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article imageTrain collides with elk herd in Montana, killing 23 animals

By Karen Graham     Jan 3, 2016 in World
A freight train barreling through the Montana countryside about three miles east of Helena, collided with a herd of elk, killing 23 of the animals on Thursday morning.
Wildlife officials said the animals could not be salvaged for human consumption after being hit by a freight train traveling at 60 miles-per-hour, but no one on the train was injured.
“Pretty much when a 60 mile-per-hour train hits an elk, they explode on impact and there’s not much left,” Sgt. Dave Loewen, a game warden with Fish and Wildlife, told the Independent Record. “It’s pretty devastating.”
The devastating accident occurred at the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and Spokane Creek Road, a few miles east of Helena. Games wardens were on scene early Thursday morning, tagging the animals while crews from Montana Rail Link (MRL) began removing the carcasses out of sight of the public.
MRL spokesman Jim Lewis, in an email, said that while game wardens had said the collision occurred on Thursday morning, the accident actually happened on Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m., involving a train out of Helena. Lewis added that no one was injured and no damage was sustained by the train.
“It is not a common occurrence for a train to collide with such a large number of animals. It is standard operating practice for MRL to notify Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Park’s officials in these rare cases,” the email said.
While it is rare for a train to collide with a large number of animals, the event brings into question why a herd of elk would be grazing in and around a rail line. One likely answer would be the size of the elk population in the state. The latest estimate puts elk numbers at over 160,000 in 2015.
This is according to Ron Aasheim, a spokesman for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He adds, “Which means we’ve got a lot of elk on the ground." An added problem is that 70 percent of the elk spend time on private land, and hunters can't shoot an elk on private land unless they have permission from the owner, he told the Great Falls Tribune October 24.
While the elk population is high, prompting the addition of an extra hunting season in 2015, there are still complaints by many hunters that Montana has too many wolves, and their numbers need to be reduced because the predators are decimating the elk herds.
These people have apparently not been keeping up with the latest statistics put out by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks department. In April 2015, the verified population of wolves in Montana at the end of 2014 was 554 wolves, a decrease of 73 from the previous yearly report. Bottom line? There is more to the story of the elk deaths besides the accident being a rare occurrence.
More about helena montana, elk herd, Collision, Freight train
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