U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service



July 11, 1996

Sharon Rose 303-236-7905
Terry Sexson 303-236-7905


According to Ralph Morgenweck, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service s Mountain-Prairie Region, as a result of additional law enforcement funds made available by Congress, a concerted effort by Fish and Wildlife Service s law enforcement office will be undertaken to raise awareness and work with people in the oil, gas and mining industries in Montana, as has already occurred in several other western states, regarding environmental compliance.

To raise awareness in the oil, gas and mining industry, Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement agent Gary Mowad, also a pilot, will log hundreds of hours searching out potential oil pit violations and illegal use of pesticides. Thanks to the extensive use of aircraft he is able to cover a far wider area that he would have been able to do with just surface vehicles.

According to Agent Mowad, while the majority of oil producers are law abiding and committed to environmental compliance, a small percentage of the operators are not only seriously tarnishing their industry s image, but they are responsible for hundreds--and quite possibly thousands--of illegal bird kills by lax management of oil and waste water brine pits. Peer pressure from oil industry trade groups helped bring problem oil producers, whose well sites were an embarrassment, into compliance with State and Federal regulations.

Four of the areas the Service will focus on include:

Through the enhanced and very visible enforcement efforts and with the cooperation of the oil and gas industry as well as the mining industry in western states, including Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas, the Service s law enforcement endeavor has been able to achieve conservation benefits valued at $4.7 million. This figure represents documented expenditures for compliance clean-ups, devices and structures designed to prevent birds from landing at oil pit sites and actual fines for bird losses. In each of these states, the gold and copper mining industry worked cooperatively with the Service to identify and correct sites. This included several mining operators working with enforcement agents to assure that appropriate nets and other bird aversion devices were in place and functioning properly. As a result of efforts in these states alone, it is estimated that an additional $20 million in undocumented efforts are anticipated throughout both industries to date. The level of awareness and cooperation in the industry improved so significantly that cases against deficient mining operations dropped from 8 in 1994 to only 3 cases in 1995.

Mowad s aerial enforcement efforts in several western states also disclosed an even more deadly and graphic source of wildlife loss: the intentional misuse of powerful and lethal pesticides to poison eagles, as well as other birds of prey and other predators.

Investigations showed that animal carcasses laced with highly toxic pesticides such as carbofurans were placed in lambing areas to poison coyotes and eagles. What resulted, said Mowad, is what we called the circle of death. You would see a dead coyote almost adjacent to the laced carcass then a few yards beyond that, a dead bald eagle or golden eagle, and then another few dozen yards beyond that more dead wildlife. We even found non-target bird species such as magpies, jays, owls and hawks--all with that very typical posture of carbofuran poisoning: tail feathers drawn up and the head thrust straight back. If you had to conduct this type of investigation only from the ground, you d probably miss a good percentage of the bird and animal kills. With the plane, though, you can quickly see that circle of death.

As a result of efforts in these states alone, it is estimated that an additional $20 million in undocumented efforts are anticipated throughout both industries to date. Carbofurans and other similar pesticides are legal for very specific agricultural uses for row crops. There are no approved uses in livestock grazing operations. It is believed that illegal sales or exchanges of the granular pesticides have brought it into range and grazing country.

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