A number of elk in eastern Montana met a grisly demise last Thursday when they were struck by a freight train about three miles east of Helena. According to Montana Rail Link, at least 23 of the elk were killed by the impact, but no human injuries occurred.
“Pretty much when a 60-mile-per-hour train hits an elk, they explode on impact and there’s not much left,” Dave Loewen, a warden with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, told The Montana Standard. “It’s pretty devastating.”
Montana Rail Link stated that while animal collisions are not uncommon, it is rare for so many elk to be hit at once. Due to the large number of animals involved, the company notified Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, which later determined that none of the animals were salvageable for human consumption.
In an interview with Montana Public Radio, Loewen said the elk were likely struck while they were taking advantage of the lack of snow on the tracks.
— Thom Bridge (@TGBridge) December 31, 2015
“There’s a lot of the snow in the area and so what happens is the elk will be crossing from one side of the tracks to the other. When they get up on the tracks they kind of take a break because there’s little snow up there,” he said.
It is also not unknown for the animals to travel along the tracks when the surrounding area is covered in snow. Montana’s growing elk population, which is currently estimated around 160,000 animals, is also becoming a nuisance to motorists. Last October the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission started considering a new “shoulder” season with the aim of reducing elk population on private land.
“We’re looking at 44 hunting districts across the state,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game management bureau chief John Vore told the Independent Record. “All of them are over population objective.”