Yellowstone River Spill – A Last Look

Dear Friends,

As many of you remember, International Bird Rescue responded to the Silvertip Pipeline break in the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana on July 2, 2011. On October 15 we completed work on this spill after being on-site for 3 1/2 months. It was an interesting and different spill response, and I wanted to share with you our observations.

Eagle with Smudges of Oil Being Monitored

To understand the scope of the spill it’s best to say that it played out in three parts. The first was a somewhat typical river response where we went into action and began the search for oiled wildlife. The river was at a very high flood stage and extremely dangerous when we arrived and that impaired our ability to search the heaviest oiled areas that were within the first few miles, just below the pipeline break. As the water receded within the first month of the spill, we did manage to capture 4 birds and monitor a few Bald Eagles that were partially oiled. All captured birds were rehabilitated and released, and the eagles were observed throughout the summer. They raised their young and did well.

Part two of this response was about looking low down into the debris left by the flood while we continued to search for birds and mammals. As the river continued to recede we began finding many oiled toads, snakes and frogs living in the logs and debris left by the flood. There seemed to be minimal impact to bird and mammal species, but the oil continued to impact the reptiles and amphibians that use these muddy areas of the river. These reptiles and amphibians handled washing and rehabilitation well and were released very quickly.

During the last part of the spill we continued our search and collection efforts, but as we moved downstream, looking for oiled wildlife and finding none, we continued to discover areas of oil that were hidden in the river bed and high up on islands where the flood left bits of oil in the vegetation. We therefore became part of the scat team, helping to locate oiled vegetation and tag it so that the clean up teams could locate and remove it.

In the end we cared for 131 animals:

1 Canada Goose
1 Coopers Hawk
1 Robin
109 Woodhouse’s Toads
10 Western Terrestrial Garter Snakes
6 Leopard Frogs
1 Bullfrog
1 Common Garter Snake

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue

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