Oiled Bald Eagle Among Yellowstone River Oil Spill Victims

Bald Eagle - NWF/John C Moerk
Bald Eagle (NWF File Photo/John C Moerk)

As the Yellowstone River oil spill cleanup continues in Montana, we’re learning more about its impacts on wildlife. An estimated 42,000 gallons of  crude oil spilled from an Exxon Mobil pipeline under the river on July 1.

Now the Environmental Protection Agency is reporting one of the latest victims is a bald eagle:

Cleanup crews over the weekend found an oiled bald eagle and pockets of black crude trapped by debris piles along the Yellowstone River.

Biologists believe the bald eagle won’t survive the winter unless it’s cleaned, said Karen Nelson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Crews are working now to trap the bird so it can be treated.

Workers also have found four geese and a cooper’s hawk covered in oil. They’ve trapped one goose and are working to capture the others, Nelson said.

The number of dead wildlife also increased over the weekend. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported finding dead two great horned owls, a wood duck, two ducklings, two fish, a fox, a beaver and a bunting.

Of those animals, one of the owls, the wood duck, the ducklings and the fish were covered in oil. All the animals will be tested to discover the cause of death.

Meanwhile, the Billings Gazette reports fish downstream from the spill are showing signs of stress and even illness:

Flesh samples from the fish will be tested in state labs. But visibly, gills on some of the captured fish aren’t the bright pink they’re supposed to be, and some of the fish have lesions.

Frazer said it’s common for river fish to show certain levels of stress throughout the year because of parasites and other conditions fish naturally carry.

However, in the samples that have been collected, the fish captured above the spill site show far fewer signs of stress than those below, leading Frazer to believe that the spill has had an effect.

Only 20 Critters Harmed in Oil Spill? Misleading, Says NWF Scientist

And as National Wildlife Federation Senior Scientist Dr. Doug Inkley tells Public News Service, the impacts we see may only be the tip of the iceberg:

“We need to observe not only the fish, but the entire food chain. The fish depend on all these little invertebrates – little mayflies, nymphs and things of this type – and those are very susceptible.”

A U.S. Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the Yellowstone spill on Wednesday. Inkley testified earlier before a similar subcommittee hearing in the House, calling for stronger federal safety regulations. He says that’s critically important as the Keystone XL pipeline is considered, which would also cross the Yellowstone, as well as the Missouri River and hundreds of other waterways.

Oil Spills: Tragically Common

While the oil and gas industry likes to paint spills like this as an aberration, the National Wildlife Federation has documented that oil and gas disasters are tragically common. Now the oil industry wants to build a new pipeline cutting right through America’s heartland. The Keystone XL pipeline wouldn’t carry just any oil – it would carry tar sands, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet.

But we still have a chance to protect the people and wildlife along the proposed pipeline route. Please take a moment right now to ask President Obama to say no to tar sands.