Baykeeper Update

Baykeeper Sponsors Bill to Protect Wildlife from Oil Spills

Birds and other wildlife coated with oil during oil spills will be more likely to get rescue and care under Baykeeper-sponsored legislation being considered in the California Senate. Update: The legislation, SB 1192, has passed the Senate and is now being considered in the California Assembly. SB 1192 raises fees on oil and shipping companies to fully fund the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) rescues, cleans and cares for birds and other wildlife during oil spills. The OWCN has responded to more than 75 oil spills throughout California, including the 2007 Cosco Busan spill, which dumped 53,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay. Since 1995, the OWCN has cared for nearly 8,000 oiled birds and mammals.

Oil spilled into the Bay or ocean has devastating effects on wildlife. When coated in oil, birds, sea otters and fur seals lose their ability to swim and maintain their body heat, which can be fatal. Other effects on wildlife include painful burns, digestive problems, pneumonia and reproductive problems that persist for generations.

A lack of full funding threatens the OWCN’s capacity to train field teams to respond to oil spill disasters. Baykeeper Executive Director Deb Self told the Senate Appropriations Committee that funding supplied by SB 1192 is important to the Bay Area. “A large number of trained field teams are essential along the Bay and nearby coast, where miles of sensitive shoreline habitat is used by migrating and resident shorebirds, marsh birds, ducks and ocean-going birds,” she said. “This is especially true in winter, when migration coincides with storms and dense fog that make oil spills in the Bay more likely.”

Full funding for the OWCN is part of Baykeeper’s ongoing effort to protect the Bay ecosystem from oil spills. Deb Self is Vice Chair of the Technical Advisory Committee for the California Office of Spill Response, and this legislation flows out of the advisory committee’s recommendations.

Deb also serves on the San Francisco Harbor Safety Committee. Baykeeper recently supported a Harbor Safety Committee/Coast Guard rule change that requires half a mile of visibility before a ship can get permission to sail from its berth and transit the Bay. This rule would have prevented the situation that culminated in the Cosco Busan oil spill.

Baykeeper will continue working to prevent oil spills and assure the most effective cleanup when spills occur.