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Interview with Tri-state - GOWRS Wildlife Partner

Paul Kelway, OSRL’s Wildlife Preparedness and Response Manager, is joined by Lisa Smith, Executive Director of Tri-state Bird Rescue & Research

  • By Paul Kelway
  • Nov 30, 2022

Interview with Tri-state

In this episode, Paul Kelway, OSRL’s Wildlife Preparedness and Response Manager, is joined by Lisa Smith from Tri-state Bird Rescue & Research in our interview series with wildlife response organisations participating in the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) Project.

 

Lisa Smith is the Executive Director of Tri-state Bird Rescue & research. Lisa began volunteering at Tri-state Bird Rescue in 1984, and she was a member of their Wild Bird Clinic staff from 1993-1996, overseeing the care of over a thousand of birds annually. In 2011, she returned to Tri-state as Executive Director, and she has been the primary Tri-state representative on the GOWRS team since 2018. 

 

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

Podcast: Interview with Tri-state

Interview with Tri-state Transcript

Paul: Lisa, thank you so much for joining me and having this conversation. We've been having this series of conversations with the different partner organisations in the GOWRS project. So in terms of Tri-state Bird Rescue and Research as being one of those partners. Can you just share a little bit about your mission as an organisation and where and how do you carry out your work?  

Lisa: Sure. Tri-state Bird Rescue and Research was founded in 1976 after a series of oil spills on the Delaware River. There was a lot of ice in the river that year and there were a number of oil tankers that spilled oil as a result of colliding with the ice. Our founder pulled together a coalition of scientists and veterinarians and people who cared about birds to figure out a better way to treat wild wildlife. Since then we have evolved our practices and protocols and just continue to seek better knowledge on what is the best way to treat oiled, contaminated wildlife. We also have a wild bird clinic that treats injured and orphaned wild birds every year. We are located in New York, Delaware, not New York, New Jersey, but New York, Delaware, which is on the Mid-Atlantic coast of the United States.  

Paul: And that's a good point. Because your clinic is there. So that's sort of the base but obviously in terms of the response work that you do over the years, this has been in a variety of different locations not just in the States but internationally? 

Lisa: Yes, we respond in the maritime provinces of Canada and up and down the East Coast of the United States. There is not another qualified oiled wildlife responder on the Eastern Seaboard. We also respond in the Caribbean. Our team members over the years have also participated in international teams for responses globally.  

Paul: Obviously a very established, experienced organisation and team, and just a few years away from celebrating 50 years? 

Lisa: Yes, it's coming up fast.  

Paul: You've already mentioned a couple of examples of what Tri-State does, but is there a particular response or story of Tri-State's work that particularly highlights or illustrates what you do, how you work? 

Lisa: We've always worked very collaboratively. Our founder, she didn't know anything (then), so she pulled in experts and learned. We've always taken a very collaborative approach, pulling in colleagues or other experts as needed. We continue to have that approach. So when the oil spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico and our executive director at the time, Dr Heidi Stout was called on to help lead that response in the Gulf of Mexico. And we set up response centres in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, but we have a small staff, we were not able to staff all of them entirely with Tri-state people. That would have been, I mean there were you know, 2000 Pelicans that came through, right? So again taking that collaborative approach we had our colleagues from International Bird Rescue providing tremendous assistance in Louisiana facility and also from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Recently, we had two other (incidents) in the fall of last year and then just recently this summer where we had several hundred birds and we reached out to our colleagues. We've developed a paraprofessional network locally. So we have trained people from local zoos and aquaria to come in and help with oiled wildlife response and they've been great. And we've also called upon our colleagues on the West Coast and Oiled Wildlife Care Network and Focus Wildlife, who are both GOWRS Partners, to come in and assist. That's how we like to operate - when we need help, we ask for help. We're also happy on the other side of that to assist our colleagues if they needed it as well. 

Paul: It's a good reminder that there are decades of collaboration history here with different organisations, not just working together but learning together, developing protocols and procedures. Obviously, the GOWRS project you mentioned has been one vehicle for that international collaboration. That project went on for a number of years and we're now making that transition to GOWRS being a live service. But your experience from being involved in the GOWRS project, how did that maybe add to or benefit Tri-State in relation to that opportunity to collaborate and what do you see some of the most significant outcomes of that work collectively together under the banner of GOWRS? 

Lisa: One of the most important outputs from GOWRS initially was the key principles document developed under IPIECA. So I think  that was really important getting, getting everybody to agree on what are the foundational key principles and publishing that as an international standard. That was critically important. The other part of it is just getting all the organisations together, working together, sharing ideas and working on preparedness together because, I think we all know it's a lot easier to respond if you've already worked with a group in the preparedness phase. So if you already have those existing relationships, then you know who you're working with, it can make all the difference when a crisis occurs and you have that comfort level of working with people that you already know and have that understanding with them.  

Paul: So it's almost twofold. You've got both the shared procedures and protocols that everybody's familiar with, but you've also got those relationships that mean ultimately you can all  know that you can work effectively together.  

So as I said this, the project has now culminated in GOWRS as an oiled wildlife assessment service going live. So what's the significance of that to you? What does it mean to have that service be live, both in terms of the end users of it, but also from the organisations like Tri-State that are involved in delivering it?  

Lisa: So from our perspective as an individual organisation, you know it is exciting to be part of this global group. And to be working toward making sure our skills and knowledge are up to the task if we if an incident happens and we are selected to assist with the assessment team. I think that really helps us, keep up that high level internationally. And as far as all the groups,  this is kind of where the rubber meets the road, right. And we've been working on this for years and I think it's exciting to finally be able to be ready to respond to contaminated wildlife globally. And as an international team, we've certainly done it before in other spills, with IFAW [International Fund for Animal Welfare] organising it or in the Bow Jubail incident in Rotterdam, when they reached out and there were other GOWRS partners that supported this effort. But now it's going to be more formalized and so I think it's a very exciting opportunity and I think it it will greatly benefit oiled wildlife globally, and it does help to make them more visible as well. 

Paul:  So what's next in the sense of the work that you're doing collectively to deliver that team? What are some of the elements that you're working on together now that are maybe less visible but part of the readiness for that?  

Lisa: So we are meeting in person for the first time in a few years, next week out in Long Beach, CA. So it will be very exciting to be able to work together for a full week. We are hoping to get a lot accomplished and one of the main things is just making sure that we have our SOP's in place, that we understand our procedures, how we're going to move forward, who is in that pool of qualified candidates for the assessment team and then how they're selected if an incident occurs. So we've got definitely got some goals for next week, but it's so much better to meet in person. I mean, one obvious reason is that it's just easier to have a conversation, but also because the GOWRS members are international. There's really only like a two-hour window out of every 24 that's even acceptable for us to work in because it still means that somebody's getting up very early and somebody else is staying up very late. So we are limited in the amount of time that we can spend together online on zoom. Virtual meetings have been really good but again we are limited in how much time we get to spend together and an in person meeting, it's just much easier because you're with everybody all day.  

Paul: It's such a good point. You forget that it's not just about the in-person experience, but it's actually being on the same time zone and having 8 hours in the day to work together instead of just two. Well, I wish you all the best with that in-person meeting. And in terms of that time zone challenge, as you say, we've got GOWRS partners from all over the world and the next interview in this series that I'll be doing is with Wildbase at Massey University, which is in New Zealand. So obviously geographically very different part of the world from where you're located, but just as an introduction to them, I wondered if you could just share something that you particularly admire or have seen through working with them? 

Lisa: Sure so for years, Wildbase has been working on preparedness and oil spill response in New Zealand and surrounding areas in the Asia Pacific region. And that all was called into action with the Rena spill in 2011. And they just did a fantastic job with that response. You know, they had to deal with endangered species. They had to set up a facility from the ground up. They called in some international partners as well to assist with that response and it was a huge undertaking and they did a fantastic job with it and they had a really good outcome with the animals. And it's because they were prepared, because they had been working for so many years on preparedness that, first of all, that they were there, that there is a Wildbase, and that they had done all that preparedness work. And you never want that incident to happen but then when you are, you want to be able to execute and they executed it at a high level and they just did a really great job and. Afterwards, they published a number of papers to share the knowledge and things that they had learned during that incident, which is also critical because then it helps that base of knowledge and it helps the next group you know for the next time for the next incident. So just a fantastic organisation.  

Paul: Thank you very much. Lisa, anything else you'd like to share? What else is on Tri State’s radar for the future or the coming months or year?  

Lisa: Well, we're just coming down off our very busy summer season. You know, we're looking forward to the GOWRS meeting next week and then the week after that is the Effects of Oil on Wildlife (or EOW) Conference that International Bird Rescue is hosting. We share this conference with International Bird Rescue and the last time we hosted it was 2018 in Baltimore, MD. So, once this one's over, we get like a year off and then we have to start thinking about the next Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference. So that will be on the radar. And then also you know we've got things planned for different trainings for our team and there's just always something going on with preparing the building as far as equipment or what's the next thing we want to set up, what do we need to get equipment wise or training wise, or, you know, just trying to find the best way to be prepared.  

Paul: It's a really important point you mentioned there about the Effects of Oil and Wildlife Conference because I think I am right in saying it really is the only dedicated international conference specifically looking at the impact of oil spills on wildlife. And as you say, Tri-state has been instrumental in that. I remember my first EOW in Myrtle Beach many years ago, which was organised by Tri-State, and it's also been a really critical meeting point for building all of those relationships that really underpin the work in this field. Well, thank you, Lisa. I wish you all the best and look forward to chatting with Louise Chilvers from Wildbase next time. But but for now, thank you very much for your time.  

Lisa: Thank you so much, Paul. I appreciate the opportunity.