MINING COMPANIES HOPE ‘BIG GUNS’ WILL KEEP GEESE OFF TOXIC WATER

[3/20/17]  As the spring waterfowl migration begins, managers at the Berkeley Pit in Montana are considering setting up lasers and cannons to prevent another mass landing – and the subsequent deaths – of thousands of geese and other waterfowl.

Last November, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 snow geese, Ross’s geese and ducks died after landing on the toxic stew of acidic water in the 900-foot-deep former mining pit, which is part of the largest Superfund site in the nation. While the official cause of death hasn’t been released, most of the waterfowl probably suffered internal organ failure, along with external burns, according to Ryan Moehring of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The deaths probably came from both drinking and just landing on the water,” Moehring said in an interview, noting that most of the birds that landed – and most of the mortalities – were snow geese. “Exposure to that level of acidity is harmful, causing internal and external burns. It’s quite unpleasant.”

Montana Resources personnel, who manage the former open-pit copper mine with BP-owned Atlantic Richfield Company, were shocked when they discovered the dead birds, which nearly covered the 1-by-1.5-mile pit. Previously, 342 snow geese that perished in the pit in 1995 held the record for the highest waterfowl death count in one season. The companies then developed plans to prevent additional deaths, and until Nov. 2016, only about 200 birds died after landing on the pit’s water.

But on Nov. 28 of last year, tens of thousands of birds landed on the Berkeley Pit.

“It wouldn’t have surprised me if we had 50,000 to 100,000 in the area; when you start picking up birds on Doppler radar in multiple groups, you have a lot of birds,” said Mark Thompson, the environmental affairs manager for Montana Resources, in an interview.

Although the pit managers employed their usual hazing methods of shooting multiple rifle rounds into the air and setting off fireworks to try to spook the geese that night, many of the birds refused to leave. By the next morning, it was too late.

So this time, Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield plan to bring in the big guns in the forms of cannons, lasers and possibly firearms. They’ll also employ water and aerial drones to harass the waterfowl.