Feds to Wildlife Center: Thanks, but no thanks
Story by Chris Graham
Ed Clark has been in the wildlife business long enough to remember when his help was wanted after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. The deskbound experts running the show in the wake of the still-ongoing spill in the Gulf of Mexico have made it clear that they think they have the situation covered.
“There are some really profound questions about what’s going on, and the agencies are saying, We’ve got this under control, we have our people there,” said Clark, the president of the Waynesboro-based Wildlife Center of Virginia, back from a frustrating six-day tour of the Gulf.
The chief frustration for Clark: “The people in charge of this response are making a concerted effort to ban any access of any nongovernmental employees to the area.”
“We have more experience and expertise in handling wildlife in distress than practically anyone. Some of the people involved with the government agencies are experts, but they’re deskbound experts. We deal with handling and capturing and restraining wild animals every single day, and yet we have been told that we are not welcome, our help is not needed, and we’ll be banned from the area unequivocally if we show up,” Clark said.
That has essentially been the message delivered to Clark and other nongovernmental wildlife experts. In Clark’s specific case, he ran into red-tape issues on his trip to the Gulf that had him spending more time on tarmacs than in the air and on the ground trying to get a feel for the extent of the damage associated with the spill.
There are legitimate concerns regarding safety and security in the spill area, Clark acknowledged, “but we had teams of people, all of whom are experts in one aspect or another of animal disaster response, not people with some idle curiosity, but people who know what the heck they’re doing, and they didn’t want us anywhere near this spill.”
“It’s hard to reach any conclusion other than that they’re trying to hide something,” Clark said.
What Clark was able to glean from his visit was disconcerting. “Some of my preconceived notions were blown out of the water, and some of my worst fears were confirmed,” said Clark, who was struck most “by the absolute enormity” of the disaster.
“The scope and scale of this spill defies definition or imagination. We were just flying over areas for miles and miles and miles that were impugned with oil,” Clark said.
“It is absolutely inevitable that this spill is going to have implications for wildlife throughout the Americas,” Clark said. “Migratory water fowl from the Artic Circle all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico move into this area at certain times of the year. Fortunately they’re not there right now, but they’ll be back in October and November. Millions upon millions of water fowl. Endangered species like the hooping crane. The brown pelican has just been removed from the endangered species list, but after this spill, it may well end up back on the list due to the effects of the spill.”
“Migratory songbirds pass through the region. South American wildlife, particularly birds, will migrate as far north as this area, and so the implications extend far beyond just the United States,” Clark said.
Clark’s attention in the here and now is on lobbying the federal government for access to the location.
“The agencies need to establish a reasonable criteria through which qualified professionals outside the government can come in and bring their expertise and capabilities to working on these issues,” Clark said.