The ExxonMobil Billings Refinery in Billings, Montana, may be the smallest ExxonMobil refinery in the world, but its wildlife habitat area is making a big impact on students at a local college.
While meeting with representatives from ExxonMobil and their partners from Rocky Mountain College during a recent site visit, I was excited to hear about the wealth of research opportunities their wildlife habitat is providing college students, an often underrepresented audience in CLL programs.
Students from Rocky Mountain College’s Environmental Science classes use the refinery’s surrounding habitat as an outdoor research laboratory, each year conducting different monitoring surveys that help them examine the site’s ecosystem integrity. They conduct studies that include surveys of the site’s plant communities, small mammals, turtles, and fish.
One of the most interesting aspects of this partnership comes from the papers students write based on the results of their research. For example, results from the fish survey showed greater fish species diversity in the refinery’s unfished pond than in fished lakes in the surrounding area. Through their research, students recommended that the Billings Refinery continue to manage the pond habitat as a no-fishing area because it provides a valuable habitat and source of food for migratory birds and other wildlife—a suggestion that has been set in place by the refinery.
While visiting the site, I was able to see first-hand some of the work the students are doing. One interesting project has them experimenting with a way to deter resident Canada geese from occupying osprey nests on the site’s osprey platforms. When Canada geese occupy osprey nests, the osprey are forced to build nests elsewhere, often choosing locations that are not ideal for the osprey or refinery operations. Ongoing efforts to prevent this include designing, building, and placing structures over the nests on the osprey platforms, preventing the geese from taking over a nest before osprey have returned. I can’t wait to hear how it worked!
While reflecting upon my visit, it was no wonder to me why the Billings refinery was eager to implement a CLL program at its site. I am excited to see how its partnership with Rocky Mountain College grows and how it expands its learning opportunities in the future.