Mar 29, 2014

What's wrong with this picture?

Thoughts on oiled wildlife recovery efforts or lack thereof...

by Rebecca Dmytryk

Fact: Oil and wildlife don't mix.

Mammals, especially marine and aquatic mammals, are greatly impacted by oil, but the impact of oil on birds is tremendous and swift.

A bird's feathers are like shingles on a roof - it's their structure and alignment that keep cold air and water away from the bird's body. The smallest amount of oil can cause feathers to collapse, exposing the bird to the elements and compromising its ability to thermoregulate - to stay warm.

Successful oiled wildlife recovery plans are based on a multitude of factors and the window of opportunity in which to recover birds where they will have the greatest chance of surviving. Every spill is different.

Factors that go into planning include the geography, climate, weather, time of year (nesting; migration), type of oil and degree of oiling, species, age, an individual animal's status and unique behavior, and available resources.

It only makes sense that for search and recovery efforts to be successful - to do the greatest good and save the most animals, they should be led by those with the most hands-on experience and greatest skills. Therefore, I feel comfortable in stating there are only a few people in the United States with such expertise... maybe 60. 

Sixty people I would trust to organize and command oiled wildlife search efforts, correctly identify compromised animals, and execute successful capture plans.

(...perhaps I'm being too generous.)


On Saturday, March 22, a barge carrying about 900,000 gallons of heavy oil collided with a ship in Galveston Bay, spilling close to 170,000 gallons of oil. Oil has been detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to a recent report, Houston Audubon Society said they were seeing more and more oiled birds. On Monday, their volunteers documented about 50 oiled birds on Bolivar Flats. On Tuesday, they counted 100 at the sam location, and by Wednesday the number had climbed to about 140.

To date, no one from the country's leading oiled wildlife response organizations - no one with years of oiled wildlife capture experience has been utilized for planning or search and recovery efforts - not even the local experts, Wildlife Center of Texas.

Instead, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is relying on assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and their own staff to find and capture oiled animals.

This is absurd!

Worse, it's not the first time assistance from leading experts has been overlooked... excuse me,... ignored, rejected, even prohibited in a Southern response.

International Bird Rescue and Tri-State are the two major organizations in the country that can professionally manage a response to a major spill. In Texas, Sharon Schmaltz with Wildlife Center of Texas has decades of oiled wildlife recovery experience.

Why are these experts not leading or at the very least advising wildlife recovery efforts in Galveston Bay?

What is it that prevents these experts from being immediately mobilized for any major oil spill in the United States?

Things need to change, now and forever!

About the author: 

Rebecca Dmytryk has been involved in oiled wildlife rescue and rehabilitation since 1993 and has worked search and recovery efforts on over 35 major oil incidents, including the Deepwater Horizon/Gulf Oil Spill. View her CV HERE.

Mar 22, 2014

Taking WES to the Summit

By Deanna Barth

That's me, on April 26th, trying to lure the goose close enough to capture. I finally caught her on June 7th.

Last year, to support a friend's efforts, I attended the Summit for the Planet Walk-a-thon and Earth Day Celebration at Mount Madonna School. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see a large number of local non-profits participating in the fundraising event. Some I had never heard of before even though they operate out of my own "backyard". 

That got me to thinking just how many people may not know about Wildlife Emergency Services. So, I made the decision to participate in the 2014 walk-a-thon.

Here we are, coming up on the April 26th event for which I signed up to complete a 15K (10 mile) walk. 

Now, all I need is your support.

You can help by either supporting my walk with a pledge per kilometer I complete, HERE, or, you can register to join me in walking for WES, HERE. At the very least, please stop by our event table to say hello.

Why we need your support? 

We're coming up on the busy season where we can expect to receive 5-10 calls per day from people who have found wild animals in distress. 

In spring and summer months, most rescues involve young, like baby birds that have fallen from their nests or that have lost their mothers.

If you're familiar with WES, then you know we are an all-volunteer run organization - with no paid staff or employees, and you know the incredible work we do.

Maybe you'll recall the red-tailed hawk with the nail through its head in San Francisco, the Canada goose in Redwood City with a kite-string winder on its wing, the turkey in Hollister with an arrow through it, the beaver caught in a packing strap in downtown San Jose, the dozens of ducklings saved from storm drains, and the countless baby birds that got a second chance to grow up wild because of our reuniting and wild-fostering team.

These are animals that, at least in my opinion, would never have been rescued had it not been for our expertise.

WES is a unique program - perhaps one of maybe a handful in the United States that is trained, equipped, experienced and provides assistance with wildlife rescues 24/7 and WES is the only wildlife organization in the greater Bay Area that provides such field services.

But, we need your support to carry on.

I’ve been a volunteer first responder with WES for three years now and I also
 serve as an officer and a board member. I can tell you, it's amazing what we accomplish on so little, but, we can’t continue to provide our valuable public services without financial support from people like you.

Please, consider supporting our efforts through the Summit for the Planet, HERE, or by making a contribution of any size, HERE. You can also sign up to volunteer to help rescue and transport injured wildlife, HERE

Thank you so much, Deanna

Mar 19, 2014

WES' Junior Rescuers Help Capture Injured Gull

This morning, WES received a report of a gull with line wrapped around its leg. It was seen at the end of the Santa Cruz municipal pier near the restaurants.

Lead responders Duane Titus and Rebecca Dmytryk invited Junior Rescuers, Gabe, Nate and Ben, to join them.

When the team arrived, the gull was spotted quickly. It had line wrapped around its right leg and was limping - obviously in pain.

The team decided to increase their chances of success by using a drop trap instead of a hoop net to capture the bird. 

Duane and Rebecca guided the brothers in proper rescue etiquette as they helped set up the trap and assigned them positions. Gabe (8) would be the one to pull the line and drop the trap. His brothers, Ben and Nate would work together to remove the bird from the trap and place it into a carrier.

With the trap set and Fritos crumbles scattered underneath, Dmytryk encouraged the shy bird closer by tossing a few tempting chips. Eventually, the shy bird went underneath the trap just enough. On cue, Gabe pulled the string entrapped the bird. 

Check out the video:

Ben (12) and Nate (10) assisted in removing the gull from the trap and into an awaiting carrier. The young gull was transported to a local wildlife hospital for care.

Thank you Junior Rescuers 
for helping save the gull!!!

If you'd like to support our Junior Rescuers with a donation that will be used to purchase needed supplies, equipment and expenses directly related to program, please click the special Donate button below. Thank you.

Mar 18, 2014

Update on Carmel River

From Frank Emerson, Carmel River Steelhead Association:

The storm water spill samples were analyzed for volatile organic compounds, which turned out not to be present. The next attempt to find out what as in the spill is to test for synthetic organic compounds. If we get results we will let everyone know. It is quite possible we will never find out what it was.

The system of storms that came late in our winter were not enough to recharge the aquifer. Over pumping in the dry months draws down the water table so far it takes over 10 inches of rain just to get the river flowing all the way to the Ocean. This did not happen this year. That means a "year class" will be lost. No adults can come into the river to spawn and smolts cannot migrate downriver to the Sea. Smolts are about 8 to 10 inches and will feed over the next 2 to 3 years, growing into mature adults. With two very dry years prior to this one it is likely we will have even more declines in the Steelhead population.

The good news is that San Clemente Dam is being removed and that a new water project can substitute Carmel River water with desal water and alleviate a significant amount of over pumping. And none too soon!

Sincerely Yours,

Frank Emerson


The test results for titanium - a constituent of titanium dioxide(TiO2), which is a compound used in paint, sunscreen, and polarized glasses - showed 120 micrograms per liter (or 120 parts per billion or ppb) in the water sample taken after the spill went into the river.
Information on titanium levels in seawater or freshwater and its
effect on salmonids is difficult to find, but according to the
Lenntech web site (a company based in the Netherlands), sea water contains 1 ppb and river water contains 3 ppb of titanium.
Since the sample was diluted by overnight runoff from the shopping center near Highway 1, it's likely that the level of titanium in the original contaminant material was much greater, which would lead to the conclusion that the spilled substance was likely paint
Thanks to Brian LeNeve, President of the Carmel River Steelhead
Association, for suggesting that titanium dioxide is used in paint pigment.

Titanium is considered a metal of medium toxicity by NOAA Fisheries. Very few studies in fish have examined the uptake and partitioning of TiO2 nanoparticles.  However, because salmonids can bioaccumulate metals and the lagoon can be closed for extended periods, we really don't want this type of material getting into the river environment or out into the ocean.

Although most people locally are well aware of the sensitivity of the river environment and Carmel Bay, I'd like to suggest that representatives of Monterey County RMA, CDFW, and MPWMD get together and work on identifying the drainage system where the spill came from, properties that contribute to the system and develop an outreach plan to the property owners and their tenants.  Also, this is a good opportunity to set up a protocol for responding to any future spills(i.e., identify which agencies should be contacted,   what resources are available to respond, and what precautions people should take in responding).

Larry Hampson, District Engineer
Monterey Peninsula Water Management District
P.O.  Box 85, Monterey CA 93942

Mar 16, 2014

Update on the WildHelp App

By Rebecca Dmytryk

I just returned from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association symposium in Tennessee where our WildHelp App display won Best Poster! 

While it was certainly not as scientifically revealing as competing posters, I think the crowd was excited by the new technology and how helpful the app will be.

The display was interactive, with 2 spiral bound iPhone mockups. Each page was representational of a single screen, with questions about the animal found. Check it out:

What's unique to WildHelp, and sets it apart from any other app available, is how it asks particular questions about the animal found. These questions allow us to provide the user with the most pertinent information, specific to their situation. 

For example, if the user indicates they have found a young bird, unable to fly but not noticeably injured, an alert will pop up with information on fledgling birds.

This information gathered on the type of animal also enables us to narrow the list of local experts down to just a few, instead of a long list of veterinarians, sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitators that may or may not treat the type of animal found.

WildHelp takes any guesswork out of the equation, making it simpler and faster to find help.

If you'd like to make a dedicated contribution toward the current and future development of WildHelp, we'd greatly appreciate it. Here are some options: 

Mail check to:

Wildlife Emergency Services
P. O. Box 65, Moss Landing CA 95039

Please write WildHelp in the memo section of your check.

Make a contribution online

Purchase limited edition merchandise, HERE.

Mar 3, 2014

In Appreciation

A sampling of the supplies received.

We wanted to say a special Thank You! to everyone who sent us gifts from our Amazon Wish List. Thank you, Daysha, JaneGrace, Rebecca, Michele, Kimberly, Siobhan, John, Valerie, Emilia.

We received a giant jug or Purell, Wet Ones, filters for our "skunk" masks, a mini speaker for help in reuniting wild babies, portable and reusable heating pads, and a pack of saline solution.

Thank you so, so much! This helps tremendously!

If you'd like to support our program with a purchase of needed supplies or equipment, click HERE.


Mar 2, 2014

Introducing WES' Junior Rescue Team

WES Junior Rescue Team: Kaia (7), Gabriel (8), and Ben (12) and Nathan (10).

Back in November, we held our initial meeting of WES Junior Rescuers. It was more of a social event to get acquainted. 

This afternoon, we had our first official training! 

This unique program, inspired by a young man who helped save an injured bird (story HERE), aims to teach the children valuable "hunting" skills while fostering compassion for animals - melding prowess with kindness. 

Rebecca Dmytryk, founder of WES and the team's coach, likes to think of it as introducing their Humanitarian-self with their Hunter-self.
Humans are hunter-gatherers. Underneath it all - beneath the finest fabrics, the shiniest polish, the most refined belief system, lives the hunter. It's what we do with our temperament that matters, really.  
Children are instinctively curious about nature and readily identify with animals. Here, we have an opportunity to connect them with the natural world in a deep way, empowering them with knowledge and showing them, firsthand, how they can make a difference in an animal's life, and how good that can feel.
Deanna Barth, one of the parents, had this to say:
Children learn by example, so if we want to see compassion for animals in the future, we need to start by educating our children now.  They are the future of veterinary medicine and wildlife rehabilitation. 

There is finesse to using capture equipment. WES' junior rescuers will be instructed on proper use of their tools, then, once they've achieved a certain level of skill, they'll be given the opportunity to assist in capturing ailing rock doves (pigeons) and domestic waterfowl, to start.

Today's instructional class began indoors and started out with a discussion about the team's first assignment. They'd been asked to watch two movies: Bambi, and The Three Lives of Thomasina - films that Dmytryk believes are strongly influential.
I remember these movies very, very well. Viscerally. So much that I shy away from watching them anymore. I'm sure quite a few readers will know what I mean. 
These are powerful films and they worked their magic when I was a kid - teaching the value of all living creatures, encouraging kindness, empathy, advocacy, strengthening my compassion. They don't make movies like this anymore.

Next, the team was shown training videos of certain animal capture techniques that they would be practicing outdoors, including use of a drop trap. 

Drop traps are used successfully to capture flighted birds that are shy of nets.

Outdoors, the students practiced using their capture nets, making sure to set the hoop flat so an animal cannot escape.

Then, they each practiced setting up and triggering a drop trap, and worked together to safely remove the captured animal, in this case, a duck decoy.

Congratulations to our Junior Rescuers!
You all did incredibly well!

Mar 1, 2014

Insult to Injury

Yesterday, a team of volunteers from the Carmel River Steelhead Association (CRSA) walked the Carmel River to check the flow of water. With the region under extreme draught conditions there is worry that this year the river may not run to the sea - critical to the life cycle of the threatened steelhead trout. The steelhead is the ananadromous (sea-run) form of coastal rainbow trout that usually returns to fresh water to spawn after living two to three years in the ocean. 

Without a breach to the sea and sustained water flow in the Carmel River, juvenile fish upstream will not be able to return to the ocean and adults will be prevented from moving up river to spawn. Check out this in-depth news story that explains the issue, HERE.  

Adding more trouble for the fish and other aquatic life, Frank Emerson, Vice President of CRSA, found a large spill of white substance pouring out of a storm drain and into the Carmel River near the Cabrillo Highway bridge.

Initially, the volume of white, cloudy water was extensive. Within an hour, the runoff cleared but the substance was visible in the main stem of the waterway leading into the lagoon. Larry Hampson, hydrologist for Monterey Peninsula Municipal Water District (MPMWD) was contacted - he assessed the pollution and took samples. The Office of Emergency Services was also notified.

Frank moved up the outfall to investigate the source and, to his surprise, he found a small adult steelhead trout trying to jump the barrier and swim up the storm drain. As the flow in this side channel dropped, however, the fish became stranded. 

A rescue crew from the MPMWD relocated the fish upstream.

So far, the flow in the river is not enough to run to the ocean, but the group will monitor it closely. There is fear that if the river does breach to the sea during flooding, there may not be enough to maintain a flow after the rain subsides, and fish will need to be rescued. Volunteers are on high alert.

We encourage you to support this valuable organization with a membership of $25.00, HERE, a family membership for only $45.00, HERE, or with a donation of any size, HERE.

More on CRSA efforts: