Expanding oil development and global transportation of oil has greatly increased the potential for impact on wildlife. This paper will focus on key elements for developing a wildlife response plan as an integral part of an overall spill response plan and will delineate how a well planned and organized wildlife response can be cost effective, can substantially increase the likelihood of saving animals, and can increase regional response capacity.
A Wildlife Response Plan as an integral component of an overall spill plan includes professional oiled wildlife responders; current and effective oiled wildlife protocols; knowledge and understanding of standard oil spill response plans, wildlife risk assessments, background information on both the geographic area the plan covers and baseline data on wildlife in the area; and promotes a clear strategy with realistic goals for wildlife response. Just as with an overall spill response plan, a wildlife plan must incorporate safety as an overarching theme and have an action plan including notification systems and action cards showing an overview of each positions responsibilities and decision-making keys.
The incorporation of the wildlife response team under the Incident Management (whether an Incident Command System is being used or some other management structure) is critical to the success of any wildlife response because it increases information and resources available to the wildlife group and provides for increased communications between the management team and the wildlife group. In addition, pre-planning for an animal event allows for equipment and other resource procurement prior to spill time. Having a plan that calls for activation and integration of a professional, trained and experienced animal care team into response objectives and activities provides for the care of impacted animals and allows for the most efficient and effective response without the duplication of effort and wasted resources. A professional animal management team with experience in triage and emergency management can make time critical decisions which will allow for the best care for the most animals, thus limiting net wildlife impacts from a spill.
Once a wildlife response plan is developed, training to the plan and participating in regular exercises is critical to the success of the plan, just as with all other areas of spill response specialization. Pre-planning for oiled wildlife response - including the use of knowledgeable and trained professionals - greatly increases the likelihood of success of this increasingly visible aspect of oil spill response.
Outside of the United States and a few other countries, oiled wildlife has historically not been included as part of spill response for many reasons. Some of those reasons include financial constraints, lack of experienced and trained personnel, and relative unlikelihood of success. In the past, with little pre-planning, few resources for oiled wildlife response, and no clear mandate to respond, oiled wildlife have ended up being at the mercy of well-meaning but often misguided attempts by volunteers and others to treat them. Too often, these efforts have resulted in failure and, ultimately, merely prolonged the suffering of the impacted animals. As with any part of spill response operations, wildlife response can only be successful when properly planned for and resourced.
In recent years, it has become evident that with strong preplanning, trained personnel, equipment and other resources, oiled wildlife response can be successful, cost effective, and can pave the way for saving world populations of threatened or endangered animals.
Today, there are excellent examples of oiled wildlife response plans which are integral components of overall oil spill plans and include wildlife risk assessments, management structures, access to trained personnel and equipment stockpiles, as well as familiarity with current and effective protocols for treating animals. These plans are dynamic and integrated into the safety and work culture of the plan holders and allow for on-going training of personnel to the plan. Additionally, a strong wildlife response plan will provide for pro-active and immediate action with regard to oiled wildlife which results in greatly increased overall spill response success.