Oiled Wildlife Care Network

Photo: birds are monitored in the stabilization room during the Cosco Busan oil spill
Birds are monitored in the stabilization room during the Cosco Busan oil spill.

OWCN History

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network was established by the California Legislature in order to prepare for catastrophic oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. 

Between 1994 and 2001, much of the OWCN's efforts went into increasing capacity for oiled wildlife rehabilitation along the California coast. Together with the Department of Fish & Game's Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), the OWCN constructed major facilities in the San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Humboldt regions. The OWCN also began working with wildlife organizations throughout the state to upgrade existing facilities and increase capacity to care for oiled birds and mammals.

Since the completion of the initial construction and capital improvement projects, the OWCN's focus has broadened to include all aspects of oiled wildlife response. These include extensive training and preparedness, fostering inter-agency cooperation, refining emergency response procedures, and supporting research activities to improve oiled wildlife response efforts.

Since 1995, the OWCN has responded to more than 75 oil spills throughout California and has cared for nearly 8,000 oiled birds and mammals.

Legislative History

California's current oil spill response program was initially created in 1990 through the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act (Act). This Act required the Administrator of the OSPR to establish rescue and rehabilitation stations for seabirds, sea otters, and other marine mammals affected by marine oil spills in California.

In 1993 this mandate was reaffirmed by Senate Bill 775 (Watson), which directed the Administrator of the OSPR to establish regional oiled wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facilities along the California coast. The OWCN was formed in 1994 as part of the OSPR, and assumed the task of building new facilities and improving existing wildlife care facilities. In 1995, Assembly Bill 1549 amended the original Act and added technology development and research to the tasks to be accomplished by the OWCN.

In 1997, in fulfillment of AB 1549 (1995), a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Regents of the University of California and the Department of Fish and Game, assigning the administration of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network to the Wildlife Health Center, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

In 2007, as a result of the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, the Act was further modified by Assembly Bill 2911 (Wolk). This bill officially added the development and oversight of oiled wildlife capture activities during spills to the OWCN's responsibilities.

Please click here for more on the history of the OSPR.


Funding for the OWCN's ongoing operations (including staffing, facility maintenance, equipment & supply purchases, training costs, and research support) comes from a portion of the interest generated from California's Oil Spill Response Trust Fund (OSRTF).

When the OWCN is activated for spill response, the party responsible for the spill (if any) is billed for the cost of the OWCN's response and rehabilitation efforts using a predetermined rate schedule. In the case where no responsible party is identified, the OWCN activities may be funded from the OSRTF. In situations where no oil spill is observed and the OWCN is not officially activated yet oiled birds or mammals are captured, the OWCN provides support to its Member Organizations to supplement the cost of caring for affected animals.