Friday, July 30, 2010

What a difference a few weeks make

I realize it's been awhile yet again since I updated the blog. The truth of the matter is, I was in a self-imposed news blackout for my own sanity's sake. Rather than focus on the continued success of BP's efforts to cut their losses through stonewalling, obfuscations and destruction of evidence, I decided to give up my attempt to volunteer and instead concentrate on my own little corner of the world at Cluck n Neigh Farm. At least here is a small corner in the world where my efforts can and do make a difference in the lives of the animals I work with and the families I feed.

To be honest, I never expected to even have a cause or chance to even continue the blog. I assumed my attempts to be involved in the oiltastrophe would prove to be a complete dead end and hence I would have nothing of merit to add to the discussion. However, with a few reality TV episodes and a little creative thinking, things may have turned around a bit for the kid.

Recently my husband and I were watching our only reality show indulgence known as Whale Wars. It features an organization known as the Sea Shepherds, who fight bravely (albeit often recklessly) against the Japanese whaling fleet who brutally kill ridiculously large numbers of whales of varying species in the name of "research." The Sea Shepherds contend that the number of kills (including highly endangered species) and the fact that the very same whale meat "somehow" ends up on sushi tables at prices that would make Donald Trump hesitate to sample is proof that this is activity goes far beyond "research." I agree with their contention, and though I often find myself wincing at some of their more foolhardy moves I support them wholeheartedly in their willingness to do whatever it takes to raise awareness to this continuing assault upon one of our planet's most revered and vulnerable animals. It is this awareness that I believe will finally put an end to commercial (oh...right...research) whaling.

While we were watching footage of the Ady Gil being rammed and destroyed by the Japanese vessel Sonan Maru 2,  Michael was doing some web browsing for the latest updates from the Sea Shepherds. He discovered Operation Gulf Rescue, the newest campaign of the group. Being the incredibly supportive hubby he is, Michael said "You should go, Claire."

Within a few minutes I had made up my mind and started the process. Since then I've been in contact with the fine folks involved in the crew recruitment process, and was almost immediately encouraged by the response. In the most recent email I was informed that my inquiry email had been passed up to the CEO of the organization, and was asked if I'd possibly be available to set out within two weeks. I am extremely encouraged by that. All that remains is for them to get my "official" paperwork that I'm overnighting tomorrow and hope for the final approval. So, keep your fingers crossed for me! I think in the long run this organization is a much better fit for me anyway, and vice versa. Obviously going through the "proper" channels resulted in no progress whatsoever, so if I really do want to get involved it's time to stop being so timid and get involved. I hope to have another update soon.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New video update

There hasn't been much for me to update on, as I have not yet received a call and don't expect to anytime soon. But I did have a timely experience to share with you concerning the criticisms people have given over having to be trained to work in oiled wildlife response. "How hard can it be" is the question I most often hear. So I made a little video of my experience the other day and thought I'd share.

Claire's chicken assault.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hate to say "I told you so..."

No, that's not true. I TOLD YOU SO!

As I've been watching the horrific images coming out of the gulf, I've maintained a strong suspicion that BP has been deliberately keeping independent groups out of the spill area not for safety, but to prevent the American public from seeing just how horrible the oilcano is. I also thought they were attempting to give mother nature time to wash and rot away the piling corpses of wildlife in an attempt to avoid the fines. My complaints have fallen on deaf ears. So here I sit, trained and ready to respond. And sit. And sit.

Now I know why. The NY Daily News lucked upon a lone whistle blower. The first of many to come, I'm sure. The article is called Dying, dead marine wildlife paint dark, morbid picture of Gulf Coast following oil spill. Enjoy. 

From the media and various responding organizations, there are two responses I've gotten as I've offered (begged is more like it) to help.

  1. Thank you so much for your offer to help during this crisis. We have been so overwhelmed by the response that we have not yet gotten to everyone, but we assure you we will contact you as soon as possible.  How long does it take for you to contact me, considering that I contacted all of you, from BP/Deepwater Horizon Response to local organizations, the day the lines went up? Shouldn't my number be somewhere towards the top of that list? Or if you go alphabetically, have you not gotten to the "C's" yet? Did you really have millions upon millions respond in that one day? Not to mention the fact that I did not register for general clean up because it is my understanding that locals are being hired first (and rightfully so), rather, I signed up for a very specialized area of work that I seriously doubt you had such an overwhelming response on day one. Or did you? If so, WHY ARE THEY NOT THERE YET???
  2. Thank you for your concern in protecting wildlife. Currently we have all the volunteers we need, as not many animals have yet been affected. As soon as they are, we will contact you. This is unfortunately not all that untrue. Most of the animals affected by the spill die before ever reaching land, their bodies sinking below the surface. Others, such as the ones depicted in this now infamous series of photos, have almost no chance of survival. If you look closely on those photos you will see the nares (nostrils) of all of those birds was occluded by oil. In other words, they were suffocating even as those photos were taken. But then again, perhaps more wildlife would be brought to the centers in time if they were captured earlier. That begs the question why are there not teams of wildlife professionals combing the area 24-7? There are plenty of us just waiting to do that. Have crates, will travel. WHY ARE THEY NOT THERE YET?
I know that the responding organizations are doing their level best given the information they are getting from BP. I know they are following ICS protocols, and that there is a very real need for an organized response. These things I realize. But in light of the article and word from boots on the ground, is it really wise for us to continue to allow the company behind this disaster (and culpable for it) to be in charge of the response? REALLY??? Certainly they need to be involved in getting this thing shut down, because frankly no one else has the tech to do it. For that matter, they might not either. But they are our last best hope.

Not so for the people and animals and habitat already being affected by the disaster. BP shouldn't even be allowed to step foot on our shores, let alone be in charge of the cover up...uh...I mean clean up efforts. We should take control of this area of the disaster and send BP a bill. Otherwise more will die as BP continues to obfuscate and cover up, hoping the very sea they have destroyed will wash the evidence (bodies) back out to into the depths so that they can avoid the further deterioration of their ruined corporate image and ameliorate the fines they are soon going to pay. This has gone beyond greed, beyond incompetence, beyond disaster.

This is evil.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Well, then. Allow me to retort...

There have been quite a few interesting theories about what's behind the oilcano, many of them involving some sort of sinister plot on the part of environmentalists and socialists to destroy the American way of life by deliberately sabotaging the Deep Horizon rig in order to turn the tide of public opinion against "big oil." Honestly, those don't really even deserve a response.

What does deserve a response however, is the comments I have received along the lines of "you worry too much," or "this damage is going to be light." One person even said that since oil is a product of the earth, there is actually no need for concern at all. I'll keep that in mind as I make my lunch. Care to join me in a nightshade salad? I make mine with extra arsenic dressing. Hey, it's all natural, so it can't be harmful.

Okay, all smartassitude aside. As I am fond of saying, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, they are not entitled to their own facts. Insisting that the fire will not burn you as you put your hand in the fire will not keep it from being burned. That's not a matter of opinion, it's just a fact. The damage caused by an oil spill on an ecosystem is well documented, well researched and proven. It doesn't matter that you don't like the answer, the answer is still the same.

Petroleum products (crude, refined, weathered or fresh) released into an environment cause massive, long term damage to quite literally everything it comes in contact with. There is a great deal empirical data and research to prove this fact. Obviously I cannot go into the extensive detail of every single study, so I'll hit the highlights. I invite you to do your own research if you are so inclined.  

Effects of Oil on Wildlife
To an oiled animal, there are myriad short and long term damages incurred. The precise mechanism of injury and/or fatality varies by species. I will break it down from the smallest to largest of animals in the trophic level in hopes that you might be able to understand why this is  a big deal, and we should all be worried.  Anyone thinking this is a short term problem that will not directly affect them is quite simply ignorant. Here's why. 

In the case of zooplankton, death. Why should we care about a bunch of tiny critters we can't even see? How about the fact (notice how I slip that pesky F word in there) that zooplankton is a major food source of many of the other animals of the sea either directly and indirectly. A loss of this food source will result in mass starvation, spreading all throughout the food web and going all the way to the tippy top of the apex predator (including human beings). Phytoplankton has been shown to increase photosynthesis rate and algal blooms (#13 of definition, found here) result. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) can cause problems ranging from pushing other species out due to sheer biomass to forming a toxic soup of ick. (that's the scientific terminology, of course). When animals eat contaminated algae or other organisms affected by this algae, the toxin builds up in their tissues and is passed on to the next animal that eats them. In addition, HAB molecules are very stable and are not broken down when cooked or preserved. Additionally, many toxins have a cumulative effect, ensuring the largest doses go into the system of the apex predator (again, that includes us). Who's for grouper tonight? Source

Some fish avoid oil, while others are attracted to it and may actually feed upon it. Depending on where a spill is located in relation to nesting grounds, fish eggs and fish fry (fish babies, not church socials) can be wiped out in a single spill. Once again, the animals (including humans) feeding upon them have lost another food source.Adult fishes suffer any combination of effects, from loss of fertility to death by asphyxiation.

Now we move on to those heartbreaking images that many now associate with oil spills. The charismatic megafauna.

  • Hypothermia. The bird loses there ability to retain heat and will freeze to death even on a hot summer day. This is the number one cause of mortality.
  • Predation: Because it cannot fly and becomes obsessed with preening, it is easy prey for predators
  • Starvation/dehydration: Due to obsessive preening, the bird stops foraging/hunting for food and simply starves to death. Additionally the metabolism is increased in an attempt to keep the body warm, so the rate of starvation/dehydration is increased.
  • Drowning due to loss of buoyancy of oil coated feathers.
  • Internal damage: While preening, birds accidentally ingest oil. This causes ulceration of the digestive system. While not immediately fatal, an untreated bird can bleed to death internally, starve, or a combination of the two. However, most birds have already died of hypothermia before they get to this point.

1/10th of one drop of oil destroys a developing embryo.  Thus, an entire nest will be wiped out if an oiled parent should return to the nest. Considering that hurricane season begins in 2 days, what if one good storm goes through the LA area and pushes oil over the nesting areas? The instant loss of an entire generation of a species, some of which are endangered to begin with. The same is true for sea turtle eggs. Though considering they are currently swimming directly through the spill itself in order to lay their eggs, and are known to ingest oil, I'd say that's the least of their worries.

Marine Mammals:
While the immediate effects of oiling are not as severe or commonly fatal, this can lead one to a false sense of security that the animal is  unaffected. However, mammals are indeed affected. Short term effects include:
  • Pneumonia from inspiration of oil as they surface through the slick to breathe
  • Blindness due to eye infections
  • Ulcers due to ingestion of contaminated prey
  • Starvation as their prey dies off due to the effects of the oil
  • Drowning due to flippers sticking to the body (Pinnipeds, aka seals, sea lions...obviously not an issue in the Gulf of Mexico, but worth mentioning)
  • Starvation: Dugongs suffer inflammation and infection of the sensitive areas around their mouths and noses, resulting in reduced feeding. This could be an indicator of the effects of oil on the  manatee.
  • Abandonment: Pups and parents recognize one another by scent. Therefore Oiled pups and parents cannot find each other. Parent abandon their young, which then starve to death or are victims of predation. Again, not much of an issue in this region, but still worth mentioning.
  • Loss of reproductive viability (infertility) due to the ingestion of contaminated prey causing subsequent hormonal imbalances. Because the animals we are talking about here (whales, dolphins etc) have a slower reproductive rate and are long lived, these effects are often not discovered until years later. Case in point: Two orca (Orcinus orca, commonly called killer whales) pods living around Prince William Sound (where the Valdez spill happened) have been followed by scientists ever since the event. One of the pods has lost every single female, thus ensuring the demise of the entire group. The other pod has lost 40% of its members. Whether or not this is due to the spill is debated. Industry employed scientist do not believe it is a result of the spill, whereas most independent scientists do believe it is at least one factor. 
If this isn't enough to convince you that the damage of this catastrophe is going to be significant, I offer the following example. The Exxon Valdez spill is the most studied industrial accident of its kind. Despite Exxon's insistence they completed the cleanup of the area, over twenty years later National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chemists have reported oil in Prince William Sound. Sampling showed everything from weathered (broken down due to exposure to environmental factors) to fresh (not yet broken down by the elements) oil present. Rate of decay was determined to be 4 %. In other words, oil residue will persist in Prince William Sound for at least a century and every plant or animal that comes in contact with it will suffer the same problems above throughout that time. Let me repeat that. The ecosystem of Prince William Sound will continue to be affected and damaged by the Exxon Valdez oil spill for at least a century to come.  Additionally, studies have shown that wildlife populations from fish to orca have not recovered in that area. Exxon scientists insist that this is unrelated to the oil spill. Most independent researchers disagree. Most likely it is a combination of several factors, but one cannot discount the ongoing presence of oil as at least one factor.

Though Prince William Sound is beautiful and important as a fishery, compare that with the Gulf of Mexico which is about as close to the birthplace of the food web itself on this planet and maybe then you'll get an idea of why I am increasingly concerned. Regardless of your or my opinion on the matter, the fact remains that we will be dealing with this catastrophe for decades to come. Why do I say decades? For the simple fact (not opinion...fact) that Prince William Sound is still full of oil after an oil giant declared the area clean and we chose to believe them. So please spare me your "you worry too much, everything will be fine" talks. I sincerely hope one day you'll be able to look at me and say "I told you so." But don't hold your breath, because I sure won't.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Heroes Wanted: How You Can Help in the Gulf

Now that I've gotten back from training and am awaiting assignment, I have heard a lot of discussion along the lines of "what can I do to help." I thought I'd send a few suggestions out there to get your creative juices going. Remember, even if you can't actually go to the gulf you can still be a valuable asset to our efforts to save the gulf region. 

For those of you who want to go to the gulf to assist in the clean up, my advice for you now is stay home. As I said before in my video log, the people in that region have been out of work for some time and, as is the case with many in the construction, fishing or tourist industries, will most likely will be out of work for a long time to come. Because BP is paying shore clean up crews (yet they still call them volunteers, causing great confusion among the general public), those positions are highly sought after. There have been rumors of fights breaking out while people wait in line for BPs required training as anxious out of work people compete for seats. Believe me when I say they do not appreciate outsiders coming in no matter how good their intentions may be. Several people were far from friendly when I first entered the class, but once they realized I was there for a very specific job that would not interfere with any of their opportunities for employment they warmed right up. Several of them shared their fears and frustrations about outsiders coming in for those precious few jobs, and it was really heart wrenching to see the hopelessness in their eyes. Please, if you are not from the region, stay home.

That's not to say you won't be needed eventually, and there's nothing you can do to help. Train now. Be ready for the time you may be needed. Turnover for this kind of work is extremely high. Some have not lasted through the first day. Of course, keep that in mind for yourself as well. If you cannot stand putting your summer thermostat above 75, this is not the work for you. Put a few garbage bags on and go stand out in your yard for a few minutes in the sun. That might give you an idea of what volunteering for oil cleanup might be like!

Warning aside, if you are still not dissuaded in your quest to help in person it's time to get trained. In order to respond to this spill, you must attend a class called MS-252 Module 3. This is BP specific HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials) training. You will not be granted access to any site without this training. This training is for this specific incident only, and it does not count towards training in any other spill. In other words, unless you intend on working this specific incident only you are wasting your time. Classes are (as far as I know) only in the gulf region, so you will have to travel there in order to get it. In my humble opinion, it was a waste of a day. It was laughably simplistic. But I had to have it in order to work this spill, so 'nuff said. I pinched my nose and swallowed a dose of "duh" and went.

To find out more on when classes are scheduled, you first have to register with the BP/Horizon Response Hotline. It is an exercise in patience, to say the least. But do this first so they have a record of your interest. Then visit the links on that page and volunteer in each individual state. Next go to PEC Premier Safety Management, the company contracted by BP to conduct all training classes. Email your intent to register there.

Beyond that, there are many ways you can get the other training necessary to work not only in this spill, but for the future ones, since we all know this will happen again. Oh sure, the government promises to make sure it doesn't. Pardon me while I sneeze something that sounds suspiciously like "bullshit" and get on with training for it anyway. Here's what you'll need for any oil spill.

ICS 100, 200 and 700. Frankly, everyone in the country should have this training. It is available free online through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). ICS stands for Incident Command System. It is the system of coordinating and communicating with multiple agencies during an incident of any size and scope that could potentially cause harm to life, property or the environment. Everything from a parade to an oilcano is covered here.

HAZWOPER: Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response. The more training you have, the greater the access you will have. Courses are available online (though they are neither easy nor free),  but you can sometimes find them through your workplace or through local OSHA contacts. Start there so you will be sure to find a legit source. I am getting mine online through a company called 360 Training.

Oiled Wildlife Response: If you are a wildlife professional or paraprofessional, this is the training necessary to aid in the capture/confinement/decontamination process of oiled wildlife. There are classes available through wildlife rehabilitation centers across the country in coastal areas. The organization Tristate Bird Rescue & Research is the organization contracted by BP to coordinate the wildlife response aspect of this spill along with International Bird Rescue Research Center and US Fish & Wildlife. However, they cautioned me that there is no training available at present in their center for this particular spill, because as of now all their trainers are actually deployed and working in the gulf region. So if you are not already trained, the best thing to do is wait until things calm down a bit and get training when the normal schedule resumes. In the meantime you can get training in general wildlife handling by volunteering at your local wildlife rehab centers, especially those that involve raptors or other large birds.

As I said before, even if you can go to the gulf in person, you can be just as (if not more) helpful in other ways. You are only limited by your creativity and your imagination. Just a few ideas:
  1. If you have a coworker who is trained and would like to go help, get a group of your coworkers to volunteer to cover shifts
  2. Sponsor a volunteer with gift certificates for travel accommodations, gas, food etc.
  3. Volunteer at your local wildlife rehab center so that you can help free up a trained rehabilitator go with confidence that their charges at home will still be looked after. For wildlife enthusiasts this is a win/win/win. The rehabber gets to go, you get some animal husbandry training under your belt, and the critters get the care they need.
  4. Monetary donations. Due most likely to a slumping economy and donor fatigue from all the other disasters going on this year, donations to relief organizations have been extremely low. Finding an organization that can use your financial help is probably the biggest thing you can do to help the people ravaged by this event.  Food banks in the area are swamped with new clients and so many jobs have been lost in one fell swoop.  Some places have seen a 25% increase in requests for assistance in just one month.
Better yet, rather than run around like chickens with our heads cut off after a disaster has occurred, why not just be ready? Never underestimate the value of training ahead of time. If your area is prone to devastating storms, how about training to be a Red Cross shelter volunteer? If flooding is a problem in your hometown and you have a boat, what about training to assist in rescue efforts? Concerned about animals suffering in the wake of disaster? Might be a good idea to contact your local Humane Society and learn more about their volunteer programs.

Bottom line is, everyone can help in some way in any situation. Our only limitations are that of our imagination and creativity.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Now comes the hard part.

Ever hear the old saying "the waiting is the hardest part?" Well, I can certainly agree. Training is now complete and I'm ready for "the call." I have no idea where I will go, when I will go, or even if I will go to be a part of the effort to save the gulf some of the most helpless victims of the BP oilcano. Watching this catastrophe unfold in the news is beyond heartbreaking, it is infuriating. I want someone to go to prison for this. Not just country club prison, but real, honest to goodness prison.

Because I can only speak on the wildlife aspect of this oiltastrophe with anything even approaching knowledge, I will continue to stick with what I know. 

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was created with the purpose of protecting migratory birds from capture, kill, transport or any other removal from their native habitat for any purpose. It created federal prohibition (unless given specific permits) to "pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird..." It was amended in 1960 to include criminal and punitive measures for violations. Each violation would result in a fine not to exceed $2000 (later amended again to total $15,000) and possible jail time of not more than six months. On the surface this might not seem like a big deal. Wow, fifteen thousand bucks and six months of jail for such a huge catastrophe? Well, that's until you really understand the law. By "each violation" they are not talking about each incident in terms of the entire event. They are talking about each individual animal affected by the event.

Mind you, that's not even talking about Endangered Species. Specifically concerning corporations the fines for the kill or harm of an endangered species from $200,000 to $500,000. Again, that's for each individual animal.

I can only hope that there will be criminal charges brought against those responsible if/when they are ever brought to light. I remain cynical, however.  In the meantime, I sit and wait for the phone call that may or may not come.

For the oiled marshes of Southern Louisiana, it is most likely already too late. We can hope to rescue a few animals here and there and move them to a new habitat should they survive their ordeal, but this is only if there should be any habitat left and there are no guarantees of even that small miracle. We are in a race against time, and BP has deliberately slowed the effort down in the failed attempt to save face/money/their collective asses. Sadly, our federal government has allowed them to do so. I've heard people say that this is Obama's Katrina, or his 9/11. I disagree. This is something far worse. Katrina and 9/11 will pale in comparison to the destruction we are most likely to experience here, and we have brought it all upon ourselves.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Allow me a tiny bought of laziness

I promise I am currently formulating an actually thought-out blog entry and will put it up sometime tonight or tomorrow morning. In the meantime, here are a few video links telling the story as it unfolded.

Day 1: Arrived in Waveland MS. First impressions.
Day 2: First day in Waveland before training. Yet more confusion on training. I was barely holding my temper at that point, but I did my best!
Day 2: A drive through the beach front properties of Waveland. Shocking.
Day 2: I was completely speechless when I was told by a class member that he believed President Obama blew up the oil rig. Really? Really? You believe that? REALLY?!?!?!
After much deliberation on how to respond to this latest conspiracy theory, I offer one of my own. It may be just as tin hat, but it seems at least a tiny bit more logical, and there's even real facts involved. See how that works, people? You may be entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own fact. Just sayin.

Still have more to upload, but it's a tad slow. More to come in a few hours. For now I'm off to a nice nonoil spilled related visit with a college buddies I've not seen in yeeeeers. Then it's up early (even by chicken standards) to hit the road for a nice leisurely 15 and a half hour drive. All I can say is, thank goodness for the iPod Touch with its freshly downloaded Christopher Moore collection, and thank you Michael for hooking me up with it!