Elk Herd

In the early morning hours of Jan. 25, a herd of elk standing on railroad tracks was hit by a Union Pacific freight train traveling between Montpelier and Soda Springs.

A total of 31 elk died in the collision that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is calling a rare occurrence.

No people were injured in the collision, which Fish and Game officials first released information about on Friday via a press release.

Fish and Game said wild animals often walk on train tracks in the winter in Idaho because the tracks are usually not covered by snow, but collisions between wild animals and trains are still rare.

Fish and Game conservation officers arrived at the scene on Jan. 25 and euthanized the injured elk as well as coordinated the removal of the carcasses from the railroad tracks. Of the 31 elk killed by the train, 10 were salvageable for meat and distributed to members of the community. A local citizen volunteered his time and front-end loader to load the salvageable elk carcasses into people’s trucks.

Last year, 47 antelope were killed by a freight train near Dietrich, Idaho, and before that 58 deer were hit and killed near Dietrich in 2004.

Perhaps one of the most memorable wildlife versus train collisions in Idaho history was when 132 antelope were killed by a train west of American Falls in 1976.

Montana has had multiple instances over the years of wild animal herds being hit by trains. In 2016 near Helena, Montana, a herd of elk was hit by a freight train resulting in 23 of the animals dying.

Idaho Fish and Game officials said they do not believe the loss of the 31 elk in the Jan. 25 collision between Soda Springs and Montpelier is going to have any impact on the animal’s population locally because there are several large elk herds in Southeast Idaho.