A family of six beavers are being credited with helping to contain a Chevron spill that leaked approximately 27,500 gallons of diesel fuel into marshes at Utah’s Willard Bay State Park. When cleaning crews were laying down absorbent booms to soak up the spill, they came upon the diesel-soaked beavers, and soon realized that it was their dam preventing the slick from pouring into Willard Bay, a 10,000-acre freshwater reservoir located on the northeastern flood plains of the Great Salt Lake and the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The six rescued beavers have been brought to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, suffering from burned skin and eyes and loss of fur. Staff workers at the center are regularly washing the beavers and administering Kaopectate and antibiotics to help alleviate complications due to swallowed diesel.
“The dam absolutely saved the bay,” said DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler, Executive Director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.
This past Friday, Chevron donated $10,000 to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah as an “advance…to cover all costs associated with nursing the beavers back to full health.” Chevron spokesperson Gareth Johnstone said a Chevron representative has visited the center to offer financial assistance and express gratitude to workers. Three of the beavers have reportedly made a recovery, but two juveniles and a female adult believed to be their mother are still in critical condition.
“They’ve got severe burns to their bodies, around their eyes, in their mouths. They’re pretty critical right now, but making progress,” Erickson-Marthaler told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Though they may seem like heroes, Phil Douglass, Northern Region Conservation Outreach Manager for the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, noted that the beavers were just doing what comes naturally. Beavers are homemakers, he said, whose dams draw moose to Utah, as they prefer still waters for drinking. Beaver dams also help keep waters cool for trout and make surrounding areas healthier by inviting more plant growth, Douglass added.
While contained to a small area by the afternoon of March 19, the full impact of the spill on Willard Bay animal, plant and aquatic life, including walleye, smallmouth bass, bluegill and other fish species, has yet to be determined.
“From the wildlife perspective, we are obviously very concerned about how this will impact the wildlife and the fishery that exists in that area,” Douglass said.
This is Chevron’s third fuel spill in Utah in just the last three years. In June 2010, over 30,000 gallons of Chevron crude oil spilled near Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City. Just six months later in December 2010, a leak near the same site spilled approximately 21,000 gallons of crude oil. Combined, both spills cost Chevron an estimated $43 million in cleanup costs, fines and other spill-related expenses. Chevron is currently banned from resuming operations of its faulty pipeline until granted government approval.
“If anything’s been disappointing in the past couple of weeks, it’s been this Chevron oil spill,” Utah Governor Gary Herbert said Thursday at a televised news conference. “This is just not acceptable. We need to take a more proactive stance as a state. With interstate pipelines, that’s a federal responsibility of the Pipeline Hazardous Material Public Safety Administration, and obviously they’ve not done a very good job of overseeing the pipes that travel between our states. We will make sure that Chevron does what it needs to do to clean this mess up.”