Montana Has a Drinking Problem… Well, Its Grizzlies Do

Tom Reichner /
Tom Reichner /

We always have to be careful about alcohol consumption. DUIs are serious offenses. Montana has noticed that they have a drinking problem – but it’s a bit more complicated than you might think.

It’s not its human residents drinking and driving. Instead, it’s their Grizzly Bears eating fermented grain, getting drunk, and passing out on train tracks.

From the Marias Pass through the Great Bear Wilderness, over 60 bears have been filled on the rail lines in the past 40 years. 2019 was the worst year, with eight being killed. As of right now, there have been three killed this year.

One Wyoming bear expert said that they often die because of a “drunken attempt” to outrun the trains.

How is all of this happening? Well, grain can spill out from the railcars that are taking it to a different location for a brewery or for anywhere else.

Chuck Neal, a retired federal ecologist explained, “The spilled grain actually ferments in place and becomes a de facto brewery.”

It’s crazy to think that nature is capable of doing this. You also have to imagine the size of these bears. They’d have to eat quite a bit of the fermented grain – and they are. Many will pass out on site. It’s common for them to fall asleep on or near the tracks.

This is nature. However, there are other animals around the world with drinking problems, too. In Germany, raccoons often steal beer (apparently, they prefer lagers and pilsners). In Greece, it’s the sheep that are prone to getting drunk.

The problem seems to be limited to Montana. It’s not happening in Alaska or other states where grain will fall from the train cars. So, it seems that the fish and game employees in Montana need to start looking at a solution. Otherwise, we’re likely to hear about more Grizzlies being slaughtered by trains because of their drunken stupor.