Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Gulf Oil Clean-up Continues

As previously posted, field work in the Red Wolf Recovery Program slows down a great deal during the "dog-days" of summer, allowing field biologists to take some well-earned time off, as well as to prepare for the next long, busy field season (fall, winter, and spring). It also presents us with opportunities to assist with a variety of other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service projects.

In past summers I have been involved in projects ranging from banding young pelicans and terns and watching over sea turtle nests and hatchlings to traveling around the country fighting wildfires. This summer a call for help came from the Gulf of Mexico to assist in the oil leak cleanup effort, and I decided to sign on.

When I arrived in the Gulf I was assigned to the Department of the Interior's Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) Program. The NRDAR Program's primary mission is "to restore natural resources injured as a result of oil spills and other hazardous substance releases into the environment." My assignment was to conduct shoreline assessments of the marshes in southeast Louisiana's Mississippi River Delta region and document any oil found. The data I collected will be used to help assess any ensuing damage to the marshes caused by the oil.

Most of my days were spent on a boat (typically an airboat since they operate well in shallow water) surveying the marshes for oil and collecting pertinent data. I had never before been to the Mississippi River Delta region, but as I worked it really struck me what a unique, diverse, and important area it is, biologically, ecologically, economically, and culturally. The importance of preserving and protecting this region really hit home.

When my 30-day work detail was over, I decided to wrap things up with a nice weekend of R & R in New Orleans, and particularly the French Quarter (where this wildlife biologist experienced a different kind of "wildlife"... but that’s another story!). Overall, my time in the Gulf certainly was time well spent. It was a great experience I won’t soon forget. -- Ryan

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A New Season

Today marks the first full day of Autumn. The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler. For the field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program that's a sign that the fall trapping season is right around the corner. It's also a sign that we need to do a little fall cleaning...

...and prepare for the long days of trapping by getting our trap gear in good working order.

Dirty Traps

We set hundreds of traps during the fall, and each trap has to be individually prepared for use. This means cleaning, boiling, and waxing the traps, replacing the rubber-padded jaws, and tuning them to catch red wolves.

Preparing traps is a laborious process, but everyone does their part to get the job done. And in the end a well prepared trap makes the field biologists' job of catching wolves a little easier.

Clean Traps

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Working the Gulf Oil Leak Cleanup

Late July and early August is, in general, a slow period for the field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program. The wolves have bred and are raising their young pups, and the high summer temperatures limit our field work because we don't want to stress the wolves. When the call came requesting assistance with the Gulf oil leak disaster, I thought it would be a good time to lend a hand with the clean-up efforts.

For the first two weeks of my four-week detail working on the Gulf oil leak, I lived on a barge in the Mississippi River Delta. The barge was located in Dennis Pass, a small cut through the delta emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, about 14 miles south of Venice, Louisiana (i.e. where the blacktop ends). As part of a team of local and national biologists, I spent most days on a small boat conducting wildlife rescue missions. Our primary duty was to survey remote beaches and marshes to locate oiled wildlife and transport them to rehabilitation centers.

On one memorable trip, we traveled 26 miles offshore via sport-fishing boat to rescue young Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, a federally-endangered species. At times, the sea grass and oil would come together to form miles-long, thick windrow-like slicks. As the turtles swam in the waters of the Gulf, they would become entrapped in the mats of thick crude oil floating on the surface.

We netted five turtles from the oil that day, cleaned them off, and transferred them to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration boat for transport to a rehabilitation center for more extensive care and cleaning. By the time I left the Gulf a few weeks later, hundreds of federally endangered sea turtles had been saved from the oil-slicked waters. I believe that that day and the rest of my time spent in the Gulf was time well spent! -- Michael