Death in Butte’s Berkeley Pit: What 342 Dead Snow Geese Tell us about the Nature of Humans

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“Death in Butte’s Berkeley Pit: What 342 Dead Snow Geese Tell Us about the Nature of Humans.” This talk is based on LeCain’s investigation of the 1995 deaths of 342 snow geese that landed in Butte’s Berkeley Pit and the 1905 deaths of thousands of animals that grazed in contaminated pastures near Anaconda. He compares environmental disasters in Montana’s past with catastrophes elsewhere and pens “crackling good yarns” about his findings. The deaths, at first, seemed to symbolize what happens when nature and humans collide. But LeCain started thinking that humans might be completely natural, too. Perhaps humans are an expression of nature instead of its shaper. “We need to kind of get over ourselves,” LeCain said. “This planet may actually have it in for us.”

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Timothy James LeCain is an award-winning historian of the global material environment. His first book, Mass Destruction, won the 2010 best book of the year award from the American Society for Environmental History and was chosen as an Outstanding Book of the Year by Choice, the review publication of the American Library Association. In 2009, LeCain and his colleague, Brett Walker, were awarded a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to pursue a collaborative research project comparing Japanese and American responses to pollution from massive copper mining operations begun in the late 19th Century. From 2011 to 2012, LeCain was a Senior Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center in Münich, Germany, a global center for the study of the environmental humanities. In 2016, he will be a fellow at the Oslo Center for Advanced Studies, the preeminent Norwegian institution for interdisciplinary academic research. He is currently an Associate Professor of history and Director of Graduate Studies at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana with his wife and two children.