Last Saturday a truck hauling diesel fuel wrecked on US 101, near Big Lagoon in Northern Humboldt County. It was reported that approximately 1000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from the overturned trailer and some of that made into the waterway. Diesel fuel is unlike crude oil or less refined fuels – it evaporates quickly but it also kills more quickly – causing severe respiratory injuries and skin burns.
At first, it was believed that all of the spilled fuel had been contained and that none of our wild neighbors had been impacted. However, early Monday morning, local Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) personnel spotted two Ruddy Ducks that appeared to be contaminated by diesel.
By Monday afternoon BAX staff along with other responders from CDFW and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) were in the field searching for any wild animals impacted by the spill.
Lucinda Adamson, BAX/HWCC wildlife rehabilitator at the Big Lagoon spill last week. (photo: Bird Ally X)
BAX responder, Elissa Blair surveys Big Lagoon early in the morning searching for oiled wildlife. (photo: Bird Ally X)
By late Wednesday, no live oiled animals had been found. One dead Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) was found that was later confirmed to be oiled.
One death is too many. And no doubt there were other wild animals not found who were killed by the diesel. Still, this could have been much worse. Big Lagoon is a naturally attractive waterfowl area, with thousands of birds of many species using it as a winter home. Perhaps fortunately, the Lagoon breached over the weekend as well and the water level fell considerably, possibly helping dissipate the petro-toxin. As the saying goes, the solution to pollution is dilution.
Instead of a major disaster we experienced a trial under live fire – which we can use to improve our capabilities and insure preparedness for any future accidents or spills. Preparedeness is the first and most important step toward meeting the mission of the OWCN.
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is a little known agency in California – jointly administered by UC Davis’ Wildlife Health Center and an oilspill-specific department within CDFW, the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR)* – that is unique in our country and maybe even the world – a network of universities, agencies and wildlife care providers dedicated to providing the “best achievable capture and care of oil-affected wildlife.” The OWCN has nearly 40 member organizations and several primary care facilities purpose-built for large scale spill responses all along the California coast.
BAX was founded by wildlife rehabilitators and spill responders who each have a long history with the OWCN. We’ve worked hard to bring HWCC up to the standards required to be a member organization. When oil spills here in our backyard or anywhere in California (as we saw last Spring in Santa Barbara), BAX staff can be mobilized to provide whatever help is needed.
If you’re interested in becoming a qualified oiled wildlife responder, volunteering with us at our Bayside clinic is an excellent first step!
And as always, it is your support that makes our work possible. Thank you for your generosity and for your love for the Wild!
* the alphabet soup gets thick fast! Basically UCD-WHC with CDFW-OSPR runs the OWCN of which HSU-MWCC and HWCC/BAX are members, or just read the story above and let the acronyms dissolve into eternity….