Train strikes, kills grizzly cubs

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Two grizzly cubs killed by a train near Trego brings the annual tally of railroad-related grizzly mortalities to eight. (Courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks)

Two grizzly bear cubs found dead Oct. 15 near railroad tracks southeast of Trego were struck by a train, said officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

An area FWP biologist tracked down the carcasses after being alerted by the U.S. Forest Service, said Dillon Tabish, regional information and education program manager with the state agency. It remains unclear when the cubs died, but they were recovered near a BNSF Railway train.

The two deaths bring the total number of railroad-related grizzly fatalities in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem this year to eight—the most since FWP began tracking mortalities in 1971. The previous record high was five in 2007.

“Some of these mortality causes can be sporadic,” Tabish said. “For example, last year we had a spike in vehicle-related mortalities. … There were a lot of bears killed on the highway, and then this year those numbers are way down.”

FWP investigates grizzly deaths, but in this case the cause was “pretty cut and dry,” Tabish said. The investigator identified one of the carcasses as belong to a female, but the other cub was too badly mangled for the sex to be determined.

Officials did not find the adult female that likely would have accompanied the two cubs.

Thus far this year, there have been 44 known or likely grizzly mortalities in the area. The animal remains listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Tabish said removing attractants is critical to keepings the bears out of harm’s way. For example, in the 1990s spills from freight trains hauling grain lured bears toward the tracks. The railroad industry committed to decreasing spills, Tabish said.

“It’s been successful for the most part,” he said. “We’re just trying to work with our partners … in the spirit of conservation.”

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