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One of the media groups returns from filming activity along the Mississippi River as crews deployed booms and moved into swift action to contain and remove a simulated oil spill near the Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Larry Dean/USFWS.

One of the media groups returns from filming activity along the Mississippi River as crews deployed booms and moved into swift action to contain and remove a simulated oil spill near the Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Larry Dean/USFWS.

Service Teams With Federal, State and Local
First Responders for Mock Oil Spill Recovery Exercise

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff recently took the proactive role of joining other Federal, State and local agencies to test emergency response readiness in a functional oil spill exercise, at La Crosse, Wisconsin. The October 2-4 exercise and training simulated a train derailment and 150,000 gallon oil spill along the Mississippi River into the Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, potentially impacting 2,200 waterfowl and assorted other wildlife and habitat. The location also separates Minnesota from Wisconsin via the river, thus adding multiple state agencies and railroad representatives to the response mix.

“This exercise gave our many partners and Service staff the opportunity to practice and learn to complete major emergency response work as a cohesive team: protecting people, resources and wildlife. It’s an invaluable training that was put into the planning phases months ago and culminated in more than 100 individuals working together for the first time to prevent a growing threat to trust resources after an accident has happened,” said Dave Warburton, Ecological Services Biologist with the Twin Cities Ecological Services Field Office in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Agencies participating in the disaster response were many and varied. Federal agencies included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Weather Service, the Federal Railroad Administration and Civil Air Patrol. State agencies included: Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources; Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Wisconsin Emergency Management, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Private partners also were represented by staff from Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian-Pacific Railways, J.F. Brennan, Midwest Fuels and Xcel Energy. Wisconsin city and county fire and police departments and other professionals also participated.

“Our Service team did an outstanding job with every scenario they were challenged with, showing the great and diverse skills they bring to this potentially daunting recovery effort, and developing additional knowledge and capabilities” Warburton added.

The increased use of rail to transport oil through the area underscores the importance of coordinating with our partners and training individuals who could be asked to respond in a real world event, should there be one.

As the hands-on portion of the exercise commenced in the early hours of October 3, responders formed together under a unified command structure designed to organize the wide array of agencies under one chain of command. Participants also took to the river to deploy booms that would be used to contain any spill and facilitate its removal, as well as demonstrating wildlife protection equipment and techniques used to capture and rehabilitate impacted wildlife.

In the area of the simulated spill, the Service has trust responsibility for refuge lands, migratory birds, endangered species and interjurisdictional fish on the Upper Mississippi River. Jim Nissen, La Crosse District Manager, represented the Service in the unified command to oversee the response.  “In the event of a hazardous substance spill of any kind, our biologists and managers advise emergency responders about which fish and wildlife are in the area and at risk, which habitat types might be most sensitive, and how cleanup should proceed to be most protective and effective,” Nissen said.

He noted that they join forces with U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and Department of Natural Resources crews to collect, when appropriate, and care for oiled wildlife.

Potential impacts of a real world spill are vast when you consider the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is a national treasure of river, backwaters, islands and forests framed by 500-foot high bluffs. The 261-mile refuge is among the most important corridors for fish and wildlife habitat in the central United States.

“Up to 40 percent of the continent’s waterfowl use the Mississippi Flyway during migration, and thousands of waterfowl concentrate within two areas of Pool 8 alone, which are closed to migratory bird hunting,” said Nissen. “Beyond that, the refuge is designated a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy, and is our most heavily visited refuge in the system with about 3.7 million visits a year to enjoy hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education, wildlife photography and so much more.”

Needless to say, a spill in the vicinity of, or on the refuge itself, could have potentially staggering impacts effecting over 300 bird species, more than 100 fish species, about 50 species of mammals and nearly 50 mussel species. And up to half of the world’s canvasback ducks stop there during migration. Also, 20 to 45 percent of the eastern United States populations of Tundra Swans stop there.

“Whether it be the tremendous array of wildlife, recreational use by local residents and visitors, commercial uses of the river or more, this exercise is important to prepare us to be able to successfully minimize any impacts of a potential spill,” Nissen said. “Overall our Service team of personnel from Refuges, Fisheries, Ecological Services, External Affairs and Safety is ready with the lessons we took away from this training, and we will continue to improve upon those skills with additional training in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.”

By Larry Dean
Regional Office - External Affairs


 

(from left) Rhonda Murgatroyd, Wildlife Response Services, LLC, a member of the unified command staff, Brenda Kelly, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Service’s Tim Yager gather in groups to identify necessary response actions for the simulated derailment and oil spill, determining the wide range of needs and services to be provided, ranging from early estimates of expenses to response, and deployment of staff to field locations where they can be most effective in protecting wildlife and in the containment and recovery of the oil. Also seen here are the Service's Angela Baran, Annette Trowbridge and Wendy Woyczik. Photo by Larry Dean/USFWS.

(from left) Rhonda Murgatroyd, Wildlife Response Services, LLC, a member of the unified command staff, Brenda Kelly, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Service’s Tim Yager gather in groups to identify necessary response actions for the simulated derailment and oil spill, determining the wide range of needs and services to be provided, ranging from early estimates of expenses to response, and deployment of staff to field locations where they can be most effective in protecting wildlife and in the containment and recovery of the oil. Also seen here are the Service's Angela Baran, Annette Trowbridge and Wendy Woyczik. Photo by Larry Dean/USFWS.

Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge La Crosse District Manager Jim Nissen participates in a press conference for media who came to cover the training event.  Photo by Larry Dean/USFWS.

Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge La Crosse District Manager Jim Nissen participates in a press conference for media who came to cover the training event. Photo by Larry Dean/USFWS.

Local citizens groups are always interested in the activities along the Mississippi River and involving the refuge in particular. Here two local citizens talk to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Laurel Kullerud, Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and Elissa Buttermore, Twin Cities Ecological Services Field Office, about the events as the exercise and training event got under way in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Photo by Larry Dean/USFWS.

Local citizens groups are always interested in the activities along the Mississippi River and involving the refuge in particular. Here two local citizens talk to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Laurel Kullerud, Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and Elissa Buttermore, Twin Cities Ecological Services Field Office, about the events as the exercise and training event got under way in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Photo by Larry Dean/USFWS.

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Last updated: November 5, 2014