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CROW shows how to help during recent oil spill crisis

By Staff | Jun 9, 2010

When British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20th, little was known about the immediate effects it would have on wildlife. One week later, the first oiled bird was found off the coast of Louisiana. For the next two weeks, there was still minimal impact on the region’s wildlife.

But, as we are approaching mid-June, that is all changing.

Federal officials are now reporting that 604 birds have been collected, just 82 alive. They also say that 253 sea turtles have been found, with only 25 alive. So far, 29 dolphins have been found, all dead. The oil is beginning to reach the shore, the marshes, and two major pelican breeding grounds in Louisiana. Experts are now predicting thousands to tens of thousands of our wildlife neighbors could be directly harmed by this environmental catastrophe.


With this devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, several local residents have been trying to do their part to help clean the disaster.

One Fort Myers Beach resident, artist and musician Jeff Burdge was so moved by the footage, he got up off the couch and joined our local CROW’s on-call volunteer unit.

“I watched the film footage of the distressed animals on the news and was impelled to do my part to help,” he said. “I chose to volunteer to rescue seabirds that would possibly be distressed by the oil spill problem that may occur on our beach.”

Hundreds of other locals have been offering their support to the cause as well.

Unfortunately, Steve Greenstein, executive director of the Clinic for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlife, said that the federal government is only allowing those particularly certified in oil rescue to tend to the need.

“Everybody wants to help – we’ve been inundated with calls and requests to help with the spill,” he said. “There have been some agencies and organizations that have been giving some training, but all volunteers for the spill are recruited through U.S. Florida Fish and Wildlife, not CROW. They control who cleans the beaches and who rescues and cleans the wildlife. Oil is very dangerous to rescuers, which is why certification is necessary. For us (at CROW), it’s incredibly frustrating, because we know so many people want to help us.”

“Here at our facility, we have been heartened and overwhelmed by the generosity of those who have called to volunteer their services to help with the rescue and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife,” said Susan Petersen Tucker, president of CROW. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Tri-State are compiling lists of potential paraprofessional responders in our area in the event local efforts are needed.”

In order to be considered to participate in these efforts, individuals must possess (or work directly under someone possessing) an active permit, license or authorization related to the migratory bird, sea turtle or other species being handled. You must also possess a working knowledge and have at least three months experience with the protocol, procedures and hazards associated with the species.

Preference will then be given to those with hazardous materials training, OSHA training, rabies shots and extensive rescue experience. In Southwest Florida, there are more than 80 federal, state and local agencies and organizations with qualified responders on their staff. It is up to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Tri-State to assess and deploy the human resources if local rescue, rehabilitation or cleanup efforts are needed.

In other words, it is highly unlikely that any “volunteers” will be called upon to directly participate in local efforts. It is an inherently dangerous activity, the oil is considered to be a highly toxic material and for your own safety (and for the safety of the wildlife) you should avoid going to any oil-affected areas and handling wildlife in distress.

Greenstein also said they’ve been having to turn away funds that people wish to directly make to the oil spill clean-up.

“It’s also incredibly frustrating having to turn down funds that people want to directly go to the oil spill clean-up, because the feds are telling all agencies not to accept them,” he continued. “They say that BP made the mess and they’re responsible for cleaning it up.”

If not certified in oil clean up but still want to do your part to help, you’re in luck. Because CROW is lending its facilities to the feds if they need it, as a member of the local joint response team, regularly certified staff members of the volunteer organization will be on-call with the oil mess (that is to say, if the spill makes it as far southwest as Southwest Florida).

With that, volunteers will be needed to help with everyday duties at the facility, from feeding the animals and cleaning the cages to answering the phones, etc.

“Our potential call to duty to help oiled wildlife significantly threatens our existing daily operations, and having these new volunteers to help us with basic patient care, food preparation, feedings, tortoise grazing, cage cleaning, laundry and even helping to answer our telephone hotline has made a tremendous difference for CROW,” Susan said. “We are open seven days a week, 365 days a year, treat over 200 species and nearly 4,500 patients a year and are always close to full capacity. We are still looking for additional volunteers who are seeking a memorable and meaningful experience, and any additional help would be wonderful.”

“It would be very, very helpful for us, so CROW staff members can be on-call for oil rescue,” Steve said. “We can have over 200 patients at our facility at any given time, and any help we could get is always wonderful.”

The State of Florida also has created its own program for volunteers (VolunteerFlorida.org) to fill a variety of needs (you must be at least 18 to register). Governor Crist has also activated a toll-free hotline (1-888-337-3569) to answer questions about volunteer opportunities and the state’s response activities.

To be an on-call volunteer like Jeff Burdge and the many other locals, to become a member of the CROW organization, to make a donation, or for more information, call CROW at 472-3644 ext. 6 or visit www.CROWClinic.org.

“For over 40 years, thanks to people like you, CROW has worked tirelessly to give wildlife a voice and to give people hope for their future,” Susan concluded. “Together, let’s hope and pray for the future of those who are now seeing their world through oil-soaked eyes and let’s give them a voice in the midst of this tragedy. Thank you for your continued support!"