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Mining Effects on Wild Birds

Thousands of Geese Killed by Contaminated Water


Human activity often has a negative impact on wildlife. Despite huge efforts to protect the birds, thousands of snow geese have recently been killed after landing on contaminated water in Butte, Montana.

Acidic Water at Open Pit Mine


The water at the Berkeley open pit mine is highly acidic and so is extremely hazardous to the birds. The area is usually visited by only 2,000 to 5,000 migrating geese each year. But in November 2016, workers received a warning that there was a huge flock of up to 25,000 birds around 25 miles away and likely to head for Butte. The flock featured more birds than had been seen in the region for 21 years.


Prevention Measures


Workers at the pit did everything they could to scare off the birds and to prevent them from landing on the water at the pit. They used spotlights and noise makers to stop the birds from landing but were unable to deter all of the geese. Around 90% of the geese were chased off but many landed and witnesses described the scene as looking like ‘700 acres of white birds’. A snowstorm had forced the geese to land.


Death Toll


It is thought that thousands of birds may have died. Certainly many more perished than the 342 which were killed in 1995. This was an incident which prompted workers at the pit to initiate efforts to prevent birds from landing in large numbers again. Attempts are being made to estimate the recent death toll using drones and manned flights over the water.


Unique Circumstances


The company which operates the pit and the relevant authorities will investigate the incident in an attempt to understand how such circumstances could have transpired. Thousands of birds were attempting a late migration and were then hit by a snow storm in an area where the pit was the only open water available to land on.


Professor Jack Kirkly of the University of Montana Western has explained that the recent milder winters were resulting in birds heading south later in the year. This could be causing them to stop over in areas that they had not used before.


Punitive Action


MIR and Arco, the companies who operate the pit, could be fined if it is found that they did not take sufficient action to protect the birds. However, they are confident that they had done everything possible to scare off the unexpected high volume of geese.


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