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Thousands of snow geese perish in Butte’s Berkeley Pit

Berkeley Pit, an open-pit copper mine that has been allowed to fill with water since its closure in 1982, is seen in this October 2003 photo. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Berkeley Pit, an open-pit copper mine that has been allowed to fill with water since its closure in 1982, is seen in this October 2003 photo. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

WILDLIFE -- Several thousand migrating snow geese perished in the toxic Berkeley Pit water where they landed last week in Butte, mine officials told the Montana Standard today.

Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield Company officials say they are not yet ready to release a hard number because federal and state agencies have to verify numbers collected. But MR manager of environmental affairs Mark Thompson said the mining company expects the final number to be several times greater than the 1995 snow goose die-off incident.

A $100,000 restitution proposal for the deaths of 342 snow geese in 1995 was challenged by Montana Resources, a mining company that accepted blame for the deaths and planned to pay a $10,000 fine.

The mine estimates that as many as 10,000 snow geese landed on the pit’s contaminated water last week on the night of Nov. 28. Thompson said previously that the pit’s 700-acre lake was “white with birds.”

Here's more from the newspaper's story posted this afternoon.

Since then, MR and ARCO – the responsible parties for the Berkeley Pit Superfund site – worked around the clock to get the birds to leave and to keep any additional birds from landing, say federal officials.

A spokesman from the Environmental Protection Agency also says the companies and the EPA are keeping an eye on additional flocks headed toward Butte.

The preliminary number released Tuesday is based on photos taken from drone and aircraft flights over the pit. The counting is not yet complete, said Thompson.

Butte-Silver Bow community enrichment director Ed Randall said an animal control officer picked up another live snow goose on Amherst Avenue Tuesday morning. That bird was taken to a veterinarian for care.

Three snow geese were reported to animal control last week. Two dead snow geese were found by individuals in the Walmart parking lot last Thursday. A third was found alive on Amherst Avenue last Wednesday, but it later died.

Randall said the EPA has directed Butte-Silver Bow animal control to “do everything possible,” to try to save any birds found alive. Randall said the veterinarian treatment involves flushing the birds both inside and out to “get everything out of them.”

MR will foot the vet bills, said an EPA spokesperson.

MR and ARCO could receive fines if EPA determines the companies were not in compliance with the bird hazing program. That program was designed by state and federal agencies in response to the 1995 snow geese die-off when 342 birds died.

Thompson said he is confident EPA will find that the companies were in compliance.

“If it wasn’t for the diligence and dedication of MR and ARCO people out there 24-7, trying everything and really giving it their heart and soul, this would be much, much worse. These guys really cared,” said Thompson.

MR has recovered at least 23 snow geese for federal agencies to analyze from this incident.

MR reported that as many as 50 snow geese were alive Monday on the Berkeley Pit. Thompson said Tuesday that all the birds are now dead.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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