From the LABIRD Listserv at LSU

Jun 10, 2010 | Birding

Taken from post on LABIRD, written by Sandra Barbier

I attended one of BP’s joint information events Tuesday evening (June 8th) in Belle Chasse to ask questions concerning bird and wildlife rescue, and I would like to relay some of the information I got. These meetings are public. By way of introduction, I’m new to LABIRD, a back-yard birder and a recently retired news reporter. What I hope to do is spur some sort of action that results in rescuing more birds, turtles, dolphins and anything else that can be rescued, notwithstanding the maximum effort being made by so many doing this work at this time

My opinion is that, like the cleanup, it is urgent to have more people and more resources put to the task and that BP should pay for them. Regarding why there is only one bird rehabilitation site in Louisiana and none at Grand Isle at the mouth of the Barataria estuary, I was told by an individual introduced as the director of bird rehabilitation, that plans are to relocate the bird rehab center in Fort Jackson to the state wildlife and fisheries complex at Grand Isle in a couple of days. Presently there is a “triage” site at Grand Isle, and after the relocation, plans are to downgrade Fort Jackson to a triage operation.

I was told there are discussions about eventually moving the rehab operation out of the hurricane zone, possibly closer to Baton Rouge, to avoid having to evacuate recovering birds in advance of a hurricane. The director said moving birds in an evacuation would be dangerously stressful to them. I failed to ask what would be the impact of routinely moving “triaged” birds that distance, and how they would be transported.

The director was pleased to tell me that they are getting two new washing tables. I don’t know how many tables there are now, but it appears to me several more are needed. Many of us probably noted the photograph of a pen with about 17 oiled pelicans waiting their turn to be washed during the Saints’ tour of the site Tuesday, which to me suggests a serious shortage of resources.

The rehab director is a lady named Rhonda Murgatroyd. She was hired by BP and heads a company, Wildlife Response Services LLC, based in Seabrook, TX. According to its Web site, the company was formed in 2006 and has worked on at least four spills in Texas and Louisiana. Its services also include training spill responders for companies and agencies, the site says.

The two – what I consider major – oiled bird response organizations, Tri-State Bird Rescue and International Bird Rescue Research Center, are participating at the rehab site but I don’t know if they share a leadership role. I was disturbed when Ms. Murgatroyd said a proposal to increase the number of Tri-State responders was quashed by locals in favor of employing local people. As an aside, I’d like to say that I hope this attitude changes as this crisis and the need for help continue. I debated publicizing this rare inside look at operations, since it is likely that BP, if it takes any notice of my blog, will further restrain information being released to the public about the spill, but I feel strongly that BP’s censorhip needs to stop. I also talked to Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Coast Guard representatives about wildlife rescue efforts and cleanup around the nesting colonies. When I asked why wildlife agency officers from other states aren’t helping capture oiled birds, since that activity seems to demand a trained professional, a LDWF representative assured me there are adequate numbers of rescuers for now and that out-of-state helpers are ready and waiting for when they are needed. I also asked something that has nagged me for weeks, why the birds weren’t and aren’t frightened away from oiled marsh. He said first, its questionable where they could go to that is safe; that they would persist in returning to the same site, and that it would disrupt nesting, which began in December among brown pelicans.

Regarding NOAA, I asked if there were any vessels capable of, and attempting to, rescue distressed dolphins. The answer was no. One NOAA representative added that dolphins would not survive the stress of capture. NOAA is doing surveys of dolphins and turtles using boats and aircraft, and spotters sometimes direct rescuers to turtles. Sightings of distressed dolphins are supposed to be reported to BP’s main oiled wildlife number, which is manned at the Fort Jackson rehab station. A NOAA representative was good enough to get for me a number for the marine mammal stranding network for Louisiana, which I was told is based at Audubon Zoo and has a 24-hour number, 504-235-3005. Calls for oiled mammals will be relayed to the rehab site, he said.

Regarding cleanup of oil around islands with nesting birds, I seemed to be at cross-purposes with a Coast Guard representative who had worked at Cat Island all day the day before and who said the delimma was figuring a way to pick up such a small quantity of oil as was occuring at the time at Cat Island. He described small skimmers that can be placed on john boats, but he said skimmers are harder to get because of competition from other Gulf states. He said vacuums were truck-mounted, so apparently not feasible, but in my opinion, Gov. Jindal and the La. National Guard showed in news reports on CNN Wednesday that vacuuming the sludge is a viable option in places like the shoreline of Queen Bess. The vacuums in the demonstration were on barges.

I will not burden LABIRD readers with too many more of my personal opinions about all this. We all have plenty of those. I would encourage you to attend the informational forums and ask questions. There are plenty more to ask and I, for one, would appreciate knowing what others are being told. I remain convinced that we need more people and resources protecting and rescuing wildlife, with good leadership and with the animals as the focus of the effort, not political considerations. From a practical, legal and moral standpoint, we should demand that cost is not an issue. Thank you for indulging me with your attention. Sandra Barbier

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