11/20/2009: "Mobile Oiled Wildlife Rescue-Response"
OLYMPIA - Officials from the Washington departments of Ecology and Fish & Wildlife got a firsthand demonstration about how refining, oil handling and vessel shipping companies in the state can effectively set up a mobile response operation to rescue and care for wildlife affected by oil spills.
The event near Ferndale was the culmination of two years of hard work by the Marine Spill Response Corp. (MSRC) and Clean Rivers Cooperative Inc. (CRC). The two private, non-profit spill response entities worked closely with representatives from state and federal agencies, wildlife response contractors, and the oil industry to create a jointly-operated mobile oiled wildlife response unit.
The demonstration meets Ecology’s new planning standard to have sufficient strategies, personnel and mobile equipment in place that can be sent anywhere in the state to rehabilitate 100 oiled birds within 24 hours of an oil spill.
Ecology Spills Program Manager Dale Jensen said MSRC and CRC pooled their resources to make the investment -and worked in tight partnership together to ensure they purchased similar, complementary equipment that could be used by any wildlife rehabilitation team.
Once set up, the mobile rehabilitation unit is divided into separate areas for taking birds in, washing and rinsing them, letting them dry out, and helping the birds recondition their feathers in special pools. The mobile unit also includes dedicated areas for food preparation, isolation and intensive care, a laboratory and a morgue.
The unit must maintain proper indoor temperatures, air ventilation and filtration, and ensure wash water is brought up to exact temperatures and disposed of properly.
“This new mobile approach is a significant improvement over the largely informal oiled bird rehabilitation facilities that were established during past spill incidents,” said Jensen. “It gives us the ability to deploy equipment to the location of an oil spill and expand and contract based on the specific circumstances of each spill.”
Preventing spills remains Washington’s top priority, he said, noting that only about 10 percent of birds affected by an oil spill are recovered alive.
Oil is an environmental poison and can injure birds by causing lesions and burns if they ingest, inhale or have direct eye or skin contact with the toxin. Oil also can disrupt a bird’s waterproof feather structure, allowing cold water to seep in. If this happens, birds become susceptible to hypothermia and tend to haul out on land to get away from the cold water.
During past spill incidents, oiled birds captured alive were transported to special fixed facilities where they were cleaned and treated. The mobile unit approach, however, means birds can be treated near the locations where they are collected, rather than having to be transported and endure additional stress.
Fish & Wildlife also had their “stabilization” trailer set up at the demonstration. During an oil spill, the state’s facility will be deployed as needed near collection areas to stabilize birds before they are transported to mobile rehabilitation facility. Although Fish & Wildlife’s trailer is not part of the mobile response unit that MSRC and CRC developed to meet Ecology’s wildlife planning standard, it is part of and supports the state’s overall spill response plan.
“The new specially designed mobile rehabilitation unit developed by MSRC and CRC allows spill responders to care for oiled animals anywhere in the state,” said Andy Carlson, coordinator of oiled-wildlife rescue for Fish & Wildlife. “With that capability, we can quickly deploy and better position wildlife response teams, improving their ability to successfully rehabilitate animals affected by oil spills.”
Many of the refining, oil handling and vessel shipping companies operating in Washington have invested in MSRC and CRC's jointly operated mobile oiled wildlife response unit including the BP Cherry Point Refinery.
“BP is pleased that we have been able to help develop and implement the mobile oiled wildlife response capability, with the other oil companies, our regulatory partners, and our spill response contractors,” said BP Refinery Emergency Response Advisor Scott McCreery. “While there is more work to do in this area, the capability of this new mobile suite is more than sufficient to support the oiled-bird rehabilitation efforts that would have been required of any spill that has occurred in Washington over the last 15 years. This is a fantastic step forward, and we’re proud to have been a part of bringing this to fruition.”