Wildlife rehabilitator Pam DeCuypere dropped to her knees and covered her face with her hands after an oil-soaked Canada goose escaped from beneath a white bedsheet in a Battle Creek, MI, park on Saturday afternoon.
It's not the first time she has been discouraged this week. Ms. DeCuypere and her husband, Jeff, have led dozens of volunteers from the Circle D Wildlife Refuge since Tuesday in the rescue of geese, ducks and swans affected by the Enbridge-pipeline oil spill, which has spewed more than 3 million litres of crude into the Kalamazoo River.
Strict cleanup protocol hasn't made it easy for people who want to help and are qualified to do so, she said.
Ms. DeCuypere and the volunteers were in the park Saturday afternoon catching geese for about an hour before a conservation officer from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources arrived and told them to stop collecting the birds. This has been happening all week, Ms. DeCuypere said. In one instance, officers took the birds away from her, she said.
"It's completely ridiculous," she said. "The longer those animals have oil on them, the less their chances of surviving. We're here to help them."
Volunteers who are not part of the official rehabilitation centre in Marshall shouldn't capture and clean wildlife for their own safety and for the health of the animals, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Valdo Calvert.
"The protocol is to recover wildlife, bring them to a current rehabilitation centre where we know the procedures are correct and the hygiene is correct, the hazardous-materials issues are correct - the other facilities aren't geared up for that," Mr. Calvert said.
The two philosophies are like oil and water: the DeCuyperes' aim is to clean as many animals at their Vicksburg, MI, facility, while the official wildlife cleanup centre expects to finish building animal wash stations on Sunday.
Six days into the spill, speed is key, Mr. DeCuypere said.
"We don't waste any time. Taking the oil off is our first priority," he said. "The longer it stays on them, the more physical impact it has."
Unlike the DeCuyperes' team, official rescuers stabilize the health of the animals before they attempt to remove the oil, said Linda Elliott of Focus Wildlife, a wildlife emergency response contractor organizing the sanctioned cleanup. The animals stay in stabilization care for several days before they can be washed, she said.
"It's really hard to watch them for several days when they're covered in gunk," Ms. Elliott said. "But until they're physically able to handle it, they aren't cleaned."
As of Saturday, the official team had recovered 45 geese, four ducks, four muskrats, 17 turtles and two domestic swans, Mr. Calvert said. The DeCuyperes say they've rescued about 25 different animals.
Meanwhile, the United States Environmental Protection Agency said Saturday that Enbridge's long-term plans to repair the pipeline and clean up the spill were insufficient. The plans, submitted last week, were not specific enough and lacked technical details, EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman said.
"The plans were much too general and lacked the sort of content one would find as a standard operating procedure in a plan of this sort that's required," Ms. Hedman said.
The company has until Aug. 2 to revise and resubmit its plans.
Enbridge chief executive officer Pat Daniel said the Calgary-based company will work to correct the deficiencies.
"We will monitor that plan until it meets the requirements of the EPA. I stick by that commitment," Mr. Daniel said. "Our objective is to return this river to the same state it was in prior to the incident."
Enbridge has declared the spill contained and says it is focusing solely on cleanup. The company said it was increasing the size of its team and the equipment at the site and that it has recovered more than 4.5 million litres of combined water and oil. The mixture contained about 800,000 litres of crude, the company said.
Company and government officials also said they had located the pipeline fissure that caused the spill. Once removed, the section was expected to be taken to a National Transportation Safety Board lab for testing.
With a report from The Associated Press