Who’s dealing with the wildlife data?

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Ever since the corroded pipe operated by Plains All-American burst, releasing a river of crude into the ocean at Refugio State Beach, biologists have been out studying the effects on wildlife.

Jenny MarekJenny Marek from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of those people. Her office has been working alongside agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and Cal State Parks to create an official report detailing the environmental effects of this spill. It’s called the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, or NRDA.

What is the Natural Resource Damage Assessment?

The NRDA complements the oil spill response by going out and understanding how the oil injured the environment. Our report assesses how environmental resources were injured, and what restoration needs to be done to make up for that injury.

How do you choose how to compensate for the effects that have happened from the spill?

We want to hear restoration ideas from this community and all the experts that deal with these resources. We’ll identify the best fit projects that have the best benefit to species.

Would one of those projects involve the Brown Pelican, which was really affected during the spill itself?

Yes. Although the oil spill impacted a lot of our coastline here, a place that is really important for the brown pelicans is their nesting area on Anacapa Island. One project we’re looking at is enhancing nesting habitats by removing invasive plants, like Russian Thistle and Cape Ivy, from the Island. Our hypothesis is that if we go in and remove those invasive plants, then there will be a more suitable nesting habitat for the brown pelicans.

Bill Standley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, inspects dead bird for signs of oil at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura, California on June 12, 2015. Photo by Ashley Spratt-USFWS.
Bill Standley, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist inspects a dead bird for signs of oil at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura in June 2015. Photo: Ashley Spratt, USFWS. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

How do these projects get funded?

This whole process is paid for by the responsible party [Plains All American Pipeline, which owned the pipeline that ruptured]. None of this is going to be funded by the taxpayer.

How can you decipher what was caused by the spill and what was caused by other natural or man-made phenomena?

We’ve got seep oil out there and we had line 901 oil out there. How do we just point to an injury and say that it was all line 901? We don’t do that. We acknowledge that there are these sources of uncertainty and our assessment tries to make the best assumptions we can and go forward with the best science we can understanding just the effects of the line 901 oil.

Are you able to test for the differences?

Yeah, we absolutely can. You can fingerprint the oil, it’s a mix of different hydrocarbons and there’s also other stuff in there that when you look at it, it provides a fingerprint for that oil. You can compare it against oil from seeps and other places.

Rocky Intertidal USFWS (1)
Biologists study oil effects in rocky inter-tidal zones of Refugio Beach. Photo: USFWS (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Can you quantify at this point, in any way, what kind of damage has occurred?

No, it’s too early to provide any overall results yet. It’s not just one line of evidence that that’s going to tell us, ‘okay, that’s what the injury is,’ this is a weight of evidence analysis. We look at so many different factors. The shoreline cleanup assessment teams went out and quantified the oil on the beaches every day. We look at, ‘what did they say?’ We look at photos from our teams. We look at how much hydrocarbons showed up in the sand crabs. We look at all different lines of evidence to form a weight of evidence analysis that’ll give us a clear picture of what the injury was. That’s something we’re still working on, that weight of evidence analysis.

Jenny Marek is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Thanks again for coming, we appreciate it.

Thank you.

One year later, are there things you want to know about the oil spill? Ask your questions here. We’ll investigate.

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