…WIRT Demands Better Prevention of BNSF Grizzly Kills
On January 12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) opened a 30-day, public comment period on Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s application for an “incidental take permit” (ITP) allowing the company to lawfully kill up to 18 federally protected grizzly bears during the next seven years [1, 2]. BNSF operates 206 miles of tracks through significant grizzly habitat in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, composed of multiple national forests and Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Trains paralleling Highway 2 have killed or contributed to the deaths of approximately 52 grizzlies since 1980. The Endangered Species Act requires an ITP, which BNSF has never before sought, for killing even one individual of a threatened species like grizzlies.
At an average speed of 35 miles per hour between Whitefish and East Glacier Park, BNSF runs about 1.2 to 1.5 trains per hour, slightly increasing this frequency during the twilight hours when grizzlies feed. Cubs and adult bears have died from direct collisions and/or railroad activities like grain spills and train-killed animals attracting grizzlies to the tracks. But BNSF’s standard, business-as-usual application, including a habitat conservation plan, fails to propose any common-sense, substantially changed, business practices, like reduced train speeds or different train schedules that could potentially prevent unnecessary grizzly deaths. Instead, BNSF’s application addresses minor mitigation measures and programs to offset predicable, train-caused, grizzly deaths, such as grain spillage cleanup, livestock fencing around tracks, off-site waste management funding, and public and hunter education and fairs.
Moreover, USFWS aims to grant BNSF continued, decades-long impunity to favor profits over wildlife, by considering this grizzly slaughter permit application through a categorical exclusion to the National Environmental Policy Act, which absolves USFWS legal obligations to consider the proposal’s environmental impacts, offers minimal environmental analysis, and limits public input and participation in this decision. (excerpt)