James Holt, Executive Director
Tom Woodbury, Communications Director
(406) 646-0700 (office)
(650) 238-8759 (private)
West Yellowstone, MT - In the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, December 29, 13 wild bison mothers and yearlings met their unnatural fate at the hands of a semi-truck driver barreling down that portion of Hwy 191 where bison-vehicle collisions are inevitable, thanks to Montana’s continuing refusal to lower the speed limit in accord with scientific recommendations.
According to experts at the Western Transportation Institute, at Montana State University, a night-time driver traveling over 45 miles per hour does not have time to safely react when a bison or other large mammal appears in their headlights. In this instance, it would appear that the driver plowed right through a large, migrating herd of our National Mammal near the Madison River crossing to Horse Butte. Montana has refused repeated calls to reduce the speed limit on this stretch of road.
A lone yearling was also observed later in the day, by a wolf biologist with Buffalo Field Campaign, with a smashed horn and half his head disfigured, likely another victim of the tragic accident. So far this season, 19 bison, four moose and a grizzly bear have died in collisions on local highways near the town of West Yellowstone.
Congress recently made $350M available for wildlife crossings. A 2012 study prepared for the Western Transportation Institute by research assistants at the MSU College of Engineering found that “bison-vehicle collisions on US 191 pose a serious traffic safety threat” - especially at the at the Madison River crossing, a migratory path that hundreds of bison cross every winter. And in spite of the clear danger to both bison and humans, the Montana Department of Transportation has no plans in place to secure funding from the $350M appropriation from Congress for a Buffalo Bridge across 191.
James Holt, an environmental scientist for the Nez Perce Tribe who heads up the Buffalo Field Campaign and witnessed the bloody accident scene, believes Thursday’s shocking death toll should be a wake-up call for both Montana and the federal stewards of Yellowstone bison. “There is no excuse for this kind of carnage,” Holt said. “Montana needs to effectively lower the speed limit now for this bloody 7-mile stretch of road, and both the Park Service and the Forest Service need to strongly advocate for a new Buffalo Bridge at the Madison River crossing,” Holt insisted.
“How can we spend $350M in this country on wildlife bridges, and not include safe passage for Yellowstone bison?” Holt asked.
The Buffalo Field Campaign works tirelessly to alert drivers when bison are in the road, avoiding countless collisions over the years, but cannot be on the roads at nighttime during the winter out of concern for the safety of its volunteers. BFC does conduct night patrols during Spring and Summer months, when the risk of bison-vehicle collisions is highest, and has been pleading for reduced speed limits to assist them in their efforts for over a decade now.
The 2012 study, by Ashleigh Dupree and Isabella DiMambro, found that more than half of all bison-vehicle collisions occur at the Madison River crossing, between mile markers 2.0 and 5.0. The next highest highway segment, accounting for another 17% of all collisions in the decade covered by the study, is just up the road near Duck Creek, between mile markers 7.0 and 9.0. According to the study’s conclusions, “Duck Creek is a bison migratory path as well as being habitat of other native species that are found in Yellowstone National Park and the Gallatin National Forest.” Cumulatively, the study found 68% if bison-vehicle collisions thus occur in the seven-mile stretch from Duck Creek to the Madison River crossing.
Holt says he intends to personally appeal, by formal letter, to Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dane Sholly, Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, and their superiors to join BFC in calling for safe passage of Yellowstone’s wild bison in the near term, with reduced speed limits, as well as in the long term, with the world’s first Buffalo Bridge. “How is it that Canada’s oldest national park, Banff, can boast of 38 wildlife tunnels and six wildlife bridges just north of us, while the world’s first national park here in Yellowstone has zero?” Holt asked.
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