This report presents considerations of potential hazards and mitigation measures associated with conducting field research in the context of a pathogenic epidemic or pandemic situation. We use an example of a specific risk assessment developed for advising decisions on initiating or continuing field activities (in this case, markresight and passive acoustic monitoring) associated with ongoing research of northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States under conditions imposed by the COVID-19 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2) global pandemic. We review the structure of a risk assessment procedure that follows USDA Forest Service policy in general and has specifically been applied to owl research during the current pandemic. The risk assessment framework we used included listing job objectives, job tasks, and potential hazards associated with each task. For each task, we evaluated the severity of the hazard (negligible, moderate, critical, or catastrophic) and the probability of a mishap if the hazard was present (rare, unlikely, possible, likely, or almost certain) and assigned a risk assessment code that identified risks as low, moderate, high, or extremely high. We then described mitigation and abatement measures that we posited would reduce the risk severity or probability, and then scored the residual (decreased) severity, probability, and risk level. We briefly review other potential considerations for a job hazard risk assessment under conditions of pathogenic outbreaks, including considerations for additional costs and administrative duties, working in proximity and unexpected encounters in field situations, and changes in behavior of wildlife.
Marcot, Bruce G.; Lesmeister, Damon B.; Wilson, Todd M.; Volkman, Eric; Anderson, Paul. 2020. Applying principles and methods of risk analysis: a case example of northern spotted owl research in a dynamic pandemic landscape. Res. Pap. PNW-RP-617. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 30 p.