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Oil Spill Response Limited Oil Spill Response Limited
  • Interview
  • Wildlife

GOWRS Partner Interview - Episode 4: Oiled Wildlife Care Network

In this fourth interview, Paul Kelway, OSRL’s Wildlife Preparedness and Response Manager, is joined by Mike Ziccardi, Director of California's Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

  • By Paul Kelway
  • oct. 12, 2021
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GOWRS Partner Interview - Episode 4: Oiled Wildlife Care Network

In this fourth episode in the GOWRS Partner Interview series, Paul Kelway, OSRL’s Wildlife Preparedness and Response Manager, is joined by Mike Ziccardi, Director of California's Oiled Wildlife Care Network.


If you wish to watch the video of this interview, you can view it here.

Listen to the Interview with Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN)


Paul: Well, Mike, thank you so much for making the time to speak with me today. 

Mike: Thank you Paul for the opportunity. 

Paul: This is the fourth of our episodes interviewing organisations from the Gowers Project. In the last interview, JD Bergeron from International Bird Rescue introduced briefly the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, but can you perhaps elaborate on that just to introduce the network? What's the mission and where and how do you carry out that work?

Mike: Sure, I’ll be happy to. The Oiled Wildlife Care Network. It's a program based out of the Wildlife Health Center within the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis in California. The Wildlife Health Center is dedicated to protecting the health of conservation of free-ranging wildlife and really, Oiled Wildlife Care Network was the basis for us establishing this wildlife program within the number one veterinary school in the world. So with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, our mission is to provide the best achievable capturing care of oiled, affected animals and so we take the term “best achievable” very, very seriously. So we're always pushing to try to do things better, to learn what we can from incidents from preparedness activities to continue to improve what we do. And how we approach this is what we call our four Rs – Readiness, so emphasising preparedness, if at all possible, developing protocols, doing trainings, drills and exercises, continuing to partner with organisations, etc. We have Research, so we actually fund in a competitive way grants from organisations throughout the world, so we actually have a competitive grants program as well as doing research within the UC Davis staff. Uhm, we have Response - obviously being able to respond immediately for spills anywhere within our kind of response area and then Reaching out - sharing our information with our partners with the public, with schools basically trying to educate where we can. And so, how we do this is we have two different programs within the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. We have our California operations, which is a partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Officers Spill Prevention and Response, and so we're charged with responding anywhere in California. Should there be an oil spill and how we do that as we've partnered with 44 organisations within California, which includes International Bird Rescue, which you just heard from. And so we're responsible for leading wildlife response efforts and training individuals. We actually have over 1,600 people in California. In our database, we can call on at a moment's notice, should a spill occur. Our second arm of the program is our global operations, and so that's providing assistance, preparedness activities, etc both nationally within US, as well as internationally as part of the GOWRS project. So fairly wide mandate and something we're very proud of. 

Paul: Oh, that's fantastic. And as you say, it's truly a collaborative effort. I mean with the number of network partners that you have as well, and that linkage between government and non-governmental organisations. There's been many responses and you personally have been involved in many of those as well. Is there an example of that work specifically that you think really illustrates just what the network does and how it carries out that work? 

Mike: There are a number of examples on that. As far as how we do it in a collaborative fashion. Probably the most recent example would be the Refugio oil spill that happened in 2015. This was a pipeline that degraded to the point where it leaked oil onto the land and then ran into a culvert into Refugio State Beach which is near Santa Barbara in Central Southern California. It released about 140k to 160k gallons, both on land as well as in the water. It's a region of high environmental sensitivity and high public sensitivity as well, so this is really the region where an oil spill in 1969 actually created US Environmental EPA as well as created the Clean Water Act through the platform, a blowout that occurred in that area, so very high sensitivity and the need to respond. And we were able to respond immediately in that area. It's also a response that had both birds as well as marine mammals that occurred as well, but one of the things I'm most proud of in that situation is at that time we had 33 member organisations. We had 21 organisations that actually provided either staff or volunteers to the effort. We had had more than 150 people involved overall in the Santa Barbara area, but then also caring for birds in the Los Angeles area and caring for marine mammals in San Diego. It really shows the breadth of our program. We utilise three of our 12 primary care facilities. We established three additional stabilisation sites and all of those worked together - both the people, the equipment and the facilities to really show a robust system that can respond immediately to care for animals in crisis. 

Paul: That's incredible, and it's really an example of a holistic approach to wildlife response. I mean, thinking of all the elements that are involved and just making sure that they're integrated fully across all these different disciplines that have to essentially work together.

Mike: Absolutely, and that the holistic approach, I mean, that's the basis of both the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. But it's also the basis of the One Health Institute. That's at the school is looking at how animal health, environmental health and human health all interact with one another, and I mean, oil spills are a perfect example of that, where people are in crisis. And if there's not a robust response system to care for wildlife, people are going to put themselves at risk as well. So it's another excellent reason why having a professional, immediately deployable system is so important for effective oiled wildlife preparedness.

Paul: Absolutely. You mentioned about the in-state California response and a more global approach. So as I mentioned at the beginning, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network has been one of the partner organisations in the multi-year Global Oiled wildlife Response System Project. In terms of that work, what do you see as one of the greatest achievements of collaborating at international level and working together on that project? 

Mike: There are so many benefits that have happened in the almost decade that we've been working on this GOWRS project. Probably the most important thing is developing a formalised system for worldwide collaboration and coordination. Professional wildlife organizations have met and worked together since the late 80s, early 90s, but really a systematic approach of working together on specific projects. Instead of it being one or two organisations across all 10 to 11 organisations together on different projects -readiness activities, trainings, animal standards. All the core things that are necessary for good preparedness. Working together on those things to share knowledge and experience to make it so that those approaches are not specifically related to, say, North America or Europe. But having those apply no matter what the region is, no matter what the species or taxa is involved, no matter what the environment is. Having that developed kind of at a global approach, and having that with buy-in from all the key organizations I think has been tremendous. And simply working together, knowing how people approach things even outside of the documentation that we've developed and the guidelines and protocols. Better understanding of how people do things. I think it's made each individual organisation stronger as well as made the global community more robust. 

Paul: It's an evolution of the network principle in that way. You are also currently the Chair of the GOWRS Steering group. So thank you very much for doing that role. We're at a point now where we're looking at transitioning this from a project to an actual Tier 3 international service. So why do you think it's so important for wildlife response preparedness to make that transition and get that funded? 

Mike: We've been working on this now for five to seven years as a project and been very fortunate to be funded as part of the JIP project Joint Industry Program through funding through IPIECA as well as through OSRL. But that funding has been relatively limited and so it has allowed us to do excellent work. But it's been at a funding level where it's things that we can take a portion of our time to work on, but not really solely dedicated on this thing. What additional funding and moving the project into a service provision can do for us is that with that increased investment, it allows each of the organisations, many of which are not-for-profit organisations that rely on charitable donations etc to survive. Having core funding that allows us to bring on additional people or to really have the GOWRS principals be a core part of their jobs. What that does is that GOWRS allow us to have the bandwidth and the freedom to be able to really be ready 24/7, 365 to be able to respond immediately. Right now it's in best endeavours because it isn't a core portion of any of our duties, but having that investment it will allow us to provide the preparedness activities that we think are needed, and industry agrees that are needed in these days, especially post-Macondo where we realise wildlife response is a core element of oil spill preparedness across the board. 

Paul: Its really sort of taking that next step and entering this new paradigm where it's really, truly integrated and we can look at the international picture and say, you know, there's some capability, and there's some sort of funded structured systems in place to support not just response but also future preparedness efforts too. 

Mike: Absolutely, I think in the past, oiled wildlife response has been this black box. It's oiled animals are collected and given over to the charitable organisations to care for and the cleanup activities and all the other things existed separately and really what we've seen, especially over the past 20 years, is the professionalisation of oiled wildlife preparedness and response and the real need to have it as an integral part of the overall preparedness structure, but then also response. What we don't want is to have oiled animals go into this building and clean animals come in the outside. What we want is to make sure everybody understands what is going on, making sure that the communication is occurring back to the incident management team or whatever, so that again it is a cohesive approach to response at large. 

Paul: And I suppose in that regard, I mean, we talked about holistic response and people think of oiled wildlife response, they think of responding to animals after they become oiled. But of course, that integration is also making the most of those strategies that actually prevent that oil in the first place. And that could really only happen with that integration. 

Mike: Absolutely. We talk about response activities. Really, it's only if we fail in keeping the oil away from the animals or the animals away from the oil. If animals do get oiled, that's kind of at the end. But what we can do to assist responders in keeping the oil away so providing support for cleanup activities operations. But then also the preparedness side of that and then adding on to try to keep animals away. As far as deterrents as far as preemptive capture. All of those things. The easiest way to care for an oiled animal is for it not to be oiled in the first place, and that's what we want. 

Paul: Yeah, it's a really important point. So we talked about what it would mean for wildlife response preparedness. If this transitions to a live service. So this question is about what it would mean for your organisation. And of course, you're at the university. But you're also the director of a network, so I suppose you know it's sort of multifaceted sort of question in that sense. What do you think it would mean for the network? 

Mike: I think it would be tremendous for the network currently. With the way the system exists right now, it's myself and a second member of my team that can be involved in the project just because of the activities that we have going on. Our obligations to the State of California, our obligations to those organisations we have contracts with, including National Marine Fisheries Service in the US. But were this to become a service, what that would do is it would allow us to broaden our involvement. So just beyond the one or two individuals within my team. But have it be more of the 12 people that we have working on spill response? But it also is an entry point into our member organizations within California, if they're interested in participating, we could bring a number of those organizations or individuals through the UC Davis involvement to GOWRS to really increase the breadth and the scope of what this service proposal could do. If and when the service proposal does move forward, it could really be a game changer as far as the level of readiness that we have at a global scale for Tier 3 response. 

Paul: It's great and we'll certainly keep doing what we can to keep engaging with all our members on that so. The final question here, as people have heard the other podcasts will know, is that we've taken the opportunity to think about our next featured partner in the interview series. So the next GOWRS partner to be interviewed by myself will be Pro Bird, another network in Germany. So just to end, just to perhaps ask you if you can say something about the organization.Is something you particularly admire about Pro Bird. 

Mike: Well, I'm thinking about Pro Bird trying to think of. Words that describe the organisation of the people involved and the two that do come to mind right from the start are passion and dedication. It's a smaller organization and again a charitable organization, but just their dedication to animal welfare and Wildlife Conservation issues as a whole I think is unmatched. Sasha Redmond, who has been involved in GOWRS project from the start. He is just so dedicated to the effort. The other thing about Pro Bird is that even though they work with us on oiled wildlife preparedness and response, they have a broad mandate. I mean their education programs. As far as plastics in the oceans, they've generated some really great materials for, you know, younger children teaching them about some of the challenges of pollution. Their work at all different levels. In all different sectors of things that can impact wildlife and care for those animals. It's really wonderful.  It is that passion, that dedication that really drive to do what they can to be able to care for animals in our environment, our society. It's just amazing. 

Paul: Well, that's well said. I completely agree and I look forward to speaking with Pro Bird next time. Thank you again for taking the time today. I know you wear multiple hats so have a very busy schedule so thanks for chatting with us. Let's continue to have this conversation move forward with our Members and transition the service. 

Mike: Thank you Paul for the opportunity and thank you to all of us or all your Members and everything for the tremendous support you've provided for GOWRS to date, and we hope to continue their relationship moving forward. 

Paul: Great, thanks a lot, Mike. See you soon. 


Learn more about the Oiled Wildlife Care Network here.