Thousands of snow geese die after landing in contaminated Montana mine pit – by Debbi Baker (San Diego Union Tribune – December 7, 2016)

Thousands of snow geese died last week in Butte, Montana after a snowstorm forced them to land in contaminated water in an open pit at an old copper mine.

The site, called the Berkeley Pit, was the only open water in the area. Witnesses said it looked like “700 acres of white birds,” said Mark Thompson, environmental affairs manager for Montana Resources, which is responsible for the mine along with Atlantic Richfield Co.

According to The Montana Standard, mine officials estimated that as many as 10,000 of the migratory birds may have perished. Some were found dead or dying in and around town, including two in a Walmart parking lot.Thompson told the Associated Press that as many as 25,000 birds were flying through the area since Nov. 28, thousands more that the usual numbers of between 2,000 and 5,000 a year.

“I can’t underscore enough how many birds were in the Butte area that night,” Thompson said. “Numbers beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in our 21 years of monitoring by several orders of magnitude.” According to NASA, the Berkeley Pit is in a region mined for gold, silver and copper, and that by the end of the 19th century, it was called “The Richest Hill on Earth.”

The copper mine was run by Anaconda Mining Company, which began in 1955 and was shut down in 1982. Once the ground water pumps were turned off, water from the surrounding rock basin began to seep into the pit.

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