Sudden appearance of bison on highway have resulted in numerous bison deaths-
Although conditions for the bison that leave west side of Yellowstone Park in the winter, and especially the spring, have been much better in 2009, the sudden migration of buffalo across busy U.S. 191 has resulted in at least 15 dead bison this week. Fortunately, human injury has been minor. The bison are heading for Horse Butte where they calve on its sunny south-facing slope.
The great danger is at night. That is when these wrecks have happened. Bison on the highway are all but invisible in the dark, and they generally don’t move when they see on-coming headlights. Unlike elk and deer, their eyes don’t glow in the headlights. They don’t have a light rump patch like elk.
The bison don’t just cross the highway. They eat the grass on the edges and linger because the warmer roadside is one of the first places grass sprouts in the spring. This year the snow is staying longer than usual due to wave after wave of storms with heavy wet snow.
When bison are on the road, or likely to be, the Buffalo Field Campaign deploys a number of volunteers to slow traffic down, warn them, etc. They have a number of pink neon signs that read “Buffalo Crossing.” They patrol day and night, although 24-hour-a-day coverage is not possible. Moreover, BFC has no official capacity, so they cannot haze the bison off the highway. The result can be frustration among motorists waiting for the bison to move off the highway.
What is needed is for the state of Montana to step up, and use their authority and equipment fill in the gaps, move the bison toward Horse Butte and away from the roadside grass. The Montana Highway Patrol, Forest Service, or whoever really needs to have a presence to protect people, property, and the bison. If there were a number of one ton dark boulders, lying in the middle of the road, you can bet they would be there. If the boulders kept sliding down the hillside, official personnel would remain until the event was over.
I know from experience in central Utah several years ago, that the Division of Wildlife there had personnel on the highway to warm motorists and direct elk migration for over a month. Here in Pocatello, Idaho (my home) there are deer crossings with flashing light signs, red flags, and 3 or 4 plain deer crossing signs in the space of a quarter mile in several sections of highway.
On U.S. 191, there is a flashing sign “animals on road” as you leave West Yellowstone and head north. By the time, you reach the most common bison crossing most motorists may figure they are past the problem. There is another sign where highway 287 joins US 191, but that is just past the problem area for northbound traffic. There is one more sign at Fir Ridge where you drop down into Grayling Creek Canyon, another problem area, but not for bison.
U.S. 191 is a dangerous road not just from West Yellowstone to Fir Ridge, but almost all the way to Bozeman, Montana, due to wildlife, curves, some heavy traffic, and so many roadside memorials to the dead that it distracts your eyes off the highway.
I think this is a place where a lot of stimulus money could be spent to save people, wildlife, and create jobs.
BFC deserve thanks working the highway north of West Yellowstone, but official help is needed.
If you are a Montana resident, visitor to Yellowstone, or if you or your loved ones travel through this region, or if you simply love wild bison your voice is critical! Please contact the following decision-makers and strongly urge them to make highways safer for bison and people:
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer
Montana Department of Transportation
Jon Swartz, Chief of Maintenance
Montana Department of Transportation
Director Jim Lynch
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Region III Director Pat Flowers