Two locations in Plumas County were selected for the oil spill training exercise; this one at the Plumas Sierra County Fairgrounds and a mobile command post near Spanish Creek.

Oil spill preparedness training focuses on Feather River region

Andrea Muenter, left, of Pacific Wildlife Care Center in Morro Bay, and Leah Critchfield of North Valley Animal Disaster Group prepare a “bird” for intake and treatment. Photos submitted

An oil spill drill was conducted on the Feather River as part of a readiness exercise to help wildlife response teams prepare for the aftermath of a potential train derailment Tuesday, March 21.

Responders staged a mobile command post near the banks of the river at Spanish Creek Campground, and at the Plumas County Fairgrounds, where a full-scale rehabilitation unit was set up. The large tents can be set up in about an hour and are equipped to wash birds and mammals and even treat them for injuries requiring intensive care.

California is unique in that it maintains a statewide network of wildlife rehabilitation organizations, which collectively makes up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

The OWCN is managed by the University of California, Davis, on behalf of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

Sixteen of OWCN’s more than 40 network organizations participated in Tuesday’s drill, including local organizations Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, and North Valley Animal Disaster Group.

“These exercises have traditionally been conducted in marine environments to help members of our network be prepared for a real incident,” said Dr. Michael Ziccardi, a veterinarian who serves as director of the OWCN. “But this is our first substantial inland oil spill drill. It’s been a great opportunity to let responders tackle the challenges that would stem from a river response.”

OWCN was created by state legislation in the early 1990s in response to large oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska and the American Trader tanker spill in Orange County. Funding comes from the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, which imposes a fee on every barrel of oil that comes into state refineries.

“If you see these groups in action, it’s clear California has it down when it comes to oiled wildlife response and care,” said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Eric Laughlin.