Readers who follow our page will remember the heartbreaking story we shared in November of 2016 about the thousands of snow geese that died in a notoriously polluted mining pit-turned lake in Montana.
At that time, a migrating flock of 25,000 Snow Geese landed in what the Washington Post called, “the 700-acre Berkeley Pit, a former mine now submerged in water as acidic as distilled vinegar. From 1955 until operations ceased in 1982, miners extracted nearly 300 million tons of copper ore from the pit. They left behind an immense crevasse, which filled with water 900 feet deep. Concentrated within the floodwater are arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, zinc and other inorganic compounds.”1
It is estimated that at least 3,000-10,000 snow geese died from that one migrating flock in 2016. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the birds that died “had severe internal tissue damage that appeared to have been caused by a corrosive substance.”2 The highly acidic water (pH 2.5) also strips natural oils from feathers which the Wildlife Service says can cause drowning or hypothermia.3 The community of Butte was so distressed over the massive bird kill that they held a wake for the snow geese in an observance called, “Hope for Snow Geese.”
The pit is a federally managed Superfund site and there is a long-term plan in place to clean up the water, but until then, the site is managed by Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield. They have responsibility for chasing the birds off the water to try to prevent bird fatalities. In 2016, their tools were limited to using loud noises (shotgun blasts and recorded predator cries) and lights.
Two years later, there is good news on several fronts. First, a drone operator has been hired who created a specially modified model that has flashing strobe lights visible for three miles and sirens that discourage migrating birds from staying on the toxic water. Another contractor built a remote-controlled boat that can chase birds to quickly encourage them to fly. Video from the local news station demonstrates both devices.4
In some other good news, the timetable to clean-up the toxic waters has been moved up by 5 years. Originally scheduled to begin clean up in 2023, officials for Montana Resources said they would begin pumping and treating the Berkeley Pit water for the next 3-4 years.
According to Susan Dunlap, a reporter for the Montana Standard in Butte, the revised timetable may have something to do with community fear, saying “For 30 years they’ve been watching the Berkeley Pit control groundwater. Now it’s time for them to control the Berkeley Pit.”5
Credit NASA (CC-BY-2)
1Guarino B. Thousands of Montana snow geese die after landing in toxic, acidic mine pit. Washington Post. 7 December 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/12/07/montana-snow-geese-searching-for-pond-land-in-toxic-mine-pit-thousands-die/?utm_term=.6c103a7b75ca
2Associated Press. Geese that died in pit had lesions in throats, stomache. Great Falls Tribune. 18 April 2017. https://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/2017/04/18/geese-died-pit-lesions-throats-stomachs/100596822/
3U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Contaminant Issues – Pit Lakes. Region 6 Environmental Contaminants. https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/contaminants/contaminants8.html
4KRTV. Drones being used to haze birds from Berkeley Pit. 12 November 2018. https://krtv.com/news/montana-and-regional-news/2018/11/12/drones-are-being-used-to-haze-birds-away-from-the-berkeley-pit/
5Saks N. Plans to pump, treat Berkeley pit water move forward. Montana Public Radio. 1 March 2018. http://www.mtpr.org/post/plans-pump-treat-berkeley-pit-water-move-forward
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