Volunteers Comb K-zoo River For Oil-Slicked Wildlife

Jul 30, 2010

Since Monday, up to a million gallons of crude oil has been working its way down the Kalamazoo River, which runs to Lake Michigan. And volunteers in the City of Battle Creek have been helping to find and report wildlife injured by the spill.  

Feds Cautious About Effort
People from as far away as Muskegon and Detroit gathered in a parking lot at the Battle Creek Police Department Thursday afternoon, saying they were determined to do whatever they could to help wild animals affected by the oil leak.

"All we're concentrating on is the Kalamazoo River, as it passes through the city of Battle Creek. We're starting our coordinated effort," says Mike McKenzie, with Battle Creek's Emergency Services Department. McKenzie briefed volunteers about safety regulations for the animal search and rescue.

"We are just simply, responsibly and safely, just locating the animals and relaying that information back in a very timely manner," he says. "So they know the locations and where exactly they need to go." 

An earlier search and rescue effort was called off Thursday morning by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over concerns that volunteers would touch oil-saturated birds and other animals. But city officials said volunteers would only report sightings of affected wildlife, so federal officials approved the effort.

'Absolutely Miserable'
Volunteers split into teams to search along the river bank in downtown Battle Creek. Team One, with seven members, was assigned to the north bank of the river.

Volunteers walked slowly along the banks of the river, listening closely for any signs of animals or birds in trouble.

"We got one right here! We got a bird right here!" Paul Lopp announces to his team.

The lone duck is spotted up on some rocks, trying to clean its oil-soaked feathers.

"You know, it's exhausting just to watch them," says Tracy Dillon, one of the volunteers on the team. From a few feet away, she watches the duck's feeble attempts to get rid of the oil.

"You can tell they're absolutely miserable, and they can't escape what they're in. And the only thing they can do is just try and get it off of themselves. And it just...is hopeless for them and, you know, it's just heart-wrenching to see."

Fortunately, that duck was the only animal the team found that needed help. A search earlier in the day reported approximately 30 injured animals before the search was called off.  

Community Pride
Kathy Berlincourt, another animal rescue volunteer, sees the event as a point of pride in her city.

"I mean, where else would you go that people would just on...I mean, this notice went out at noon today, and this many people showed up at 4 o'clock! I mean, only in Battle Creek would that happen," she says.

More volunteers are being sent out today, to search new sections of the river.