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Berkeley Pit geese

A few snow geese are visible on the Berkeley Pit in this file photo taken in mid-December 2016. Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield Co. are trying out a new bird deterrent this week called the VRAD. It creates a sonic boom and is expected to potentially be more effective than previous technologies the companies have so far explored. However, the community can expect very loud noises to come from the Berkeley Pit on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

With spring upcoming, Montana Resources is looking to form an advisory council of experts to come up with new ideas to keep migratory waterfowl off the Berkeley Pit.

Mark Thompson, Montana Resources' manager of environmental affairs, said Friday that the goal is to try to change — by March 1 — how the company keeps birds off the pit. MR starts increasing its bird observation at the pit on March 1 to prepare for the annual migration.

Though the council is still being formed — exactly who will be on it is yet unknown — Thompson said MR realizes it needs help.

“We’re trying to get the best technical people to bear on the issue that we can. We knew this isn’t our expertise. We’re miners. We knew we needed external help,” said Thompson.

The move comes in the wake of thousands of migrating snow geese who died after landing on and consuming toxic Berkeley Pit water in late November.

The current plan, established by federal and state agencies in 1996 in response to the 1995 snow geese die-off, calls for various noisemakers to scare flocks of birds away from the water. The plan was successful for 21 years until — almost to the day of the 1995 incident — thousands of geese landed Nov. 28 on the pit.

MR has been in discussion with Montana Tech professor Stella Capoccia since December about hiring her to research and oversee revising the 1996 plan. Capoccia is also working to create the advisory council.

Besides experts from various agencies and universities, the council could potentially include knowledgeable people from nonprofits like the Montana Audubon Society, said Capoccia.

“We’re trying to get a range of expertise,” said Capoccia.

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Robert Moler, Environmental Protection Agency community involvement coordinator, said Monday that EPA will participate on the council.

Federal and state agencies will have to approve of any revisions to the 1996 plan before changes can be implemented. The EPA is still investigating whether MR adhered to the 1996 plan when the snow geese landed in November. There is no time table for when that investigation will be complete, said Moler.

Anna Munoz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman in Denver, said that agency is also still assessing the situation.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent 20 dead birds to a laboratory for a toxicology report in December. The agency could fine both MR and Atlantic Richfield Company, the responsible parties for the Berkeley Pit Superfund site, up to $5,000 per dead bird. Thompson said via email that likely 3,000 to 4,000 birds died in the pit.

The agency won’t make a decision about fines until it has determined the number of dead geese through aerial photography and has received the toxicology report.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks released Wednesday morning the last remaining snow goose captured alive in mid-December.

FWP wildlife biologist Vanna Boccadori said she released the bird with resident Canadian geese in Blacktail Creek along the Ulrich-Schotte Nature Trail in Butte, according to a 2002 release plan. But if the snow goose tries to fly south, its chances of survival could be slim. Temperatures in Butte on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service, were 2 below zero for the high and 23 degrees below zero for the low.

“With it being extreme winter weather, no open fields, no open water… If it takes off now, it will not know where to go. It’s not a good time of year for food (for the snow geese),” said Boccadori.

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