The fuel tanker explosion that has closed a stretch of Interstate 81 near Harrisburg also caused about 2,000 gallons of spilled diesel fuel to flow into a nearby wetlands, prompting a rapid response to contain and clean up the spill, and rescue affected wildlife.
Efforts continue today at Wildwood Lake Sanctuary, which lies just northwest of the interchange where the tanker overturned and caught fire.
Fuel spilled at the crash site May 9 traveled through a storm drain to Paxton Creek and into the Wildwood marsh, an important habitat for wildlife and plants, including state endangered species of each.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission responded to the marsh just before noon on Thursday, after a man who had been hiking through Wildwood Park called to report the spill. Field officers with the commission paddled their way around the lake and were able to rescue about a dozen fuel-coated ducklings and goslings from the marsh.
“The timeliness of the response and coordinated efforts with Wildwood Park personnel, Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, and USDA Wildlife Service’s personnel was critical to assessing the situation, beginning wildlife recovery operations and mitigating additional wildlife impacts,” said Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe .
The commission’s rescue efforts resumed today.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, as part of the Game Commission’s wildlife-protection response, has set up a propane-powered air cannon that creates intermittent blasts of sound in an attempt to deter wildlife from entering the contaminated portion of the wetland.
Daniel Brauning , a bird expert with the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, said timing is critical in rescues of waterfowl that become immersed in fuel.
“The sooner you are able to rescue them, the better their chances of survival,” said Brauning, who heads up the commission’s Wildlife Diversity division.
Rich Palmer , the director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Protection, said the public also can help in the effort by reporting to the commission any wild birds or mammals that appear to be coated with oil.
Reporting sightings could increase any contaminated animal’s chance of survival, and will allow the commission to better assess how many animals were affected by the spill, Palmer said.
Wildwood Park at this time of year is used regularly by feeding great egrets and black-crowned night-herons, both of which are state endangered species. Great egrets were seen Thursday at Wildwood during the initial cleanup and rescue efforts.
The Game Commission in coming days and weeks will monitor closely how these important species fare at Wildwood.
Wildwood has the largest concentration in Pennsylvania of American lotus, a state endangered plant. Its dominance in the Wildwood’s emergent wetlands makes it an unusual ecosystem within the state.
Additionally, Wildwood is home to substantial numbers of muskrats and waterfowl. Nesters there include mallards, wood ducks and Canada geese, while everything from northern shovelers, blue-winged teal and common snipe stop over during migration. Other nesters include American woodcock and yellow warblers.
Owned and managed by Dauphin County, Wildwood also is home to white-tailed deer, mink, eastern coyotes, red foxes and raccoons.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said today the spill was quickly contained in the lake and that cleanup efforts are continuing.
Anyone sighting wildlife believed to be affected by the spill can contact the Game Commission’s southeast regional office at 610-926-3136.