While the majority of businesses, large and small, remain closed in the wake of COVID-19, a Montana bird watcher’s line of work has been deemed ‘essential’ during the pandemic. Mark Mariano, a bird protection specialist, remains on duty at the Berkeley Pit, an abandoned open-pit copper mine in Butte, Montana. Since the pit’s acidic and metallic water makes it extremely deadly to birds, Mariano’s job is to scare them away. With spring bird migration currently underway, this work is considered essential in Montana.
Using a long-range sporting rifle, Mariano takes watch in his bird shack and fires shots to scare the birds from the toxic water. While Mariano is the only person on-site, he takes the necessary precautions to stay safe and sanitize the shack and collection of shared tools. “It’s been some really awesome birding”, Mariano comments from his perch, “It’s a wild time to have an ecological education. And it’s a distraction from the crazy.”
The Berkeley Pit is among approximately 20 Superfund sites overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency in Montana. While some of the site operations can be delayed, the waterfowl protection program is one of the high priority Superfund activities continuing operations in Montana. Brad Archibald, president of the regional environmental engineering firm, Pioneer Technical Services, is confident that the entirety of the Superfund cleanups will be maintained effectively throughout this global pandemic.