Encompassing 2,500 acres in western Montana, Atlantic Richfield Company’s Warm Springs Ponds program gets its name from the Warm Springs Ponds, a series of connected ponds built in the first half of the 20th century to provide water treatment for mine tailings and smelting waste in Silver Bow Creek. The largest of these ponds is 640 acres in size. The company’s mining activity has since ceased and the site now has an interim remedy for impacts of the historic mining activity that includes a pond water treatment system designed and operated to be compatible with a thriving fish and wildlife habitat.
Today, Warm Springs Pond is a Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MFWP) wildlife and recreation management area and is open to the public for activities such as bird watching, hunting, fishing, hiking and biking. Management of the site is a partnership between Atlantic Richfield (a subsidiary of BP America Inc.) and MDFWP, which handles the more technical aspects of monitoring and maintenance, allowing employees to participate in activities such as planning, site tours, fly fishing camps and bird counts, while still ensuring that management activities are correctly implemented.
The Warm Springs Ponds provide an important stopover habitat for migratory waterfowl along the Central Flyway.
Although initially designed for water treatment, the ponds also provide an invaluable ecological community for mammals, fish and birds. The site provides a significant stopover habitat for a wide variety of migratory birds, including eagles, herons, raptors, grebes, gulls, ducks, and loons. Partners such as GoBird Montana and the MFWP have documented over 200 bird species during semi-annual bird counts and Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count.
Over the years, a number of structures have been installed and maintained around the site to benefit wildlife, including bat houses, osprey nesting platforms, and wildlife-friendly fencing. MDFWP also stocks the ponds with game fish such as brown and rainbow trout to encourage recreational fishing and healthy fish populations.
Local educators are encouraged to use the Warm Springs Ponds as an outdoor classroom where students can learn about the region’s wildlife and their habitats, the form and function of wetlands and other habitats, local history and how Atlantic Richfield uses the wetlands as a water treatment system. Team members often provide site tours to local school classes, with the activities and information conveyed tailored to the needs of each group. Students and professors from the University of Montana also visit the site yearly as part of an ongoing ecotoxicology study of osprey nests throughout the site.
The program at Warm Spring Ponds has been WHC-certified since 1998. Jenni Harris, Atlantic Richfield’s team leader for the program, emphasized the value of the program’s endurance, “The fact that our site has been certified for 20 years shows our commitment to providing a recreational asset and a haven for wildlife that the local community can enjoy.”
Harris attributes the program’s longevity to the long-standing partnership with MFWP, as well as employees’ enthusiasm for Montana’s wildlife and the outdoors. In fact, employees enjoy sharing stories about the recreational fishing on-site, like a visitor catching a big 10-pound trout. Employees have also been known to excitedly talk about the ducklings and other young birds observed each spring. This passion for local biodiversity is a strong motivator for the team’s efforts; as Harris described, “We continually strive to maintain or optimize what this site has to offer.”
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