As humans continue to expand into previously uninhabited areas, wildlife is increasingly at risk. One tragic example of this is the frequent deaths of Yellowstone National Park’s wild buffalo on U.S. Highway 191, which runs through a critical migration corridor for many species.
A staggering 70% of bison-vehicle collisions occur on this 7-mile stretch of road, which has already claimed the lives of 17 buffalo this season, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports. The Yellowstone bison’s Central Herd is an endangered population, and it’s accelerating toward extinction.
To address this urgent issue, Buffalo Field Campaign is calling for the construction of the world’s first “Buffalo Wildlife Bridge” at the Madison River crossing.
This would safeguard America’s National Mammal and allow them to safely migrate along the Madison River to their calving grounds. Experts have also recommended that safe speed limits be established on this stretch of road until the bridge is in place, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports.
The Montana Department of Transportation, which competes with other states to administer federal funding, is responsible for funding wildlife-related construction projects.
However, the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021 has appropriated $350 million for the construction of wildlife crossings across the country over the next three years.
With $350M in funding available, there is no excuse for not building a “Buffalo Wildlife Bridge” to protect not just buffalo, but also other species like elk, grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and coyotes.
This funding has already led to successful wildlife crossings in various parts of the United States, Canada, and other countries, National Geographic reports.
The Flathead Indian Reservation along U.S. Highway 93 has one of the best examples of wildlife crossings in Montana. Furthermore, the Buffalo Field Campaign remains on call 24/7 in the winter to respond to bison sightings along Highway 191, as part of their efforts to prevent bison-vehicle collisions.
“If there are calls after sunset from local police or snow plow companies alerting us that bison are on the road, we’ll respond to that by going out and putting signs on mile markers on both sides,” Tom Woodbury, spokesperson for the Buffalo Field Campaign, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “We do whatever we can to alert drivers to bison on the road.”
According to Woodbury, while Yellowstone National Park’s bison population is increasing, the number of animals in its central herd has been decreasing.
Animals from the central herd are the descendants of the last 23 wild bison that remained in Pelican Valley at the turn of the 20th century, when the species had nearly been slaughtered to extinction, The Smithsonian reports. They are the most genetically intact bison in the park.
“The genetic diversity of having two herds is important, and if we lost the central herd, then we would have reduced genetic diversity in bison. It’s a long-term threat,” Woodbury said.
The Gallatin Wildlife Association supports any action that would improve wildlife crossings along Highway 191. But, local and state governments need to apply for the funding that is available.
The Gallatin Wildlife Association submitted comments to the West Yellowstone Town Council in support of using wildlife infrastructure to minimize conflicts where animal migration patterns intersect with transportation systems.
“We’re trying to basically restore and protect those wildlife connections, as certain species have a tendency to migrate from winter to summer feeding grounds,” Gallatin Wildlife Association President Clint Nagel told the Bozeman Chronicle.
The speed limit along Highway 191 near West Yellowstone was reduced to 55 miles per hour in late winter or early spring. The U.S. Forest Service staff worked with the Custer Gallatin Working Group, National Park Service, Gallatin County, Montana Department of Transportation, and Montana Highway Patrol to institute the change, through a Gallatin County Commission petition to the state.
It’s important to note that the legal stewardship of America’s National Mammal belongs to the National Park Service, and it’s time for them to take action.
Buffalo Field Campaign has been doing their part by warning motorists about the presence of buffalo on the road, but this is not enough.
This article by Matthew Russell was first published by The Animal Rescue Site. Lead Image:
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