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Snow Geese Die by the Thousands After Landing in Toxic Montana Mine Pit

snow geese
Cover photo via Flickr

An abandoned mine pit in Butte, Montana was the final resting place for thousands of snow geese migrating through the Treasure State.

The 700-acre Berkeley Pit near Butte, Montana, abandoned since 1982, is full of fun things like arsenic, cadmium, cobalt. Add to the toxic stew of inorganic compounds, the former mine operation is now a superfund site.

Since the leftover pit is an enormous gouge in the earth, it goes without saying that water collects in its vast crater to the tune of some 900 feet deep: water that will attract waterfowl.

Enter roughly 10,000 snow geese migrating south through the beautiful Montana skies looking for a resting place. Mark Thompson, Montana Resources and environmental affairs manager said:

“I can’t underscore enough how many birds were in the Butte area that night. Numbers beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in our 21 years of monitoring by several orders of magnitude.”

A preliminary count of the dead birds on the pit was estimated in the thousands.

snow geese
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Since the leftover water is said to be “as acidic as distilled vinegar” it’s not hard to figure out what happened, but hold on.

In 1995 almost 350 snow geese were found dead on the same pit, and the Atlantic Richfield Company disputed that the birds died due to the toxic water. Instead they argued that the geese had eaten tainted grain somewhere else.

Ultimately, a University of Wyoming showed that most of the geese died of acute exposure to the water. Edwin Dobb wrote then,

“In each bird autopsied, the oral cavity, trachea, and esophagus, as well as digestive organs like the gizzard and intestines, were lined with burns and festering sores.”

Since managers of the pit have tried to deter snow geese from lighting in the pond by using shotguns, flares, and even noise making devices, it begs the question, where were they? The open water is still a draw for the birds, now the birds are dead.

The EPA is reviewing whether the management companies will be fined for negligence.

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Snow Geese Die by the Thousands After Landing in Toxic Montana Mine Pit