An Orphaned Jay’s Second Chance

As the only permitted all species wildlife hospital that serves  Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte and northern Mendocino counties, we admit patients from across a wide region that includes many isolated communities. We treat patients from Blocksburg, Ettersburg, New Harris Store, Weitchpec, Capetown – from the Oregon border to Willits, from Hayfork to the sea. Often we are brought patients from deep in the hills, and we never learn where they actually were found.

In June we admitted an uninjured Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) nestling from someplace near Leggett. We have no idea where exactly or how far from the highway she was originally found. We were told that her nest had been destroyed, but not where it had been located. Ordinarily we’d want to try to reunite a healthy nestling with her parents.

In this case, that would be impossible, so the poor little nestling, not yet two weeks old, would have the misfortune of being raised by us, not her own family. Of course, at this point, we were her lucky break.

,(We don’t actually know what sex this bird is – we’re calling her female for the writer’s convenience and our refusal to call a living being ‘it’.) 

Admission day. Getting a first exam and an i.d. bracelet. Her feathers are growing in.

For her first ten days in care, she was hand fed a regular diet of insects, berries, and small bits of fish. As soon as she was able to feed herself, after nearly three weeks in care, our schedule was reduced until she no longer wanted anything to do with the food we offered by hand.
In our aviary, after 5 weeks, she is the size of an adult, with all of her feathers, self-feeding, and fully flighted!

The last time she’ll be handled! She passed her release evaluation with flying colors!




After 5 weeks in various sized boxes, from transport carriers to aviaries, she is at last free again, enjoying a second chance. Does she know how close she came to leaving this world before she’d really entered it? Who knows. But now she surveys her wide world from the safety of high and distant branch in a grove of Redwoods.
Ruth, our volunteer coordinator surveys our young champion surveying her new freedom! Would like to help a wild animal get a second chance? Submit an application through our website and Ruth will contact you to get you started as a volunteer at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center!


With your support, this Jay and the hundreds of wild animals, injured and orphaned, that we treat each Spring and Summer are given a second chance. Right now we are deep in our busiest time, and resources are as scarce as ever. We need your help now. Please donate today if you can. Thank you!

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A Summer Like No Other! So Many Mammals!

2017 has been unusual. While it’s perfectly normal right now, in the height of our Spring and Summer wild baby season, that we’re very busy with a huge demand on our resources, what’s strange is the number of baby mammals we’ve admitted. Typically our patient caseload is 75% birds, and 25% mammals, with only a few reptiles such as snakes, lizards and turtles admitted for care, year in and year out. This year though we’ve seen a large increase in orphaned baby mammals. Instead of 25%, we are at 39% mammals for 2017 to date!

In part this is because we’ve started to accept more wild babies from northern Mendocino County, where permitted wildlife rehabilitators are scarce. (But there is one! Shout out to Ronnie James of Woodlands Wildlife near Fort Bragg!) That counts for less than a dozen raccoons however and not a 16% increase. So what else might be the cause? We don’t know.

What we do know is that we are as active as ever helping people resolve wildlife/human conflicts peacefully and keeping wild families together. This has been the wettest year in six years of keeping our digital database. Between loss of habitat, encroachment on the wild, increased traffic and of course the great destabilizer, climate change, it’s nearly impossible to know at this time what exactly is happening. Every day we get calls about stranded or orphaned youngsters in need of help. Every day we hear about dead wild mothers on the highway.

Every story of the wild animals we treat has heartbreak in it. This adult Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is a nursing mom. She was hit by a car and found on the side of the road on the north side of Crescent City. Her first week in care, she was barely aware of her surroundings or the handling she endured while we proved supportive care. 

Gradually she regained her wits. As soon as she could stand and walk, we moved her to an outdoor enclosure where her agility and alertness began to quickly return.

Her wariness on the day of her release examination was a welcome sight. As she tried to evade capture she demonstrated a crucial intelligence and bravery that she will need when she’s home in the wild.

This net capture is the last indignity that she must face before freedom!

Her release very near her rescue site: the mother Fox takes a cautious moment to look around.

And then she breaks for it! – into the hedgerow, into the tangled bank!


And she is gone, back into her realm, her freedom – out of our grasp and away from our gaze. The luck of being found and rescued saved her life. It is impossible, knowing she was a nursing mother, to not acknowledge her kits, as many as four of them, who died without her care after she was hit by the car. But she is in great health otherwise, a strong and muscular vixen, who has lived to raise another family. 


How do we provide this care to our region’s injured and orphaned wild animals, every day of the year? Easy. Only with your support. Please donate today. Our Season is only half way through! We need your help! Donate Now.


So far this season we’ve admitted twice as many juvenile Striped Skunks(Mephitis mephitis) than in any year previously!

While it is easy to avoid getting sprayed during care procedures, such as weight checks and other examinations of our young skunk patients, there is still a psychological barrier to overcome when handling them. Fortunately at this age, their defensive spray is fairly mild.

In our skunk housing, youngsters learn to dig for insects, eat meat, and hide from threats, among other skills they will need to succeed as adults. Your support makes our facility possible! Thank you! 


A young skunk from this year’s babies smells freedom again, and it is sweet.


A very unusual patient! We treat many bats year ’round, but this is only the second time in 6 years that we’ve admitted a very young Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus). This little bat came in nearly fur-less, eyes closed and in need of regular formula feedings. We were unable to locate his colony and return him, so we raised him at our clinic. Now weaned and eating strictly insects, soon he will begin flying, and soon after that he will be free. 


Brush rabbits(Sylvilagus bachmani) are often victims of house cats, especially when they are very young and first out of the nest…  this baby succumbed to the infection caused by the cat bites he received. Free-roaming cats take a terrible toll on young wild animals. 


Almost every Black-tailed Deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus) that we treat has been traumatized. Usually found along the side of the road with their dead mother, they come in to care obviously depressed. It can take real effort and convincing to get a fawn who has just seen their mother killed by a vehicle to accept a bottle. For the past two years we have been feeding goat milk instead of formula with good results. Availability is much improved and we receive occasional donations of fresh milk from our neighbors who have goats! Thanks to everyone who has donated goat milk!

Housed outside we keep a distance from these fawns, providing them with fresh leaves every day supplemented with milk fed in a blind bottle rack. When they are weaned we begin planning their release. Most fawns that we receive calls about are actually fine and don’t need rescue! Like with Rabbits, Does park their babies someplace safe while they forage, returning now and again to nurse. If you see a fawn lying in the grass, simply back away and give them space. Unless a dead mother is seen, in nearly all cases she is nearby watching. As always, if you are unsure, give us a call and we can help you figure out what’s best.


We currently have 20 Raccoons  (Procyon lotor) in care. Labor intensive, hungry and with an insatiable curiosity that makes housing them for the duration of their care a challenge, Raccoons are one of our more common patients. Uncommonly intelligent, steps to preserve their wildness are critical to their success. A raccoon unafraid of a back porch is soon going to be in serious trouble. Many people have no qualms about trapping and killing these hot sparks of wild life. The world as it is needs as much intelligence as it can find. Help keep the world safe for these natural geniuses. Don’t leave food or pet food outside, keep your garbage secure – all wildlife will benefit from these steps.


Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) were once considered non-native on the West coast of North America, thought to have been introduced by immigrants from the East. Now it’s not so certain. Native to the areas of northern Mexico directly South of their current West coast range, it is considered possible and even likely that their range has expanded on their own steam as they migrate and spread into habitat that suits them. Short-lived (most wild opossums live no more than 4 years) these unobtrusive, nocturnal animals, North America’s only marsupial, are the mammal most often cared for in California. Litters often have ten or more babies. When a mother is hit by a car, she often has a pouch full of nursing youngsters. Opossums are on the go all night long. Be vigilant when driving!

Young opossums in the first stages of learning to feed themselves are offered a dish of the same formula that they are fed on schedule. Soon we’ll add egg, squash, and then bits of  slivered fish. Preparing healthy wild diets is one of the pleasures of our work. Your support makes it possible!

In their outdoor housing, young Opossums  learn to climb, recognize appropriate food, exercise, and dig for insects. As soon as they are the right weight and exhibit the necessary skills, they venture out into the world, making their way. If you see an opossum, remember, we are each sojourners in this world, and there are none abiding… Give an opossum a break. It is impossible to order the parts of the universe by most and least important. Let’s help each other not make the foolish mistake of thinking we can! 


A tiny Deer Mouse is fed formula. The humble Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) is native over much of the western continent. Only occasionally do we treat them at this age, but we do see adults throughout the year. Once you’ve held a 2 gram baby mouse in your hand, and wanted them to thrive, what can you do but make sure that a heat lamp, a regular round of formula, and a chance to grow and learn are provided. We have a lot of mouths to feed and a mission to feed all who come our way. 


As noted above, we don’t know what the difference is that makes this year so full of orphaned mammals in our care. We only know that we have a mission to provide where needed to injured and orphaned wild neighbors and to work to build a way to continue helping wildlife in distress as we enter a very de-stabilized future. We won’t be able to do this with out your help.

This part has always been true.

2017 has seen much uncertainty, and we feel it too. Support for the care of the almost forgotten wild babies of the world can be hard to come by when so much anxiety about so many predicaments is a-foot. Just two weeks ago, scientists warned in the New York Times that we are entering an era of “biological annihilation”.

It is here, where we live, where see the impacts of such horrors. And it will be us, in our communities, who do what we can to soften the blows to the innocent wild among us. Please help us meet our mission. Your donation today and every day goes directly toward care of our patients and advocacy for all of the wild. Thank you for your support! Donate Here.  

Photos: Bird Ally X/ Laura Corsiglia

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Raccoon Housing Repairs Complete! (Short video tour!)

A couple of months ago BAX launched a crowd-sourcing fundraiser for the repairs we needed to make to our Raccoon (Procyon lotor) housing at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. This housing is  a critical component of our orphaned raccoon program. It’s where the babies we care for grow, develop, and learn.

Those repairs are now complete. Here’s a glimpse into the housing that teaches wild babies the skills they’ll need to thrive in their wild freedom. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this campaign!

Also, thank you to all our supporters. These are tough, lean times for us and it seems they’re only getting tougher. Every dollar contributed helps. Your support makes a big difference for our wild neighbors.  The food and water our raccoon kits need, the fish we provide all of our patients, the thousands of insects we feed baby orphaned songbirds. Our medicines and supplies – all of these real things cost real money – money we wouldn’t have without you. Want to make a donation now? Follow this link! Thank you!

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Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Baby Skunks!

This story comes with recommended listening, Cornell Dupree playing Joe Zawinul’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy:

It happens and you don’t even know why. Suddenly – you’ve just learned to walk, just learning to find bugs, just seeing the night sky – you’re alone. Your siblings too. Maybe your mother was hit by a car. Maybe she was trapped and killed or taken far away. But no matter what happened, she didn’t come back ever again. A day goes by, then two, then three. Before you know it you don’t want to run anymore and then, if you’re lucky, one of those people finds you, picks you up, puts you in a box. If you make it to a wildlife rehabilitator, you’re going to be in boxes of one kind or another for a little while. But if all goes well, you’ll be free again.

***

Last week at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, we admitted our first baby Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) of the season. 3 youngsters were found in a backyard in Eureka. They’d been seen for a couple of days, but no mother was observed at any time. When one of them was found not moving, all 3 were captured and brought to our clinic.

Right on the edge of weaning, they are old enough to eat solid food and can be housed in our outdoor small mammal housing. But they are far too young to be on their own with no protection and no one to teach them how to find food, how to hunt.

For the next 8 weeks, these distant cousins to the otters (and even more distant to ourselves) will learn to forage for insects, find prey, and recognize the foods that will sustain them in adulthood. We’ll measure their progress and keep a distance between to protect their wildness and preserve their healthy fear of human beings.

We’ll need your help.

What follows are photographs from their first day in care. Now they are housed outdoors, in privacy. We’ll post more photographs as we can get opportunity during health checks over the coming weeks. Right now, they are gaining weight and using their new little teeth very well.

An exam of each skunk was made. One of them, the male of the three, was cold, lethargic and dehydrated, the two sisters were in much better shape. Each was given warmed subcutaneaous fluids. The male, initially  found immobile in the grass, had to be kept in an incubator for some time, but soon recovered and rejoined his siblings.
Tail up, the weaker of the three begins to signal his recovery as he signals his alarm at waking up in an incubator.
Oh yes, these teeth are ready from something to chew on!

The two healthier sisters inside their initial housing to observe their stability, learn more about their state of health and make sure that they are eating. The brother soon joined them.

At this age, skunks don’t have much ability to spray. Still the siblings stamp out warnings and lift their tails in mock battle. Play leads to adulthood!


It can be a hard sell – that these skunks matter. That any skunks matter. In a world such as ours, with demons at the helm, who put every thing that matters up on blocks in the front yard – the chopping block or the auction block – it can seem like we’ve got more pressing matters. But we don’t. So much of what we suffer in this world is the result of a human arrogance that values its own engorgement over the very mystery that produces appetites at all. In this world, pleading the case of the wounded Robin, the orphaned skunk, the broken-winged gull can seem like too little too late. But if we’re going to have a big world worth protecting, we’ll find it the small miracles that surround us, the dense feathers of the seabird’s belly, the strong musk of an evening’s encounter.

Please help us care for these beings whose lives are their own, who determine their own value, victims of our thoughtless creations. Donate (here) if you can. Thank you.

photos: Bird Ally X/ Laura Corsiglia

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Wild fostering…

Admitting a wild baby for care immediately poses questions that must be solved. First! Is this baby an orphan? Wild babies are better off with their families. If the family is intact, our first task is to reunite the baby with parent or parents. For some species this is easy, for others less so … Finding a mother Mallard(Anas platyrhynchos) who’s lost one or more of her chicks is nearly impossible, while getting a mistakenly grabbed Raven(Corvus corax) chick back to her parents is one of the easiest things you can do.

But often the family is gone, a parent killed, or their whereabouts unknowable (a dog drags a fawn up to the front porch, uninjured, but who knows from where…). However hope for a real wild upbringing isn’t completely lost. In some cases we can “wild foster”,  a technique in which orphans are placed in a wild family of their own species although not related. For some species, including most raptors, this can be easily done. (check out the work of  The Hungry Owl Project, one of the organizations that helped spread the use of this technique for raptors in California.)  We attempt to wild foster our young orphans whenever we can, or is necessary.

If re-uniting and fostering are not an option, we still have our faithful standby: we raise the orphans ourselves. While not ideal, successfully raising orphaned wild animals is done every day across the world by compassionate people, mostly volunteers, who take the business of being wild very seriously. We protect the wild nature of our patients fiercely, as well as their absolute right to freedom. To successfully prepare our patients for their adulthood means to provide them an upbringing that will give them the opportunity to develop the necessary tools for surviving and thriving – meeting their rightful destiny.

It may same a strange activity, but taking care of babies not even of your own species isn’t just humane, it’s natural.

Consider how tenderly this Bald Eagle(Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feeds this Red-tailed Hawk(Buteo jamaicensis) chick at this eagle nest. How this hawk found his way into this nest we may never know, but we do know this: This eagle is giving this hawk a second chance! Just like we do. One feeding at a time.

In this remarkable video, Bald Eagles in their nest at Roberts Bay, near Victoria, British Columbia are seen feeding a Red-tailed Hawk nestling. Apparently raising orphans of a species not your own is a perfectly natural endeavor! [EDIT: more information on this nest here.]


As with all aspects of our work, raising wild orphans requires specialized skills and a facility that is flexible enough to meet the shifting demands of our caseload and the diversity of our wild neighbors – raising Common Murre(Uria aalge) chicks and Raccoons(Procyon lotor) do have some similarities, but mostly they have a multitude of differences!

Whether we raise these babies ourselves, wild foster them, or return them to their families, our ability to act, to weigh the considerations and have resources available so that the our best course of action can be followed. All of our work stems from your support. Without your support, none of this ever happens. Please help us now in the midst of our busiest time of the year. We have a lot of mouths to feed. Donate Now.

 

 

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Motherless Mallards Find Their Freedom!

After six weeks in care, our first wild orphans of the year, these three Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), finished their time with us this weekend and were released back to their free and wild lives.

Found in a back yard in McKinleyville, these youngsters were only 30 grams when we admitted them in the middle of April. Now over 700 grams and with their flight feathers nearly grown in, we released to one of our area’s local “duck nurseries”, a marshy location that is a smorgasbord of appropriate Mallard diet. Here they’ll finish their apprenticeships on their way to becoming successful adults.

The obstacles people have put in the way of the normal lives of our wild neighbors are extreme. Cars, dogs, cats, fences form a gauntlet of challenges that Mallard families have to pass through on their way from nest to water. If you see a Mallard family on the go, help them along by making sure they have a clear path – keep your pets away and let your kids know what’s happening so they can learn to appreciate the wild lives that surround us.

Providing care for orphaned Mallards isn’t easy. Housing requirements for all wild aquatic birds are extensive and the water needed is expensive. Keeping wildlife wild is an important component too!  You can help us provide professional care for thse adn all our our wild patients. Want o help? Donate today!

photos: Bird Ally X/Laura Corsiglia

 

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Winter Showers Brought Mallard Flowers

So far in 2017 we have admitted for care nearly two times the number of orphaned Mallards as we did by this date in 2016! And 2016 had been a record year for Mallard babies, in which we also saw a dramatic increase over the previous year’s orphaned Mallard caseload!

Mallard chicks are orphaned in any number of ways – most commonly by cars and dogs. A mother Mallard lays her eggs in a hidden nest and when they hatch, she leads her precocial young to water. Along the way the new family must cross roads and backyards, both of which are fraught with danger – cars, dogs, unsupervised kids – the human built world has provided little else but obstacles to our wild neighbors.

Even now, while writing this, a group of Mallards are in the middle of being rescued off US 101 about 20 miles south of our clinic: if their mother can’t be located or doesn’t return, then those ducklings will come to our facility to be cared for and given appropriate housing for them to learn to be adult ducks.

As of today, we have nearly two dozen orphaned Mallards in care. Each day that passes we might admit another 8 or 9 who’ve lost their mothers to a car, a dog, or some other calamity. Your support makes our treatment possible.

In care at only a few days old, these orphaned Mallards find safety under a heat lamp, huddled together with a feather duster as a comfort against the loss of their mother.
Old playpens are very useful for small animal housing. They work for Mallard orphans exactly as they do for human children – keeping them safe and contained. Of course for ducklings, some crucial additions are needed – such as a small ‘pond’ filled with the most important diet item we offer – duckweed!
Boxed for daily weight checks: before these youngsters can move outside and face cold nights with no mother, they have to gain some body mass. We check them every day to make sure they’re headed in the right direction!

“I weigh about 30 grams when I first leave my egg. I gain 5 to 10 grams a day until I move outside.”

While the intimacy we share with our patients isn’t the reason we help wild orphans make it to adulthood, a side benefit of our work is the closeness to willful, untamed nature that we experience each and every day.

Tracking the progress of each patient is a critical component to providing conscientious care. Weights are recorded in each patient’s record daily, or as needed.

Once ducklings (and goslings too!) are housed outdoors, we handle Mallard orphans a lot less – as they approach their release weight, we check them only once a week. Reduced handling means wildlife stays wild!

Weight check round up! They don’t like it at all, but we do need to make sure that our care is working.

Pre-release: this is the last housing these birds will ever know (hopefully!) Our waterfowl aviary can house up to a dozen young Mallards. If the steady rise in orphaned Mallards continues, we’ll need to increase our capacity. 


Raising Mallards isn’t easy. Proper housing and diet are critical. Both of these require a lot of water. Your support keeps the water flowing and the ducklings growing! Losing your mom is pretty bad – most wild babies don’t survive such a tragedy. But at least here in Humboldt County, thanks to you, these young orphans still have a chance to live their free and wild lives. Can you help with their care? If so, donate here. Thank you!

all photos: Laura Corsiglia/ Bird Ally X

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Raccoons Orphaned by Trapping in Care Now

Every Spring it’s the same story: a Raccoon is seen around the home, going into a crawlspace, maybe heard in the attic… and the human resident opens the phone book to find help. A quick call to the pest control company and soon they’re spending a couple dollars paying for that company to trap the Raccoon.

The Raccoon, eager to find food, is easily trapped (maybe not on the first try though, maybe first some other animal is trapped and loses his or her life too). The pest control company takes the Raccoon away (to be killed) and soon after, a day, two days, three days, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center gets a call: Raccoon babies can be heard behind a wall, next to the tub, in the attic – somewhere, making their small chattering sounds, hungry, cold and dying. We take those orphans into care. Without charge.  these are the lucky ones, the ones who are found. How many Raccoon orphans starve to death under houses and in attics after their mother has been trapped or shot is just anther unknowable tragic cost in world full of them.

This is exactly how our first Raccoon babes of 2017 came into care this weekend. Two days without their mother, who was trapped and killed, these babies are facing a terrible deficit. Warmth, fluids, and a gradual introduction to formula, which will sustain them until they are weaned in approximately 6 weeks, is the first step. If they make it through this process and recover from hypothermia and dehydration they’ll have another 10-12 weeks in captive care, learning to climb, hunt, fish and forage: in short, all the skills that their mother would have taught them. If all goes well, sometime in September or October, hopefully we’ll be posting a story like this one from a past Summer:

Killing mother Raccoons can be costly to a homeowner, and obviously the cost to the mother Raccoon is the greatest that can be paid, and the cost to her babies is higher than we’d wish on any youngsters. Yet, it happens every year, in every community, in every county, in every state. Every year we put out messages and pleas to not trap wildlife, especially in the Spring. In Spring, trapping a wild animal invariably leads to orphans. It is senseless, stupid and needs to stop. We need your help. Spread the word. Trapping is cruel, costly, immoral and ineffective. If you have a conflict with a wild animal, seek humane help, such as we offer every day of the year.

On this Mother’s Day, how about spreading some of that love and appreciation to wild mamas who need us to learn to live with them peacefully and humanely.

If you’d like to contribute to the cost of caring for this unfortunate mother’s young, please donate here now. Thank you!!

 

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Kicking it up a notch: by BAX Co-director Marie Travers.

[editor’s note: BAX co-founder and co-director, Marie Travers, wrote this essay for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, a remarkable network of organizations established to proved the best achievable care for oiled wildlife. This essay was written initially to time with Earth Day, which every day is. Bird Ally X is proud to be member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.]

 

Working toward the best achievable care of the Earth through green response(ability).

I was recently asked to co-chair the newly formed Green Response Working Group and I seriously could not be more excited. I’ve been thinking about greening [oil spill] response probably since I started doing response, and am grateful for the opportunity to finally act on it. Having the ability to be able to do something nice for the planet is one of the few things giving me hope these days. In honor of Earth Day, I wanted to fill you in on what the Green Response Working Group has been up to, and share some thoughts about what I think it means to be an oil spill responder.

Here in California most of us know that Earth Day was inspired in part by the massive blowout of an offshore oil platform six miles off the California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969. Over 3,600 seabirds and countless marine mammals and fish were killed as three to four million gallons of crude oil was released, blackening 35 miles of shoreline and covering 800 square miles of ocean. Almost fifty years later, the Santa Barbara Oil Spill remains the largest oil spill in California and the third largest oil spill in US history, behind the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez. The disaster received global attention, and the powerful images of the mess and the oiled animals forced lot of people to think about their role in protecting the environment.

One of those people was Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Senator who toured the spill site. Mr. Nelson decided to organize a national “teach-in” about the environment that he hoped would move the growing concerns of the general public onto the political agenda to encourage change. The first Earth Day was wildly successful, with 20 million Americans participating according to the Earth Day Network. The movement created public support for the Environmental Protection Agency and was part of the impetus for the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act and the Endangered Species Act. In 1990, 200 million people participated in Earth Day activities worldwide.

Forty-seven years later, Earth Day is more important and more relevant than ever, with so many of the protections we once knew being dismantled in the name of greed, and science being called into question. Earth Day is also a reminder that one person with a great idea can change the world, like Gaylord Nelson did.

I have been an oiled wildlife responder for the last 16 years and have had the opportunity to work at spills in many places, often in makeshift facilities far removed from the luxury of anything that remotely resembles a Primary Care Center or even a rehabilitation center. Some highlights include a former soy factory with a really slippery floor, and an iron ore pellet making facility where a train ran through the building several times a day 20 feet from where we were working. Everywhere I go, I am always reminded of how very lucky I am to live in California where the OWCN exists, where there is infrastructure for giving animals the best achievable care and passionate people trained to make it happen, and where there are laws mandating the clean up of oiled wildlife. We are so incredibly fortunate to live in a place where there is such an exceptional response system. Really. There is nothing like it in the world.

While every spill is different, one thing is true of all of the spills I’ve worked; There is a massive “secondary spill” created by all of the waste generated by the cleanup. According to The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPH), the amount of waste created just solely by the manual removal of oil from the environment is estimated to be about 10 times the volume of oil spilled. That means that a spill the size of the recent Refugio spill would generate around a million pounds of waste. Those numbers don’t even include the enormous amount of waste generated during the cleaning and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife, but I image the ratio is the same, or maybe even more. Anyone who has worked a spill lately has seen the barrels full of empty Dawn bottles, mountains of waste from food, water bottles, packaging, gloves and PPE. I don’t even want to talk about the water. All of it amounts to incredible amount of waste when there are a lot of patients and responders.

That’s where the Green Response Working Group comes in! One of several working groups created during the OWCN Wildlife Summit last fall, the Green Response Working Group has been working hard for the last few months, looking into what we can do to help curb the waste stream created during a response and help OWCN “walk the walk” of environmental stewardship while responding to spills in California.

We’ve been looking at where and how waste is generated, what kinds of behaviors and products we can change to promote green response(ability), and what small steps we can all take to create a greener spill response culture that is in line with our desire to protect the environment and it’s wild animals.

Here are a few of the things we’re working on:

  • reducing unnecessary and avoidable waste
  • protecting natural resources, like water
  • using more natural, biodegradable products that are less likely to have a negative effect on our environment
  • using fewer single-use items like plastic water bottles and utensils
  • recycling and composting
  • creating a list of green products used during spill response (to share with the network and other response organizations)

 

Our goal is to gradually introduce a greener approach to spill response by researching options and opportunities beforehand so that it’s easy to make eco-friendly choices on the fly during a spill when there is little time for decision making.

By setting an example of responsibility in action, we hope the OWCN will inspire and educate not just other spill response organizations, but all of the member organizations and the individuals in those organizations, as well.

While the Green Response Working Group is an awesome first step, the truth is that now, every day needs to be Earth Day. In order to provide the best achievable care for the Earth, we need to move away from the idea that it’s just one day of the year and think about our individual impacts on the environment every day. I feel it’s sort of a given that as spill responders we care a great deal about protecting the environment, if for no other reason than it is home to the animals that we love. I also think that knowing what we know about oil spills – their prevalence and horrible effects – holds us to a higher level of responsibility. While many people live their lives removed from nature, and need a yearly reminder of Earth Day, those of us that do spill response are intimately aware of what’s going on, and have the unique opportunity to do something about it. We should be setting an example for our friends and family, and trying to walk the walk. We have the opportunity, and I think, the obligation, to make a difference even when we’re not busy cleaning oiled birds.

My relationship with plastic has changed dramatically since I started working with wildlife. In addition to working with thousands of oiled animals, I’ve also seen countless birds entangled in plastic of some sort, especially fishing line and plastic bags. I’ve seen necropsies of birds with plastic in their stomachs. Over time I realized my plastic purchasing behaviors were harming the birds I was trying to save. Something inside me changed and now I can’t even look at a piece of plastic without remembering that it will be around forever and might end up in the belly of a majestic Laysan albatross or a tiny Red-necked phalarope someday. It informs a lot of decisions about how I live and drives my friends and family crazy. Plastic waste fills me with rage. Spills are horrible, but the spill that we are creating with plastic is chronic, and far more damaging, contributing to the slow suffocation of the Earth.

This is why it makes my heart ache to see the amount of single-use plastic we use during spills in the name of helping rehabilitate oiled wildlife. It feels to me as though we’re undoing or negating our good work by participating in an activity that promotes oil production and pollution, and contributes to killing millions of animals every year. Plastic is made from oil, and by purchasing it, we are supporting not only the oil industry but the creation of more plastic that will never go away. We may also be inadvertently contributing to the increased possibility of another oil spill by helping to drive the demand for plastic. Did you know that the manufacturing and transport of water bottles in America uses more than 30 million barrels of oil every year and produces as much carbon dioxide as 2 million cars? Or that every 27 hours Americans (just Americans!) use enough bottled water to circle the entire equator with plastic bottles stacked end to end, and that in a month, those bottles would stretch all the way to the moon and back? If that doesn’t make you want to quit plastic, maybe knowing that 90% of seabirds today have toxic plastic in their bellies will. Our actions when it comes to plastics really do matter.

During a spill we are swept into a culture of moving quickly and using the supplies closest at hand so we can be efficient and help more animals. I think it is these times that matter the most, when we can make our actions count and know that we’re doing every. thing. we. can. to do the least harm possible to the environment. I’m so excited that OWCN is taking steps to make that happen. I think we can all do better knowing what we know. A good first step, if you haven’t taken it already, is to REFUSE SINGLE USE PLASTIC.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.

– Maya Angelou

A few weeks ago I was three hours into my four hour drive to Quincy to attend the OWCN spill drill when I was called to a spill in Edmonton. I turned around and was on-site in Edmonton 18 hours later. Luckily, the spill had no impact on wildlife. Across from our hotel parking lot was this amazing mural that really spoke to a lot of the feelings I was having at the time and made me think of the Green Response Working Group, and how happy I am that it was born. By greening up our act not only as an organization, but as individuals, we can help others to do the same and try to encourage that green patch to grow. Happy Earth Day.earth day pic

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