More than two dozen elk died in a collision with a freight train from the Burlington Northern Sante Fe line in Washington state last week. 26 elk that were standing on the tracks and hit by the train. The train killed 23 of them on impact. 3 others had to be put down due to their injuries. This is according to Becky Elder, a communications consultant with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She recently spoke with Outdoor Life about the incident. The collision happened on the southwestern border of the state, not far from the Columbia River.
The train crew could see the herd on the horizon as they approached. They triggered the train’s emergency response system. However, they were unable to halt the locomotive in time for it to pull up short of the elk herd. The tracks where it happened run east of the Cape Horn Overlook, not far from the city of Portland. The railroad company owns the land around the tracks. Railroad police were the first to respond to the wreck, however, conservation officers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife accessed the scene soon after as well.
“This is an unfortunate anomaly. We don’t often hear of these types of collisions occurring, and the magnitude is something we have not seen in recent history,” said Becky Elder. “Mass mortality events like this are extremely rare. WDFW believes the incident won’t impact the herd’s population. We see a robust elk population in this area.”
Elk Carcasses Removed From Tracks To Prevent Even More Wrecks
The route that the train track follows actually doubles as a frequent travel corridor for elk herds in the area that use the tracks to access nearby crop fields. “The area has dense vegetation and rock cliffs. This flat space without any trees makes it easy for those animals to move through those corridors. Unfortunately, in the location where the incident occurred, there wasn’t a lot of space for the animals to divert off of the tracks,” said Lena Kent, the general director of public affairs for the railroad company. She also said the dead elk have been pulled off the tracks to prevent future trains passing through the area from causing a bigger mess.
Becky Elder followed up that the elk meat was unable to be salvaged. “Unfortunately, animals were not able to be salvaged. Columbia River Gorge is beautiful, but it also has some very steep and rocky terrain. Getting to the location in a timely manner to attempt to salvage any of the meat would not have been possible if there was any to actually salvage.” An Amtrak passenger train came down the tracks and passed by the scene shortly after it happened. “Twenty-six elk is a lot,” Elder says. “Something of that magnitude, you can only imagine how dramatic that type of incident looks.” Folks on the train said the aftermath of the scene was quite disturbing.