Waterfowl in California have found a friend in Rio Tinto. Environmental employees at the Boron Operations are taking care of their feathery neighbors with the establishment of a new, state- and federally-sanctioned Wildlife Rescue Center.
The 950-square-foot facility opened this year as a sanctuary for threatened and endangered species covered under federal and California Endangered Species Acts and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In particular, the center aids stressed birds rescued from the company’s six boric acid tailings ponds and six reclamation ponds.
Positioned next to the tailings ponds, the upgraded center replaces the company’s previous wildlife rescue facility, which was located in the middle of a production circuit.
“The center we had was inadequate, and its proximity to noise and dust wasn’t suitable,” said Timothy Burke, principal environmental advisor. “Since most of our activity is on the tailings ponds it made sense to put the new center adjacent to them.”
The climate-controlled center has equipment to wash, treat and stabilize injured wildlife prior to releasing them back into the wild or transporting them to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility. Burke noted the waterfowl mainly suffer from toxic levels of arsenic in the water or become immobilized after being salted, when residual borates and sulfates crystallize on their feathers.
“We have a full triage facility, so we can administer first aid and transfer the animals to the VCA Crestwood Animal Hospital in Ridgecrest,” Burke said. “We work under their rehabilitation permits and are trained by them to do animal rescue.”
Currently, six center staff members are trained. In addition to conducting daily patrols to monitor wildlife on and near the ponds, they use remote control planes to deter birds from lingering near the ponds and a remote control boat to rescue birds not reachable from shore.
The innovative boat, designed by Environmental Technician Larry Fealy and built by a contractor, makes catching waterfowl a breeze. The watercraft features an on-board camera, two water propulsion systems, two fans, and a net to quickly and easily capture stressed waterfowl.
“I can home in on a bird even if it’s a quarter-of-a-mile away,” Fealy said. “I can do whatever I need to do to get in position to lift the bird out of the water.”
In 2015, more than 95 birds were rescued from the site. This year, the center’s enhanced efforts are expected to increase that number to more than 150 rescued waterfowl. The company also protects desert tortoises with exclusion fencing and strategically placed plant life around the perimeter of the mine.
“We really needed this facility to mitigate our impact to covered species,” Burke said. “This is our commitment to ecological sustainability.”
Baby falcons rescued in Boron
In 2016, Boron’s Pit Mine Blast Team initiated the rescue of four prairie falcon chicks from just above their blast pattern. The baby falcons, which were located in a nest on the high wall of the Boron mining pit, were taken to a licensed raptor rehabilitation facility where they will stay until ready to be released back into the wild.
The falcons were safely removed by Blast Team Members Randall Armstrong and Longley Sagendorph, and Bucket Truck Operators Jordan Blackwell and Mike Green, with help from a specialized raptor removal contractor and RTM’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife and California Fish and Wildlife regulatory partners. The birds are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.