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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Environmental Contaminant Specialists Help Increase Spill Preparedness

Region 3, October 23, 2013
Paul Wolf (U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Wildlife Services) briefs Sarah Warner (FWS environmental contaminants biologist; Green Bay Field Office) on an oiled wildlife recovery plan, during the spill exercise.
Paul Wolf (U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Wildlife Services) briefs Sarah Warner (FWS environmental contaminants biologist; Green Bay Field Office) on an oiled wildlife recovery plan, during the spill exercise. - Photo Credit: n/a

Despite the effects of more than 100 years of industrialized and urban development as a major Great Lakes port, the St. Louis River estuary remains the most significant source of biological productivity for western Lake Superior, providing important habitat for a wide variety of fish and wildlife communities. Minnesota and Wisconsin agencies have been working together for over 20 years to make progress to clean up, restore, and protect these waters. It is important that we continue to protect this area. Considering that the area has a large potential for oil spills or other spills of hazardous wastes, spill preparedness is a critical effort.

On August 28 and 29, the U.S. Coast Guard hosted a full-scale oil spill exercise. The exercise (Operation Peking Duck) scenario involved a marine vessel colliding with a bridge in the Duluth-Superior Harbor, grounding on Interstate Island (on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin), and consequently released a large amount of heavy fuel oil. A variety of birds were oiled, as well as fish and wildlife habitat, including critical habitat for the endangered Piping Plover.

Once notified, FWS made four personnel available to assist the response:

Betsy Galbraith (Green Bay Field Office, Environmental Contaminants Biologist) served within the Environmental Planning Unit to identify resources at risk and helped coordinate emergency Section 7 consultations and obtain other necessary permits (e.g., Piping Plover and Bald Eagles).

Sarah Warner (Green Bay Field Office, EC Biologist) and Elissa Buttermore (Twin Cities Field Office) assisted oiled wildlife recovery within the Wildlife Branch.

FWS provided an Agency Representative, Dave Warburton (Twin Cities Field Office, EC), to coordinate FWS assistance, initiate Pollution Removal Funding Authorizations, and maintain contact with FWS Regional Response Coordinator Bob Krska. Dave also worked with co-trustees to initiate a Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

Annette Trowbridge (EC Coordinator, Midwest Regional Office) assisted with designing the exercise and served as an exercise evaluator.

All these responsibilities were fulfilled working closely with personnel from USDA Wildlife Services, and Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources.

The exercise demonstrated the importance of having FWS and other natural resource agency input to identify and evaluate resources at risk early in the response. It also spurred a number of discussions on how to better prepare for spill incidents, including changes to Area Contingency Plans and the Region 3 US Fish and Wildlife Service Cross Programmatic Spill Contingency Plan.

Contact Info: Elissa Buttermore, 612-725-3548 ext 205, elissa_buttermore@fws.gov