Dozens of drunk grizzlies hit by trains for decades

Photo credit: Dreamstime

Drunk grizzly bears have been hit by trains near Glacier National Park in Montana for decades. Spilled grain mixed with moisture from snow and rain equal the perfect concoction to both lure bears and dull their senses. This unfortunate equation means that the bears are too slow to outrun the trains heading their way.

Fatalities linked to the fermented grain have been tallied since 1980 with a total of 63 grizzly bears killed along the rail line that stretches over Marias Pass and the Great Bear Wilderness, according to the Cowboy State Daily. This year, three have been killed so far, and, in 2019, which was the worst year on record, eight grizzlies were killed by trains. While two grizzly populations roam the Lower 48, the ones being impacted by trains come from the Northern Continental Divide grizzly population.

Chuck Neal, a retired federal ecologist, says the spilled grain “can be a tempting treat for bears” and that “with enough moisture from snow and rain, ‘the spilled grain actually ferments in place and becomes a de facto brewery.’”

Bears attracted to the spilled grain “might fall asleep right on site if they get drunk first. They can, and have, fallen asleep in a drunken stupor right on the tracks,” said Neal. “Other times they loiter on the tracks until a train approaches, at high speed, then drunkenly attempt to outrun the train — no can do — and are smashed.”

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) is the rail company that runs this particular line. Neal said that the company has “been stalling […] for some years” to do anything about the issue like adding noise makers that are triggered as trains approach specific areas like the expanse between Marias Pass and the Great Bear Wilderness.

“Another idea is to not load the train cars so full, an idea that BNSF does not like,” said Neal. “Another idea is not run the trains under certain weather conditions when derailment possibilities increase, an idea that BNSF also does not like. So right now, the last word that I have is that not much has been done at all and the bears continue to die.”


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