A family of grizzly bears was killed by two different trains near Glacier National Park earlier this month.
An adult female was killed while grazing along train tracks about two miles east of Marias Pass early in the morning on June 6th. Later that day, her two yearling cubs, both males, were killed by another train in the same area.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson Dillon Tabish say this time of year is risky, as grizzlies graze on grass, bugs and berries.
"The bears are heads down, focused on eating and unfortunately, whether it’s a road or a train track, they can get into harm’s way," Tabish says.
He says a couple decades ago, trains were a major cause of grizzly death in the area in and around Glacier, or the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. But state and federal officials have worked closely with train companies to address issues like spilled grain and other agricultural products that could attract grizzlies onto the deadly rails.
Tabish says those efforts have been mostly successful, and in this case no attractants were involved.
More than 1,000 grizzlies live in the NCDE. In 2018, 52 were killed or removed from the ecosystem, a record number. So far this year 14 grizzlies have been confirmed killed or relocated from the NCDE. Tabish says he’s awaiting confirmation on two additional mortalities that are likely.
This year, Tabish says grizzlies have been particularly attracted to livestock, and especially chickens, on the outskirts of the bears’ recovery area.
He says this marks a major shift over the last two decades:
"Conflicts in the backcountry have actually dropped dramatically," he says.
Food storage orders and better bear-proof technology have helped keep grizzlies from rifling through campers’ food deep in Montana’s forests. But as the grizzly population has expanded, pressure has shifted to private property in the frontcountry.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, a group of federal, state and tribal bear managers, will meet at the Holiday Inn Downtown in Missoula next week, at 1pm on Wednesday, June 25, to discuss the most pressing issues facing grizzly country.