June 22nd, 2010
09:33 AM ET

Letter to the President #519: 'Let the volunteers in!'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/US/06/15/louisiana.brown.pelican/t1larg.pelicans.new.cnn.jpg caption="The coast is covered with fishermen, sportsmen, biologists, bird watchers, naturalists and pure nature lovers who appear desperate to help in this situation and who have been frustrated by the apparent lack of interest from BP and the government in their offers of assistance." width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: President Obama has said the federal government is calling the shots on the Gulf. If that is the case, it appears a lot of free and potentially excellent help is being turned away, as I note in my daily letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

After a very long, hot, and tiring day, I just enjoyed a late and fabulous crab dinner which I kicked off with a dozen Apalachicola oysters. And I didn’t even have to wait for a table. Ah the joys of being on the Gulf when everyone else is staying away!

I know it’s really not a joy because the missing crowds mean smaller paychecks for a lot of people who rely on the tourist trade.

And I know that plenty of people would still rather be almost anywhere else, but so far, after driving several hundred miles and talking to a lot of folks, I have seen no real sign of the oil, except the oil booms themselves in a few scattered spots. I’ve had a few locals tell me that they have seen some tar balls which were quickly cleaned up, and others are worried about oil that they have been told is hovering just a few miles off shore. Given the right currents, and the right winds, they fear their whole situation could rapidly become very messy. But for the moment, as I said, I think if no one told you there had been a catastrophic spill in the region, you just would not know it.

That said it is certainly having an effect, especially on wildlife. Which brings me to a bone of contention I am developing with the powers that be, whomever they may be in this situation. Too many folks have told me (including a couple more today) that regular citizens far and wide are being warned in the strongest terms to make no attempt to rescue any critter caught in the oil, but rather to “leave it up to the experts.”

Having spent countless hours trekking through nature in my life, and having endless encounters of all types with wild creatures, I can assure you that my respect and concern for them is profound. And certainly there can be merit in shooing away people who know nothing at all of how to deal with animals in distress. But the coast is covered with fishermen, sportsmen, biologists, bird watchers, naturalists and pure nature lovers who appear desperate to help in this situation, who have enough experience to at least help with the general collection of the wounded and ill, and who have been frustrated by the apparent lack of interest from BP and the government in their offers of assistance.

Certainly there are not enough “experts” in the Gulf right now to cover the vast number of winding miles of shoreline and to reach all the animals that might benefit. Without question that means many will die that maybe… just maybe… would not have to if there were any clear way for these good citizens to get involved. And yet, one after another they have told me that they have been rebuffed.

It is too late for me to gone on at length about this tonight, but it has been troubling me all day and I thought I should mention it. This I am certain of, after a couple of weeks in this area: Many animals are dying while people who might be able to help them, and who are willing to do so, are stuck in a sort of bureaucratic Neverland… told that no one can do such work without extensive years of training, and that whatever experience or training they already have is not enough.

Maybe their efforts would not be perfect. Maybe they will make mistakes. But I can imagine few mistakes more basic than allowing defenseless animals to die simply because some rules about contact between humans and wild animals (which were written for much more normal circumstances) are being followed with mindless zeal.

So my advice for today: Open the doors. Contact your Fish and Wildlife folks and tell them to figure out how to put all these well intentioned volunteers to work, instead of turning them away. An undetermined number of animals are dying because of the oil spill, but maybe if we took advantage of the many Americans who want to help… not so many of those animals would have to perish.

I fear this is not much of a letter. I’ll write it off to the late hour and possible heat stroke. But still, the sentiment is well meant. Call if you can. I’ll be on the Gulf all week.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Michael

    Tom: You are correct in your view and this applies to every aspect of this disaster. Many people of the affected areas who are familiar with the wild life, and waterways who could ignite a local coalition in the fight to save the ecosystem we all love and live off of. But time and time again we are told to "Stand Down" which takes all the wind out of our sails and eventually all Hope in a solution and worst of all the Government leaders which we have entrusted power in. I'm sure that across this great nation with all the great minds and technology we can find a cure to this crisis and allow people to roll up their sleeves and get to work. This would give people a way to show what they are made of and the "Greatness of Human Compassion" but our Powers that be are just concerned about who will "Pay the Bill"

    June 22, 2010 at 11:32 am |

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