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Snow Goose

A snow goose that was captured and treated after drinking toxic pit water is seen in this file photo. Thousands of snow geese landed on the pit's 700-acre lake the night of Nov. 28, and though 3,000 to 4,000 died, thousands more flew off. FWP originally issued an advisory to hunters not to eat snow geese bagged immediately afterward, but now the EPA says it's safe to eat the meat.

Plans to release the snow goose captured and treated Tuesday after living as much as a week on the Berkeley Pit’s toxic water have been put on hold while the bird heals.

The goose, who’s been housed at Butte-Silver Bow animal shelter since Tuesday, was set to be released from the Butte Treatment Lagoons off Centennial Avenue Friday. But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Ryan Moehring said Friday from his Denver office that the veterinarian re-examined the bird Thursday and said it’s not believed to be ready for takeoff.

“It’s a little less energetic today than yesterday,” Moehring said Friday. “Butte-Silver Bow animal control, in consultation with the vet, requested it be kept over the weekend to ensure full strength.”

Amherst Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Heather Davis, who examined the goose, said its physical condition proved to be “unremarkable.” She said the goose “seems to be doing OK.” But she added that the repercussions of ingesting heavy metals might not show up until weeks later.

Long-term heavy metals ingestion deposits in the liver and kidneys. Too much of it in vital organs could be fatal, Davis said.

“But the concentration of metals has changed quite a bit (since the 1995 snow goose die-off), so we’re hoping these birds do better,” said Davis.

So far nine birds have been found since Nov. 30 in Butte and Dillon. Most were dead. A few were captured alive but died shortly afterward.

While thousands of geese reportedly left the pit’s toxic water due to extensive hazing by mine employees, the goose at the shelter is the sole survivor after capture.

As many as 10,000 migrating geese landed in the pit during a snow storm the night of Nov. 28. An estimated 3,000 or more are dead, Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent said Wednesday.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks issued a warning to hunters in Southwest Montana Thursday to wait to consume snow geese harvested after Nov. 28. FWP recommends freezing the geese until they can be analyzed for possible contamination. Goose hunting season continues into January.

Davis said allowing the goose to rest at the shelter could be “lifesaving.” She also said she isn’t concerned that it’s held in captivity too long. She added that lots of rehabilitation programs keep birds for far longer.

Dave Pauli of Billings, senior adviser on wildlife for The Humane Society of the United States, said in a phone interview Friday that if the bird is kept in a darkened area where there’s not a lot of activity, holding it longer in captivity won’t decrease its ability to survive once released.

But Gary Swant, Deer Lodge-based birding expert, said Friday that if this goose is released, it will likely not make it.

“There’s no open water,” Swant said.

He recommends the goose be taken to Central Park Pond west of Bozeman. The pond is visible from Interstate 90. Swant said the pond is a winter home to trumpeter and tundra swans. He said it wouldn’t matter that the snow goose would be among other bird species.

“It’s open water and good habitat,” Swant said.

He also said nature is by no means kind to birds. The vast majority don’t live for more than a year.

“No more than 20 percent born survive to the next spring to reproduce. If all reproduced, we’d be drowning in birds. (This die-off) is not the end of the snow goose population by any means,” Swant said.

Swant said as many as 2,500 American coots, a black bird that looks like a duck, died from ingesting a type of snail in 2007 at Georgetown Lake.

“There are die-offs all the time in nature,” Swant said.

Pauli said he hopes the responsible parties for the Berkeley Pit will take action so such an event doesn’t happen again. Montana Resources officials say they are exploring new technology to upgrade and improve the federally designed and mandated bird hazing program.

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