The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) will meet with the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) to discuss protecting bison crossing highway north of West Yellowstone.
MDT deputy director Pat Wise, speaking with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, said the meeting would take place toward the end of January 2017. Reportedly, the department already has plans to reduce speed limits on the highway portion in question between March and June. MDT will also install lighted signs along the road.
The Buffalo Field Campaign, a bison advocacy group, often provided this function in the past, patrolling the road and alerting drivers to bison present in the area. Per Stephany Seay, a member of the group, the BFC is “looking forward” to more help from Montana.
“We’ll continue to do our highway patrols, but we definitely need some support,” Seay told the Chronicle.
It’s a remarkable change from years past, where bison migrating out of Yellowstone National Park would be hazed back into park boundaries by state livestock officials. But after Governor Steve Bullock issued a decree permitting bison to roam in parts of southern and southwestern Montana year-round, officials have had to modify their plans. Indeed, the MDT, which had no direct input into bison management decisions, now finds itself playing a very important role, as bison (likely) start becoming a permanent part of the landscape outside Yellowstone. From the Chronicle:
Wise said the number of bison-vehicle collisions did increase in the last year, but she said she wouldn’t pin that on the governor’s decision to expand tolerance for the animals outside of the park.
“There are a lot of reasons why we may have seen more animal collisions,” Wise said. “I could not say that was the reason for that.”
She said they have considered a range of options. Building overpasses or underpasses might be too costly and might not work, she said, so for now they’ve only committed to more signage and a speed limit change.
But the problem isn’t limited to Highway 191. Earlier this month, a driver on Rainbow Point Road, which leads to a subdivision on Horse Butte, hit four individual bison. Seay said roughly 30 bison migrated out of the park that morning and were on the road. A local resident was driving the car that hit the bison.
Seay said one of the bison was killed by a Forest Service law enforcement officer and one was killed by a hunter the next day. The other two survived.
“From the tracks that we saw, they were kind of grouped up on either side,” Seay said. “But I don’t know how you don’t see them in those conditions.”
Rainbow Point Road is a county road, so the Montana Department of Transportation doesn’t have the authority to make any changes there. Seay said the incident is a sign that preventative measures shouldn’t be confined only to state-maintained roads.
“Not only do we need to mitigate on the highways, but it’s not … rare that they’re hit on Rainbow Point Road,” she said.
The MDT/BFC announcement is the latest in a series of changes regarding bison management in Yellowstone. Indeed, earlier this month, some officials at the Stephens Creek Bison Capture Facility announced they hoped to see a change in policy, especially regarding the slaughter of bison—now that their range has increased outside the Park.