Several thousand migrating snow geese perished in the toxic Berkeley Pit water where they landed last week, mine officials said Tuesday.
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.
The mine estimates that as many as 10,000 snow geese landed on the pit’s contaminated water the night of Nov. 28. Thompson said previously that the pit’s 700-acre lake was “white with birds.”
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 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.
Including the live bird, as many as six have been found around town since last week. Two more dead geese were reported Tuesday south of Butte, said Thompson. Two dead 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.
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Thompson said MR 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.” The pit water contains sulfuric acid and heavy metals.
MR will foot the vet bills, said an EPA spokesperson.
Randall said if any birds found in town survive, BSB will release them back into the wild.
A spokesperson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency will pick up the 23 dead snow geese MR has already collected Wednesday. Those birds will be sent to a lab for necropsies.
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 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.