A snow storm pushed a large flock of snow geese off their migration route seeking refuge in the acidic , metal laden waters of an old open pit mine in Montana. Witnesses described the visual as several acres of white birds on November 28th.
The responsibility for the open Berkeley Pit in Butte belongs to Atlantic Richfield and Montana Resources. An off duty MR employee gave the heads up as he spotted the flock of some 25,000 geese heading toward the pit from 25 miles away. Typically, Butte gets between 2000-5000 flyovers annually, including migration periods. As soon as possible employees used spot lights, noisemakers, and other efforts to scare the birds off the deadly waters. By November 29th more than 90% of the birds had been scared off the water. Despite their best efforts some 7,000 birds died from exposure to the toxic soup.
The Berkeley Pit holds about 175bn litres of water. The death toll is estimated by drones and airplanes flying over. Federal and state agencies are still seeking to confirm the number…which is going to be considerably higher that the 1995 incident when 342 birds died, which prompted the local authorities to have a plan in place. Even with a plan they were swamped with just the shear volume of birds. MR and Arco could face fines if they are found to be non compliant with the bird hazing program.
An investigation is underway to determine what circumstances led to ” this kind of perfect storm”, with thousands of birds making a late migration and then facing a snowstorm , with the Berkeley Pit being the only open water in the area.
There are estimated to be 4-6 million snow geese in North America. Losing several thousand will not put them on the endangered list. A concern would be how many other toxic open water pits are there, and with changing climate conditions will migrating flocks adjust their routes and end up flying into dangerous waters?