Report from Alaska: Director’s update on Kulluk response

Jay Holcomb, International Bird Rescue’s director and a senior response team member currently mobilized in the Kulluk Tow Incident near Kodiak Island, writes this update from Anchorage:

The situation with the oil rig grounded off Kodiak is a bit unusual, as it’s a “get ready and wait” kind of situation.

But we’ve done this many times before. The good news is that Shell is being very proactive by activating a core team of International Bird Rescue staff to make all the preparations required to actually respond in Kodiak, and to rehabilitate any impacted birds should a spill should occur.

Some people may not know that International Bird Rescue operates the Alaska Wildlife Response Center (AWRC) right here in Anchorage. It’s a large warehouse ready to accept up to 250 oiled birds and has the capacity to expand if necessary. Established after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the AWRC is centrally located in Anchorage so that the state has all the resources needed in order to rehabilitate large numbers of oiled birds.

In the Kulluk Tow Incident, part of our initial planning process was to develop a wildlife plan that outlines how to approach this situation given the most current information from the field. Our plan contains specifics on our field set-up, which includes:

— specific capture and assessment teams based in the field
— a stabilization site in the field (usually on a boat)
— a stabilization site in Kodiak, where birds would receive initial care prior to transport

When they are determined to be stable enough for transport, the birds would then be flown to Anchorage for rehabilitation at the AWRC. After rehabilitation, the birds would be either flown back to Kodiak or released along the coast of Alaska at sites determined by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Moving animal cages at the Alaska Wildlife Response Center. Photo by International Bird Rescue response team member Wendy Massey.

Our plan also consists of prepping the AWRC for a possible influx of oiled birds. The center is already set up for oiled bird rehab, but equipment and supplies are being double-checked and brought to full capacity. This includes the removing of non-oiled birds currently in care at this facility by the Bird Learning and Treatment Center, or Bird TLC, the local non-profit that uses our center when it’s not in use for an oil spill. Bald Eagles, Hawk Owls and ravens are a few of the species currently in residence at the AWRC, and are being moved to other facilities for temporary housing to make room for oiled birds in the event that we should receive any. Bird TLC has been our tenant for over 20 years while they move ahead with planning and funding their own center. They have rehabilitated thousands of Alaskan birds at the AWRC.

So, in situations like this, we prepare for a possible spill and hope that none occurs. The Unified Command is working at top capacity to prevent any environmental damage.