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OWCN & IBRRC: A proud partnership

Who and what is California's Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN)?

Download the OWCN story (PDF 886 kb)

OWCN Logo image

The OWCN is a legislatively mandated program within The California Fish and Game, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) which strives to ensure that wildlife exposed to petroleum products in the environment receive the best achievable treatment by providing access to permanent wildlife rehabilitation facilities and trained personnel for oil spill response within California. (OWCN website)

It is a statewide network of wildlife care providers which includes regional facilities established pursuant to the requirements of the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act. These facilities are to provide rehabilitation for aquatic birds, sea otters, other marine mammals, and sea turtles in the event of an oil spill and are maintained in a constant state of readiness.

IBRRC proposes network in the mid 1980's

Since 1971 and prior to the formation of the OSPR and the OWCN, IBRRC was more or less the only game in town when it came to oiled bird response and rehabilitation in California. IBRRC is actually named in the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act (download PDF file: 1.5 Mb) as one of the leaders in the field of oiled bird rehabilitation. But the burden of responding to oil spills with limited funding, unavailable resources, untrained volunteers and poor to no facilities crippled our efforts to help oiled birds. Many birds were lost and our staff and the California wildlife rehabilitators and volunteers that helped in oil spills were discouraged and left hopeless.

OWCN network participants: Larger map

Frustration led to brainstorming and in the mid 1980's IBRRC presented to then, California Department of Fish and Game Director, Pete Bontadelli, the concept of a network of wildlife rehabilitation volunteers and facilities within the state that could more effectively respond to oil spills. The concept included supplying these existing facilities with basic oiled wildlife care supplies and offered basic training to the volunteers so that we could be better supported to us when we came to their town to respond to an oil spill. We also envisioned rehabilitation centers being able to provide care to the occasional oiled bird through training and mentoring. Although enthusiastic and extremely supportive of the concept, the department had no funding available to make this idea a reality and the idea was shelved.

OWCN Becomes a Reality

Ten years after the original concept was presented the OWCN became a reality. Managed by the Wildlife Health Center at the University of Davis, CA, the OWCN now has 24 participating organizations throughout the state (Network Map) that represent wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians and biologists. IBRRC is proud to be one of those participants and works closely with OWCN on a daily basis.

OWCN and IBRRC Partner in Spill Response and Training

IBRRC plays two major roles within the OWCN. First, IBRRC acts as the lead oiled bird response organization that, under the management of the OWCN, responds to most of the oil spills that affect birds, reptiles and fresh water aquatic mammals in California. Secondly, IBRRC is contracted to develop and teach a series of annual trainings for OWCN participants. These trainings are designed to familiarize members with concepts in oiled wildlife capture and rehabilitation and are presented at two levels, basic and advanced.

Topics addressed include laboratory and veterinary capabilities, personnel skills and availability, husbandry guidelines for aquatic species and understanding record-keeping procedures. These two day workshops include hands on work with live ducks to review capture and restraint, physical examination, tube-feeding procedures, venipuncture, the preparation of hematology samples, washing/rinsing procedures with particular emphasis on waterproofing. The particular rehabilitation needs of local species that are prone to oiling are detailed. Necropsy demonstrations are usually conducted to enable participants to understand potential effects of oil and rehabilitation. A table top spill drill is added to advanced trainings and is tailored to local conditions, e.g. species most likely to be encountered, and areas most likely to be hit with an oil spill, will help to underscore local strengths and delineate areas that need additional work. These 5 annual workshops usually begin in late March and continue through October. For more information on these trainings or other IBRRC trainings or classes please e-mail us.

Oiled Virginia rail during the 1999 Stockdale/Oildale spill in Bakersfield, CA.

One of our greatest challenges is bringing the unique concept of wildlife rehabilitation to the public without negatively affecting the birds in our care. Wild birds are very frightened of humans and are often stressed just by being held in captivity. Human interactions can also have a negative impact on these birds reducing their chances for successful rehabilitation. Therefore, all handling and viewing must be kept to a minimum.

Birds are typically kept out of the view of the public. However, we feel it is important and valuable for the public to be able to actually see the animals during their rehabilitation with their own eyes and learn about the rehabilitation process. We have circumvented this problem in a variety of ways that will allow maximum viewing by visitors while minimizing human interaction with the birds.

Indoor Animal Viewing

A one way window has been designed into the veterinary clinic where animals are cared for and housed. This window will allow school groups and others to view and interact with the rehabilitation staff through a portable audio system while they care for the birds. Through this system students will have the opportunity to learn about the rehabilitation process and ask questions about the birds currently under care. This area is off limits to the general public and only available to guided groups.

Outdoor Viewing of Rehabilitating Birds

When outdoors, rehabilitating aquatic birds are housed in various sized aviaries or pools. Although the public is not allowed to go into the animal holding areas signs at the outdoor areas will describe the birds currently under care and explain the reasons for their rehabilitation along with pertinent information about each species.

For example, the Brown Pelican is an endangered species that is found in abundance along the California coast and has made a strong comeback since the 1970s when their population was significantly reduced due primarily to DDT poisoning. Although their comeback has been successful since the federal ban on DDT was put into law they are considered an extremely vulnerable species and remain a federally listed endangered species. Theirs is an exciting success story that shows what can be achieved through the dedication and perseverance of humans. At the same time, it is because of the shortsightedness of man that this species became an endangered species in the first place. These are the two main points that will be made evident through signage placed in viewing areas near these aviaries. We intend to tell the pelicans' story and make the important point that although their comeback has to date been successful, it takes the commitment of the public to keep pelicans and other aquatic birds protected on a long term basis.

Because of the current abundant pelican population and their close proximity to humans, they are common patients in rehabilitation organizations along the California coast. We expect to have a regular flow of injured, sick and occasionally oiled pelicans come to the center for rehabilitation. Pelicans are large birds that require expansive aviaries for flight exercise with large shallow pools for bathing. Many other birds can be housed in these cages with pelicans since they typically interact in the wild and are compatible with each other. So, in essence these cages are actually community aviaries housing a variety of species with a variety of stories. All of which have significance to environmental education and human accountability.

Video Monitor Viewing for Indoor and outdoor caging

The outdoor and indoor rehabilitation areas housing birds subject to stress will have cameras mounted over many of the cages so that animals can be viewed from the indoor classroom area. Video monitors will also be conveniently located in the visitor area for public viewing. This will allow viewers to see extremely shy and more unusual animals that are not usually available to viewing. Written materials and photographs that explain the rehabilitation process and interpret the behaviors that are likely to be witnessed will be mounted near the monitors.

The San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center

The San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC) is located in northern San Francisco Bay in Cordelia, CA. This facility is IBRRC's new headquarters and houses the International Training Center for Oiled Wildlife Response, a program of IBRRC that offers individuals and organizations dedicated to oiled wildlife response an opportunity to gain hands on and practical experience in oiled wildlife care and response. This facility has the capacity to house up to 1,500 oiled birds during one event and will also house IBRRC's local education program and our ongoing aquatic bird and mammal rehabilitation program.


Download the OWCN story (PDF 886 kb)

Detailed list of OWCN participants

Map of Oiled Wildlife Care Network

Steps in Oil Spill Response and Rehabilitation (PDF)

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