Spilled grain from MT train derailment may attract grizzly bears

Posted at 1:07 PM, Aug 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-05 15:07:25-04

CUT BANK – A train derailment in Cut Bank on Thursday halted rail operations, and crews were out on Friday cleaning up the spilled grain from the derailment.

Toni Juarez had just left work at Cut Bank Harvest Foods near the tracks when the derailment happened. She said she didn’t hear it, but word quickly spread around the store.

“I went outside to go check, went around the corner and you just see the train had gone off the rails right in front of the bridge and it was just like chaos, it was just like crazy,” she said.

Grain spills can cause quite an issue with grizzly bears.

Nearly 30 years ago when a grain spill happened in Essex in Flathead County, crews buried the grain, which caused it to ferment. Over a period of time, bears returned the area in search of the grain, and some were hit and killed by passing trains.

Even though this recent spill wasn’t in a dense bear area, there’s still a chance for bears to show up.

“With there being grain there, there is the potential for grizzly bears to be attracted to that grain spill, so it should be cleaned up,” said Wesley Sarmento, a bear management specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. “Every year, there’s been more grizzly bears, especially out on the prairie. They’re increasing in both number and distribution, so we’re seeing grizzly bears where we haven’t seen grizzly bears in hundreds of years.”

Since the incident in the late 1980s, changes have been made in how crews clean up grain spills.

“BNSF and other railroad companies are a lot better about cleaning up grain once it’s spilled on the tracks,” said Sarmento.

BNSF spokesperson Ross Lane said the grain will be picked up and disposed of, typically with vacuum trucks and heavy equipment.  He noted that BNSF finished repairs and removed the 12 damaged cars on Friday morning, and rail traffic resumed at 9 a.m.

No one was hurt in the derailment.