Posted: Jul 2, 2011 6:43 PM by Q2 News (Billings)
Fish, Wildlife and Parks Information and Program Manager for the Billings region, Bob Gibson, says FWP has a few concerns when it comes to how the oil spill will affect wildlife in the Yellowstone River ecosystem.
A few of those concerns stem from the recent flooding around the Yellowstone River which has caused standing pools of water around the extended banks of the river.
Because oil is more buoyant than water-it floats on top of the river and finds it's ways into shallow pools and the standing water around the river, which Gibson says is both a blessing and a curse.
It's a blessing for water fowl (ducks and geese), which Gibson says are a concern for FWP, due to the amount of oil the fowl accrue on their feathers.
"We believe that most of the ducks and the geese are away from the river right now just because of the time of the year and because of the high water the ducks and geese will go find someplace else to live," said Gibson.
Gibson doesn't believe there were many geese and ducks affected by the oil-but asks the public if they do encounter fowl covered in oil-to leave the creatures alone and let nature take it's course: in most instances, the oil will not be fatal.
Gibson says in instances where oil spills have happened in the past in oceans and lakes, the fact that the spill occurred in standing water called for more of an interactive approach to cleaning the wildlife.
"It's a whole bunch different to have an oil spill in running water than it is in still water like we had in the ocean or in lakes."
Another area of concern for Fish, Wildlife and Parks are the various fish species populating the river, as many prefer the standing water and shallow pools along the river's banks where the oil is most likely to accumulate-another challenge the flooding has presented.
"The high water drives the fish into the shallow areas along the edge, the flooded areas, the back waters," said Gibson. "If fish get oil on them, if they break the surface and get oil on them, it tends to plug up their gills and it often is fatal."
But it's not only the direct threat of the fish catching oil in their gills which concerns Gibson.
The oil could suffocate insects, algae, bacteria and small fish which need oxygen by trapping them below the surface.
Many of these insects feed the fish in the river.
And on the other hand, there are bacteria which will thrive in the river with the abundance of oil.
"There are little organisms that eat oil. We'll find those organisms, the number of them just exploding because all of the sudden they have a lot of food. Those little organisms to process that oil use a lot of dissolved oxygen out of the water. In fact, they can use enough that it will lower the dissolved oxygen in the water, in those back water areas and that affects the fish that have to have dissolved oxygen," said Gibson.
But it's not all bad news, as Gibson says since the river is a moving body of water-- it won't have an effect on larger land animals, and will also keep the number of fish killed from the oil down.
"They (large animals) only eat what tastes good to them," said Gibson.