On Feb. 22 or 23, 17 pronghorns traveling on railroad tracks were struck by a train near Moon Creek, west of Miles City. Most of the antelope were killed on impact, but six animals were still alive and had to be dispatched by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
“On years where we get lots of snow, antelope sometimes start using the railroad tracks as travel routes,” said FWP Region 7 warden captain Jack Austin. “Once on the tracks, they can’t get off because the snow is so deep on the sides.”
Austin went to inspect the scene and the snow was deep enough that he was sinking up to his knees before he could get up onto the tracks where he could walk.
Pronghorns using train tracks as travel routes was a problem in northeastern Montana’s Region 6 during the harsh winter of 2011, according to Austin. That year, Region 6 supervisor Mark Sullivan said about 800 ungulates were struck by trains, with one collision claiming 270 antelope.
Austin is hoping the winter of 2018 won’t be as devastating.
“There are large wintering herds of antelope in the area, and we are hoping they don’t cross the interstate or the Yellowstone River and put themselves in proximity to the railroad,” he said.
Area wildlife biologists have noted that the deep snow is hampering travel for ungulates, especially pronghorns, who cannot crawl under fences due to the snow. Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to leave some gates open, in areas where cattle are not present, to allow antelope to pass through in search of food.