Since 1996, Atlantic Richfield and Montana Resources, have implemented a rigorous waterfowl protection program at the Berkeley Pit. Over this time the program has adapted and improved methods that deter waterfowl from landing on the Pit and hazing of waterfowl from the Pit’s surface.
Waterfowl protection at the Pit is a truly unique challenge. In addition to its large size (over 430 acres), the Pit has potential for rock slides, has limited access to the shorelines, is subject to harshly cold winters, and can be blanketed in dense fog. The Pit is located within the direct flyway of Butte’s Bert Mooney Airport and within an active mining operation. These compounding conditions and issues must be balanced to maintain program effectiveness while ensuring that workers’ safety is never compromised. Despite these challenges, approximately 98% of all birds observed on the Pit since 1996 have been successfully hazed to fly away! Recent improvements to the program have further increased this already remarkable success rate to approximately 99.8% since 2017.
How does the program work?
The waterfowl protection program is a collaborative effort between Atlantic Richfield, Montana Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Additionally, an independent Waterfowl Advisory Board provides valuable input to help guide the program. The Waterfowl Advisory Board, which includes regional avian experts and conservationists, is facilitated by the local university, Montana Technological University (Montana Tech).
During the migration seasons (March 1 to May 31 for Spring; August 15 to December 31 for Fall) the team continuously tracks waterfowl migration activity, weather patterns, and other environmental factors, like forest fires, for hundreds of miles north and/or south (depending upon which season, Spring or Fall) of Butte. In addition, local experts survey bird activity on water bodies in the Upper Clark Fork basin, much closer to the Pit. This information is gathered to better prepare the team for the prevention of birds from landing and staying on the Pit’s water.
Site personnel are trained by professionals in waterfowl identification. The use of powerful scopes and binoculars allow for accurate species identification of birds that land on the Pit. Depending on the confirmed waterfowl species, personnel can select specific hazing methods that are most appropriate for the conditions and most likely to result in successful hazing. Lasers, drones (both aerial and on-the-water vehicles), spotlights, pyrotechnics, and firearms are used to deter and/or haze birds, as well as automated propane cannons and special sirens, aimed to keep birds from the Pit’s surface. Scientists evaluate data collected from the site and continue to adapt and improve the program’s effectiveness year after year.
Matt Vincent looks through one of several high powered scopes located within the Bird Mitigation Station at Montana Resources.
One of many waterfowl identification posters for protecting waterfowl at the Bird Mitigation station at Montana Resources. Photo by Kayla Lappin, CFWEP.
Propane cannon located near the Montana Resources Bird Mitigation Station. Propane cannons are used to haze waterfowl away from the Berkeley Pit. Photo by Kayla Lappin, CFWEP.
Montana Resources Employee Jeremey Fleege opens one of many waterfowl identification guides lcoated within the bird mitigation station at Montana Resources. Photo by Kayla Lappin, CFWEP.