How do you treat an oil-covered water moccasin?

Very carefully.

Yes, this is among the issues for a number of people working with affected wildlife at the Exxon Mobil pipeline spill. They are coming across snakes and turtles along with ducks and beavers.

But no oiled fish have been found in Lake Conway.

That is a bit of a bright spot in this environmental disaster in Central Arkansas. Another encouragement is that the numbers of oil-affected wildlife are not large. The suffering and dead birds and animals are significant all right, but it is not a sweeping or widespread situation.

The wildlife segment of the Exxon Mobile efforts in Mayflower is being handled by a coalition of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, a Texas wildlife services group hired by Exxon Mobile and volunteers, including wildlife rehabilitation people and University of Central Arkansas biology faculty and students.

The lead Game and Fish Commission staff members are wildlife biologist Matt Mourot and fisheries biologist Tom Bly. Mourot explained that oil can cause serious problems in the nasal cavities and in the digestive system of animals.

The UCA group is led by biology professor Vickie McDonald, who said its role was to look for affected wildlife and report these to the professionals, not to try to handle the birds and animals themselves.

A tally by the Game and Fish Commission on Thursday was 16 ducks captured, seven dead birds collected (six ducks and a coot), two mammals collected ( one muskrat and one beaver), nine snakes captured, seven turtles captured. The ducks were mallards, except for one teal.

Likely, some birds and animals have died and have not been found.

The oil spill area is the Northwoods subdivision in the northern part of Mayflower, and ditches and a creek from it under the Union Pacific railroad, under Arkansas 365 and under Interstate 40 to a cove of Lake Conway which is crossed by Arkansas 89.

It is on both sides of Arkansas 89 that crews have erected a defense line — floating booms designed to catch any oil moving toward the main lake. Oil is lighter than water, so floating booms are common weapons in fighting oil spills.

No deer or turkeys have been found affected by the oil, but the spill area is mostly marshy land, not the usual home for deer and turkey.

Much debate and speculation has swirled around the type of oil that flowed from the ruptured pipeline.

The oil comes from Canada to an Exxon mobile facility in southwestern Illinois, then by the Pegasus pipeline through Arkansas to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

It is a thick oil called tar sands oil in contrast to thinner "sweet" oil from other fields. Persons working at Mayflower tell that the oil is sticky and hard to remove from anything, including birds and animals.

The pipeline was laid in 1948 in the Mayflower area. It crosses the Arkansas River and passes near Lake Maumelle, Little Rock’s drinking water source, which raises additional concern. The pipeline was built before Lake Conway was constructed and runs under the northern part of the lake in places.

Lake Conway was the first lake project taken on by the Game and fish Commission in the late 1940s, but legal wrangling delayed its actual construction until October 1950. It was completed when gates at the dam were closed at a ceremony on July 4, 1951.

The first Game and Fish Commission lake actually completed was little Lake Hindsville in Madison County, built and put into use in 1949. Lake Hindsville was a project promoted by Orval Faubus, then Madison County judge and later governor of Arkansas.


Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at