Thousands of migrating snow geese died late last week as they landed on a small body of water in Butte, Montana. Tragically the flock of tens of thousands of birds touched down on a former mine pit submerged in water as acidic now recognized as a federally managed “Superfund” sight established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 to clean up contaminated areas.
According to the Associated Press and the Guardian, the geese, noted for their all white feathers except for their black beaks and black tipped wings, the four-pound birds landed en masse on the 700-acre Berkeley Pit, the former mine where for 27 years, miners extracted 300 million tons of copper ore. When they left, they filled the huge hole with water 900 feet deep, but it was polluted with arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, iron, zinc and other inorganic compounds.
On November 28, an estimated 10,000 snow geese, unable to tolerate the green slime and the heavy acid compounds, landed in the pit turning the water “white with birds”; the preliminary estimate found thousands of dead birds. Tragically a similar disaster occurred in 1995, when 342 snow geese dead bodies had to be removed from the same pit. A subsequent necropsy of the birds stated:
“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.”
According to ABC News, workers had advance notice of the incoming flock of 25,000 geese flying 25 miles away from the mine and claim that employees “did incredible things to save a lot of birds and they really put their heart and soul behind it,” he said. “They did everything they could think of.”
Exposure to the water in the Berkeley Pit does not instantly kill the animals – it could take days or weeks. Meanwhile residents of Butte have witnessed geese dying on roadsides, in store parking lots and locations outside of the city. Companies have been trying to scare the birds away from the toxic pit with scopes, spotlights and electronic noises.
So far the Environmental Protection Agency has been reviewing the incident and reported fines will be issued if companies are found negligent.
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(Photos of snow geese screenshot Washington Post and Sacramento Natural Wildlife)