Hundreds of snow geese die in toxic pit mine

Published 3:46 PM EST, Wed December 7, 2016

Story highlights

Thousands of geese landed in a dangerous Montana chemical pit

Hundreds have died, but officials aren't sure exactly how many yet

CNN —  

About 10,000 snow geese descended upon what looked like a nice, quiet lake in Butte, Montana last week. But unfortunately for them, it wasn’t a lake at all.

It was the Berkeley Pit, a chemical-laden death trap that used to be part of an open copper mine.

The pit’s water is highly acidic and teeming with toxic stuff like arsenic and sulfuric acid, so the geese’s ill-informed touchdown has sparked some urgent efforts from the local mining and environmental communities.

Now, the clock is ticking to save the birds.

Snow geese leave the Berkeley Pit.
Courtesy Montana Resources
Snow geese leave the Berkeley Pit.

Montana Resources, a mining company, told CNN affiliate KXLF that hundreds of the geese have already died on the pit’s waters.

Aside from the fact that geese lack the critical reasoning skills to avoid environmental dangers like an old pit mine, an expert told KXLF the birds seek open water for rest and to get away from predators.

Crews have been able to chase thousands of the geese off the water this week, KXLF reported. The surviving geese have been gradually leaving the area, and as of Wednesday Montana Resources estimates there are about 50 live geese left.

Snow geese in particular seem to have a flair for dramatic mass deaths. In 1995, more than 300 geese died after landing in the same Montana pit, and in 2015, about 2,000 snow geese fell dead from the sky in Idaho, the apparent victims of avian cholera.

Luckily (if there is any luck to be had in this situation), snow geese are far from endangered. They’re actually overpopulated, but that doesn’t mean crews at the Montana mine are just going to stand by and watch them perish on a lake of filth.

According to KXLF, they’re currently working on methods to get the remaining geese out of harm’s way, and on better strategies to prevent future mishaps.