk and rabbit pelts, wire, crude oil, diesel #2, nitrile gloves, Tyvek, t-posts and two Bushnell trail cameras. I have not yet finished this study, but I found the initial results interesting and wanted to share them.

As stated in the questions above, I had originally decided to run the study during the day and at night. I ran transects perpendicular to the front of two cameras at a distance of 1m, 2m, 3m, 4m, 5m, 6m, 7m, and 8m from the cameras. As it turns out, it was very obvious during the day if they were oiled or not, and I ended up with tons of photos due to the large number of transects.  I realized that I could pare down my transects and still get a lot out of the data. Therefore, I reorganized the study so that there were only three transects at a distance of 2m, 4m, and 6m from the cameras, and that the studies would only be conducted at night.  I eliminated the 8m transect because the pelts were not outfitted with a heat source and since the trail cameras are triggered by a combination of heat and movement the pelts were unable to trigger the camera at the 8m distance. Below are some photos showing the study design.

Study Layout (Video)

So far, I have conducted one study during the day, and two studies at night. We will focus on the two nighttime studies for this blog, so let’s test your skills! To conduct this study, I used chicken wire to create a mold. Then I placed the pelt onto the mold and attached the pelt to the remote-control car with wire. I then drove the pelt along the transect in front of the cameras at the 2m, 4m, and 6m distances. I started with 0% oiled, then 25% oiled, then 50% oiled, then 75% oiled, and finally 100% oiled. Each transect was driven at the different oiling percentages. Below, are photos of unoiled and oiled skunk pelts (with crude oil), and unoiled and oiled rabbit pelts (with diesel #2, and crude oil). Can you guess which are oiled and which are not? I’ve posted an answer key at the bottom so you can check your answers. Feel free to leave a comment on this post and let us know how you did!






As you may have experienced with the photos above, it can be difficult to tell what is oiled and what is not when looking at still shot photos of wildlife. Check your guesses against the answer key below. Was it difficult to tell which ones were oiled at the 25% oiling? If so, imagine how difficult it would be to tell if the individual in the photo was oiled if they had less than 25% oiling! Thus, based on these few trials, I believe that using trail cameras during a spill response is critical for providing us information on what wildlife are active in the spill zone. However, I don’t think we can necessarily rely on them to determine whether an individual has been affected by oil. Especially if it is a light product on a light species, or a dark product on a dark species, and they are 4 meters or further from the camera lens. I plan to run a few more trials so see if the I get the same results! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please email me at


Answer Key:

A) Unoiled

B) Unoiled

C) 50% oiled

D) 75% Oiled

E) 75% Oiled

F) 25% Oiled

G) 50% Oiled

H) Unoiled

I) 25% Oiled

J) 25% Oiled