Creating an Oiled Wildlife Response Plan

A well-designed plan can provide the direction to achieve an effective, responsible and cost-efficient approach to caring for oil affected wildlife. Ideally, the wildlife response plan is fully integrated into the wider oil spill response plan. Planning involves the consideration of some practical issues including:

  • Designing the planning process, involving all important stakeholders
  • Developing the content of the plan
  • Developing the structure of the plan

Wildlife response preparedness, Good practice guidelines for incident management and emergency response personnel, a guidance document published by IPIECA in 2014, provides a detailed picture of the different components of oiled wildlife response, focusing on critical planning issues and response options. It updates information provided in the 2004 Guide to oiled wildlife response planning.

The new document provides a reference guide for oil spill managers, government officials and industry representatives who may be called upon to make important decisions regarding the fate of wildlife in the immediate aftermath of an oil spill. The information provided here is a brief overview of the key considerations that should be taken into account in planning for a response, as well as the ideal structure of a plan.

The Planning Process

The process of planning always starts with one or more key stakeholders who have become aware of the importance of having a dedicated oiled wildlife plan in place. This awareness may have come as a result of:

  •  An oil spill incident that has occurred in the stakeholder's home country or region, revealing the (potential) shortcomings of existing preparedness systems
  • One or more incidents that have happened abroad, demonstrating a worst case scenario which the stakeholder thinks could also occur in their country/region, but for which the present systems are likely not properly prepared

Between this awareness and the formal adoption and implementation of a new or updated wildlife response plan, a number of steps need to be taken:

  • Identifying other key stakeholders
  • Holding an initial meeting or workshop with all stakeholders or stakeholder groups to determine their interest and role in future oiled wildlife response, and in the planning process
  • Defining the scope of work involved in developing the plan
  • Holding a series of meetings or workshops in which elements of the plan are discussed and, where possible, agreed.
  • Developing a draft plan, with final agreement between all stakeholders on the contents of the plan
  • Formal adoption by the authority(ies) that have statutory responsibilities for the maintenance of the plan and its implementation
  • Integrating the plan with and/or into other relevant plans
  • Implementing the plan including training, exercises and on-going plan revision

The Content of the Plan

Planning an effective oiled wildlife response will require the input and cooperation of many stakeholders including administrators, oiled wildlife response experts, oil spill response experts, competent authorities and others. The following critical issues should be taken into account:

Decision making/management framework

The plan should clearly describe procedures and responsibilities at every stage of wildlife response, including notification, mobilisation, operational coordination and demobilisation.


An oiled wildlife response plan that is not integrated into an overall oil spill response plan may be less effective, or even counterproductive, in the case of a larger incident. The wildlife response plan should include a section describing how the wildlife response plan relates to other existing response plans under which, or in relation to which, it can be mobilised.

Response strategies

The plan should provide guidance for strategic considerations in the aftermath of a reported oil spill, including all potential options for an active intervention in order to prevent wildlife from becoming oiled or to minimise the effects of oiling.

Hands-on expertise

Effectively managing oil-affected wildlife requires pre-identified hands-on expertise, based on the strategies chosen, which can be quickly mobilised. Wildlife rehabilitation should only be carried out by experienced personnel and trained volunteers from permanent rehabilitation centres or specialised groups. Veterinarians, preferably those trained to deal with oiled wildlife, should oversee the animal welfare aspects (including euthanasia). Countries that utilise licensed hunters to assist with minimising the suffering of animals in the field should ensure there are enough hunters, with the appropriate skill level available.  Scientists and stranding networks should be involved in the systematic collection and analysis of dead animals.

Facilities and equipment

The plan should address which facilities will be available for the response, what role they will play at different stages of the response, how well equipped they are and whether additional equipment needed. A list of pre-identified suppliers of specialised equipment and consumables is useful.


Resources such as experts, hands-on personnel (staff and volunteers), equipment, required facilities (existing facilities or temporary ones) and budgets need to be identified. The financial implications of the plan for different stakeholders and participants should be well considered and special arrangements (e.g. an emergency fund) may be needed to ensure the guaranteed availability of financial resources immediately after the plan is mobilised.


It is recommended that exercises be held regularly to test the oiled wildlife response plan. Ideally, wildlife response is tested as part of a larger oil spill response exercise to assess and optimise the level of integration of the wildlife aspects into the overall plan.

The IMO/IPIECA Guide to Oil Spill Exercise Planning (1996) states on exercises:

The benefits of exercises are many. Response teams are provided with the opportunity to practice skills that will be required in an emergency, to work together closely and develop relationships, and to make complex decisions under stressful circumstances. Plans, equipment and systems will be tested and, with proper feedback, recommendations made for their improvement. And, by allowing the public, media and key local organizations to observe and perhaps participate, government and industry can demonstrate their commitment to managing the risk of oil spills and protecting the environment.


The wildlife response plan should also be evaluated, ideally following an exercise or an incident in which it was used. Regular updates of data such as contact details of individuals or organisations are needed and the plan should include a schedule for this.

The Structure of the Plan

The structure, prescriptions and approach of any operational contingency plan will typically reflect specific cultural traditions and philosophies on how emergencies are best dealt with. However, as expanded on in the IPIECA Guide to Oiled Wildlife Response Planning, it is recommended that the plan be organised in three distinct sections:

The strategy section

This is the preparation section containing all the advance planning. The Strategy section should include the following topics:

  • Control – document circulation, plan revision process and recording
  •  Introduction and scope – what the plan is for and what area it covers
  • Regulatory Environment – the legal and legislative instruments which underlie the plan
  • Organisations involved and their role as stakeholders in oiled wildlife response
  • Risk Assessment – areas, habitats and species at risk
  • Response Policy and Response Strategies – response objectives e.g. extent to which rehabilitation is attempted, guidelines/criteria for euthanasia

The operations section

This is the action section that contains ‘must know’ information. The Operations section should cover the following topics:

  • Initial Procedures – incident reporting, notification and assessment
  • Operations planning and mobilisation e.g. assembling a response team, assigning response priorities, identifying and establishing facilities, search and collection activities etc.
  • Equipment, supplies and services, including veterinary, capture & collection, communications etc.
  • Management, manpower and training – incident organisation chart, action cards for each position, availability of trained responders and additional manpower
  • Communications plan and equipment
  • Control and termination of operations
  • Financial and claims procedures

The data section

This is the appendix section for ‘need to know’ information. The Data Section should contain the following information:

  • Maps and charts – facilities, local area, species distribution, high risk areas, shoreline types, potential search and collection sites
  • Ancillary information including: contact directory, resource/equipment inventories, providers of support equipment, vulnerable species information, wildlife handling instruction sheets, animal care and rehabilitation protocols, etc.