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Conservationists train for oil spill emergency

Focus Wildlife International's Response Planning Manager Charlie Hebert discussed some challenges during Deepwater Horizexplosispill during training sessihow deal with wildlife

Focus Wildlife International's Response Planning Manager Charlie Hebert discussed some of the challenges during the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill during a training session on how to deal with wildlife in an environmental emergency on Tuesday at Portage's Woodland Park. | Christin Nance-Lazerus~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 1, 2014 6:21AM



PORTAGE — Oil-soaked birds are an enduring image of the Deepwater Horizon spill in April 2010 that dumped more than 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

But a recent small oil spill at the BP Whiting refinery and many pipelines that snake underground throughout Northwest Indiana mean an emergency is always a possibility.

On Monday and Tuesday, local wildlife and conservation officials learned how to respond to wildlife in an emergency during training hosted by Save the Dunes and pipeline company Enbridge Energy at Woodland Park in Portage.

The Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Training for Wildlife Response (HAZWOPER) was led by Focus Wildlife International. All attendees who successfully complete the two-day course will receive a certificate, which is required in order to assist in the event of an oil spill.

Northwest Indiana is home to many ecologically significant sites — such as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Indiana Dunes State Park, and Hoosier Prairie.

“We want to do all that we can to ensure that our natural resources are protected,” said Cathy Martin, Parks Program Coordinator for Save the Dunes.

Representatives from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organizations, conservation organizations, the National Park Service and the Department of Natural Resources, nearby industry, county HAZMAT teams, and local police and fire departments participated in the training.

“All of these different agencies and organizations play a crucial role in the many components of oil spill response, cleanup, and community preparedness,” said Save the Dunes director Nicole Barker.

During the training, Focus Wildlife International’s Response Planning Manager Charlie Hebert discussed some of the challenges during the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill. There were complications from the multi-agency response to dealing with rising water levels, but Hebert said there were some upsides.

“Very little oil got into those marshes,” he said. “Most of the cleanup occurred before the wintering birds came south again.”

He said it’s imperative to quickly release birds after they are clean and healthy. From the 4,000 birds captured, Hebert said 60 percent were successfully released back into the wild, which is pretty typical.

Jenny Schlieps, program manager for Focus Wildlife International, said the group holds similar training sessions about four times over the spring and summer. Schlieps highlighted how different behavior can be at a cleanup site, depending on the laws and safety regulations in a particular country. She showed photos from the response to an oil spill in China’s Yellow Sea where volunteers were drinking from oil-caked water bottles and hauling oil-soaked bags on their backs.

“At first, this spill was mainly tackled by volunteers from the community because there was no federal or provincial support,” Schlieps said. “There are hundreds of photos like these, and they’re a good reminder that safety exists for a reason.”



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