Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chicken Little was Right

In his definitive work The Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold warned that the greatest tragedy in learning about the natural world is never again being able to turn a blind and ignorant eye to the damage being done to it. Being a typical bleeding heart and a wildlife biologist with an almost unhealthy attachment to the brown pelican, wetlands/marshlands habitat and the Florida Keys in general, this has been kind of a tough week emotionally. The Deep Horizon oilcano continues to spew unabated as I type this entry, Tipton County is still a disaster area due to the flooding, and I've been feeling helpless. 

A few days ago as we finally began to dig out of the muck as a community, Michael and I put our zombie squad hats on and went out to help as best we could with whatever resources we had. It did wonders to help us both feel better. But even with this, the gulf crisis loomed in the back of my mind. Since I'd felt a little better helping out in my own hometown, I thought, why not volunteer for wildlife rescue/recovery efforts in the Gulf? I discussed it with Michael, who supported the idea wholeheartedly. Rejuvenated, I began researching how to proceed.

Here I sit, 48 hour later, dumbfounded. Though I don't know why I should be. I can describe the cleanup/rescue effort in one word. Clusterfuck.

According to my research OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires anyone working in an oil spill area to have Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certification. This class training is expensive (around $350.00), and no funding is available to pay for volunteers to take the classes. But the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is coordinating the rescue/recovery of wildlife affected by the spill along with the Tri State Bird Rescue, makes no mention of this certification on their application for professionals volunteering their services. Instead, they stress the 4 hour HAZCOM certification. Did that mean they are accepting just HAZCOM, which is cheaper and quicker to get, or do we need both to satisfy both agencies? Just to be sure, I thought I should get clarification. I got the phone number for the BP/Horizon National Volunteer Information Hotline from USFWS thinking that would be the best way to clear up the confusion. Boy was I ever wrong.

You'd think they'd have, oh I dunno, information about volunteering requirements, being the national volunteer information hotline and all.  I mean, is it too hard to give someone a FAQ worksheet to read from? If I’m the first person to ask "What are the requirements towards volunteering" then we really are in trouble. The woman could only say "you have to be certified to work with the wildlife."

"Well that's fine," I said. "I just need to know what certifications I need specifically so that I can go ahead and get started on training. That way I'll be ready to respond quickly if and when the time comes."

I could almost smell the smoke coming out of her brain through the phone line. She had NO IDEA what certification actually meant.  I tried to clarify by saying "Well, do you mean we need a state sanctioned wildlife rehab license, or maybe OSHA certification for working with hazardous materials? Anything like that?" She put me on hold for about five minutes and when she came back, she still couldn't answer. She just said "They said to tell you that you need to be certified first."

And THIS is the BP/Horizons info hotline on how to volunteer. The NATIONAL one. Sigh. We are doomed.

Anyway, I left a message for them to call me back with a list of certifications they need us to have so that I and others could at least get started on training so that we can be ready to respond quickly. She must have thought I was from Mars to be thinking that far ahead. But seriously, it seems silly to be sitting here on my thumbs and my framed Wildlife and Fisheries degree coupled with over 20 years of husbandry experience from red legged taratulas to red pandas to camels, a willingness to pay for my own certifications and still be considered unqualified to bathe a bird in dishwashing liquid when the worst oilcano in our nation's history is looming. But hey, that's just me.

I did do a bit of research on my own (imagine that BP, people who can LOOK STUFF UP. What a concept!) HAZWOPER certification classes are very expensive and there is no funding available to pay for them. A person on their own will have to come up with around $350 for that one certification alone or to try and find a group discount situation.  What was that again about BP footing the bill for volunteers? Must have lost the memo on that. 

Know what I think? I think Chicken Little is now running around shrieking "I told you so! I told you so!" Only this time he's covered in oil and there's no one to help him get it off. All the volunteers are still waiting for the next certification class.


  1. Claire,
    I'm going to email you a name of a friend of mine who does this type of thing. She might have answers for your questions. She may be difficult to reach, though, because she's helping clean up animals in Dyer Co. But, just keep trying, you'll eventually get her.

  2. Thanks Kathy, I've emailed her. I'm sure it will take her some time to get back, and that's no problem. I've found training in Dade Co Florida on the 16th for oiled wildlife responder, and now all I need is HAZWOPER. Classes are available online but the vet at Dade told me that it wouldn't give me the cert I need for hands-on wildlife cleanup. So I'm going to wait until I can find exactly what I need first.