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More than 35 years of surviving and prospering

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."     — John Muir

By Jay Holcomb
Executive Director, International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)

2004 year in review

In 1971 Alice Berkner and a handful of other wildlife professionals founded the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). They participated in the development of this organization with great enthusiasm, excitement and a lot of optimism. Thirty-five years later, I am happy to say that we still approach the challenges thrown our way with enthusiasm, lots of excitement and for the most part, plenty of optimism.

Photo of Jay Holcomb on beach

Jay Holcomb: New Carrisa spill 1999

However, IBRRC has matured and changed in many ways. We have become realists and in the process have shed some of the naiveté. The horrible nature of oil spills will do that to you. After thirty years, there are still the dying, oiled soaked birds and ridiculous politics that hamper our efforts to save more animals. Furthermore, funding limitations present a constant challenge to treat and rehabilitate in an adequate manner. Obviously, the loss of sleep because of 20 hour work days during the initial phases in a spill or a personal life left on hold (during the Exxon Valdez disaster most of us were in Alaska for 6 months) can dampen ones enthusiasm for the cause.

Learning from more than 150+ oil spills

We learned to toughened up over the years in order to "survive" on a personal as well as organizational level. Team members have to block out the many negative aspects that surround our work in order to succeed and treat the animals in an effective and professional manner. Not surprisingly, our personal lives are centered around responding to oil spill incidents. It is an unusual and sometimes unsettling way of life for the staff, but it has paid dividends for IBRRC in many ways. The experience and knowledge gained through 30 plus years of responding to more than 150 oil spills is invaluable and unprecedented in the world. It has established IBRRC as today's leader in oiled wildlife response.

San Francisco Chronicle story: Jay Holcomb

I believe that IBRRC has survived and prospered because we look at every obstacle as an opportunity to grow; every oil spill volunteer as a valuable member within our organization; industry as well as federal and state wildlife resource trustees as partners in responding to a disaster and of course the life of each individual animal as a life that is worth preserving. We "manage" oiled wildlife responses. We don't just wash birds! (I wish it were that easy!) We have learned to "crisis manage" a chaotic situation and change it into what we call "controlled chaos".

Obviously, oiled wildlife response has not been without criticism. There are the usual accusations of being a patsy of the oil industry by helping them cover up their misdeeds or the ever present question of the enormous cost associated with a rescue effort. Rather than dismiss our critics off hand, we have tried to keep an open dialogue with them in order to educate as well as learn . We have tried to convey the message to the public that since everybody is using oil products, we are all part of the problem created by this demand. IBRRC's role is to minimize the impact of oil in the environment by rehabilitating the affected animals.

It has been a long and tough road for IBRRC. I was there at the first spill that started it all in 1971 as a naive volunteer that witnessed and was part of the noble, but pathetic attempts to save 7,000 oiled birds. Later I volunteered at all the bay area oil spills up until 1986 when I became an IBRRC employee. I am proud of that and honored to be a part of an ethical organization that stays true to it's mission.

I would be amiss if I did not take this opportunity to credit Alice Berkner, the one person who truly deserves all of the credit for setting the IBRRC ball in motion and keeping it rolling. Most people do not know this, but Alice was the "non-salaried" director for the first 15 years of IBRRC's existence. In the early years, salaries were a luxury. All funds went to caring for the animals.

In the early 1970's Alice bridged a very wide gap that existed between the petroleum industry and the environmental community by taking the novel, neutral approach to oil spill response, maintaining that again, "we are all part of the problem" and we must work together towards the cleanup and the solution. This approach developed a level of trust and interest in IBRRC from within the petroleum industry and laid the groundwork for the excellent relationship and support that we still maintain with industry today. Through Alice's foresight, perseverance and personal commitment she alone kept IBRRC alive and flourishing.

Recognizing the city of Berkeley

I also want to recognize the city and people of Berkeley, CA. IBRRC utilized a Berkeley owned facility for 28 years. The city is known throughout the world for it's proactive approach and sensitivity towards the environment. They gave us a home to do the work that they supported and recognized as vital. The facility was made available to IBRRC at the cost of $5 a year. Thousands of birds have come through the doors and the vast majority of the injured creatures were rehabilitated and sent back into the wild. Our work nationally and internationally could not have been achieved without the facility and the ability to focus all of our limited time and funds on animal care, rehabilitation and research. We are extremely grateful and forever indebted to the city of Berkeley for their years of support and contribution to IBRRC and to the environment.

30 plus years and growing...

In the past three decades we have grown up from concerned bird lovers to professional oil spill responders, from volunteers to crisis managers and from naive to worldly.

When looking back at 34 years of IBRRC we see proof of what can be achieved through commitment, dedication, passion and focus. We experienced first hand how generous support given by the community and industry can make a difference and how an idea that was born in a major environmental disaster can become reality, endure many changes and mature into a truly unique organization. It also showed how one determined woman fought all odds to develop the initial protocols and procedures that would give oiled wildlife a chance.

Now we are even on the net. Go figure! Finally we have a forum that lets us interact with anyone interested in IBRRC, oiled wildlife response, rehabilitation and all other subjects pertaining to this field. At the beginning of a new era I am proud to report that we feel as excited and enthusiastic about our work as ever. After thirty years, we are just a little bit more wiser, but a lot more experienced. Most importantly (no matter what anyone might say) we remain as always: "In it only for the birds."


2007 Director's Message

2006 Director's Message

2005 Director's Message

 

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