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Motorists Prove A Great Threat To Bison At Wind Cave National Park

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Fourteen bison at Wind Cave National Park have been killed in collisions with motorists this year. NPS photo.

It's been a century since bison were returned to Wind Cave National Park via a recovery program for the shaggy animals, and while they're thriving, overall, in the park, motorists are proving to be a great threat to them.

Since October motorists have killed at least six bison in the South Dakota park, and overall this year 14 bison have been killed in such collisions, Wind Cave officials report.

As a result of these accidents, the park is stepping up patrols, working on better signage, and hazing animals away from the roads.

“In a typical year, we average three bison killed. Six in just three months is an alarming amount,” said park Superintendent Vidal Davila. “We’re concerned about the safety of our travelers. We don’t want people to get hurt. Sometimes just driving the speed limit is too fast for bad weather conditions.”

Bison and other large animals such as elk are drawn to the roads by salt used to melt snow and ice during winter storms. The park doesn’t salt its roads, but salt is carried into the park by vehicles from outside the park. Clumps of snow and ice, containing salt, are frequently shaken loose while vehicles travel through the park or when vehicles rattle across cattle guards at park boundaries. The animals recently killed were near the park’s southern entrance when hit.

“Bison licking salt on roads during or after a winter storm, especially at night, can be nearly impossible to see. It is hard to imagine an invisible 2,000-pound animal, but with their brown hair they just blend into the darkness," said the superintendent.

The park will seek restitution for each animal killed if the driver is found to be negligent due to factors such as speed or driving under the influence. Wind Cave National Park attempted to donate meat from the animals recently killed to a local food pantry, but state regulations do not allow for road-killed bison to be donated.

The bison carcasses instead provided food for the park’s many predators. There are approximately 500 bison in the park.


well maybe they shouldnt be driving!

This story amazes me and why it's even on. Man, the smartest creature on earth is also the dumbest... as it was man who ventured into this area and killed off the Buffalo to begin wirth. Now man (not paying attention to their driving) are killing the Buffalos again. You'd think that the Buffalo mothers would teach Jr to stay out of the road, the car has been around over 100 years ya know. The real problem is that you made a park and in thus "tourists" come... 170 years ago there was NO white man west of the Missouri River! Look at the mess we've made of a wonderful country. Just think about what it was like to walk into Yellowstone in the early 1800s or what is now the LA Basin... wonderful! We should be ashamed of ourselves. I avoid parks for one simple reason, Tourists!

There is an excellant chapter in the Barbara Moritsch book, "The Soul of Yosemite", dealing with this issue. We do have a tendency to drive to fast, both in and out of parks, I have been as guilty as anyone. In However, if you try to slowdown, you usually get a severe case of tailgating. Having our rangers out enforcing traffic laws helps much.

A true story from Yellowstone.

Happened one day in Lamar Valley. A man in a small rusty VW bug came upon an old bull bison that was slowly and leisurely crossing the road. Impatient, he honked at it a couple of times whereupon the old bull turned and gave the VW a bison warning look.

The motorist honked again. The bull had enough. He turned and charged, caving in the passenger side of the little pest. Then he lowered his head and, hooking a horn under the car, flipped it up and over on its top with the wheels sticking into the air.

As the car lay there quivering in the middle of the road, the old bull ambled off the pavement and into the green grass of springtime in Lamar. But as he did, he was heard to mutter, "Dunno just what that thing was, but I sure as hell killed it."

(Well, okay -- a mostly true story from Yellowstone.)

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