For the second time in four years, a nighttime auto wreck in Grand Teton National Park has claimed the lives of a handful of bison at once.
Both of the collisions likely involved speed — the nighttime limit is 45 mph — and both occurred in the Elk Ranch Flats area of the park, where bison are routinely congregated in big numbers alongside the highway. The more recent fatal accident dates to 10:45 p.m., Oct. 19, when an out-of-county Wyoming resident was headed southbound down Highway 26/89/191 in a Ford F-350.
“The bison herd was thought to be crossing the road, and the driver caught the tail end of it,” Teton Park spokesman C.J. Adams told the Jackson Hole Daily.
The Ford’s original collision killed or severely injured four bison. A fifth bison was later hit and killed. A semi-truck driver headed northbound veered into the southbound lane because the broken-down F-350 was in his lane.
“Distracted by this,” Adams said, “[the person] accidentally hit a bison calf that was still in the area.”
Law enforcement rangers who investigated the wreck believed that speed was a factor in the F-350 striking the herd.
“A citation was issued for expired registration,” Adams said. “Even though speed was suspected as a factor, law enforcement officers determined they didn’t have sufficient evidence to pursue that.”
Two of the five bison were killed upon impact. The other three animals were severely injured and suffered until rangers arrived to dispatch them.
“I know we think of bison as these large animals,” Adams said. “But at night, it’s really dark in the park and bison are kind of darkly colored, so they can be hard to see.”
“That’s why it’s important to go 45 miles per hour,” he added. “You can save a life, and that life might even be your own when it comes to hitting bison.”
Unfortunately, there’s precedent for auto wrecks that kill four or more bison at once in the Elk Ranch Flats area. In October 2017, a Casper motorist totaled her Chevy Silverado after careening into one bison on the highway, rolling, and then proceeded to strike and kill three more nearby bison. In that accident, speed also was likely a factor. But similarly, it was tough to prove and no citations were issued.
It’s been a gruesome stretch for Grand Teton National Park when it comes to wildlife-vehicle collisions that kill large mammals. Just in the last two weeks, an elk, mule deer, pronghorn, coyote and wolf pup have all also succumbed to vehicle strikes. Altogether in Jackson Hole, approximately 300 to 400 road-killed animals are logged annually in wildlife-vehicle collision databases maintained by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation and Grand Teton National Park.