Oiled Wildlife Care Network

Photo: Murre decoy removal at Devil's Slide Rock
Biologists with decoys on Devil's Slide Rock as part of a common murre breeding colony restoration project funded through a NRDA settlement

Natural Resource Damage Assessment

In the event of an oil spill, state and federal laws allow the government to collect monetary damages for injuries to wildlife, habitat, and human recreational uses of natural resources. These damages are used implement restoration projects that will compensate for the injuries. The process of quantifying the environmental impacts from an oil spill is called “natural resource damage assessment” (NRDA).

Rather than using a price list to place a dollar value on the life of an animal affected by an oil spill, natural resource trustee agencies (including the Department of Fish and Game Office of Spill Response) carefully estimate the benefit of a proposed restoration project and compare that to the injuries from an oil spill. For example, the Common Murre Restoration Project at Devil’s Slide Rock, which restored an extirpated nesting colony, was created to compensate for the 7,488 Common Murres estimated to have been killed by the Apex Houston oil spill of 1986. This project has produced over 1,000 fledged chicks so far and continues to grow.

Damage assessment for animal impacts starts with an estimate of the number of animals killed by an oil spill, and that relies on good documentation from the Wildlife Operations Unit during the spill response. Records from shoreline and beach surveys, including data from OWCN Recovery and Transportation teams, allows the NRDA team to count the number of animals affected by a spill and estimate the number of oil-affected animals that could not be recovered. OWCN’s role in the NRDA process continues at the primary care facility, where staff document each individual animal and collect evidence including a photograph and oil sample.

Since 1990, the trustee agencies in California have recovered over $45 million, and have implemented a wide variety of restoration projects. Examples include:

  • Common Murre colony restoration at Devil’s Slide Rock;
  • Rhinoceros Auklet and Cassin’s Auklet restoration at Año Nuevo Island and the Farallon Islands;
  • Marbled Murrelet nesting habitat (old growth redwoods) preservation in northern and central California;
  • Brown Pelican roost site protection and creation at several sites;
  • Seabird Protection Network along the California coast to protect nesting colonies from boat and aircraft disturbance;
  • Eradication of non-native rats on Anacapa Island to restore ground-nesting seabirds;
  • Eradication of non-native rats on islands off New Zealand to restore Sooty Shearwaters, which spend part of the year in California waters.

For more information on the NRDA process, as well as past and current restoration projects, please visit the Department of Fish and Game’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment site.