A group of wild bison cooperated — and then they didn’t.
A drive designed to push about 100 bison away from lines of hay, where the Moose Head Ranch feeds its horses and where the mingling of horses and bison has led to bloody encounters between beasts, looked promising early Friday. Grand Teton National Park closed the plowed, clear surface of Highway 26/89/191 to clear a passageway south for the shaggy beasts, and initially the operation went off without a hitch.
By 9:30 a.m., Wyoming Game and Fish Department employees zipping around and hooting on snowmobiles had successfully nudged about 45 of the heavyset animals onto the road, and strung out in a line, they shot straight south.
“Man, are they boogying,” Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said from the safety of a Ford Explorer.
But a few minutes later the stampeding herd slowed and caught an old trail through the snow west toward the Moose Head Ranch. It was just a momentary juke.
Across the highway again they went, pointed toward Lost Creek Ranch and the sagebrush atop Antelope Flats, in the direction of the promised land — livestock-free winter range near the Kelly area’s relic hayfields and the National Elk Refuge’s natural and manmade food sources.
Game and Fish’s snowmachines had put down a track through 3 feet of snow to help the animals get there, but the bison greeted the idea with the shrug of a hump.
Like the wild, unpredictable animals they are, this group from the Jackson Bison Herd decided they were done. They started eating.
Wildlife biologist Aly Courtemanch, who monitored from the roadway, knew from experience that there was no sense in pushing the issue.
“They can get aggressive if they’re tired, and they don’t want to run anymore,” Courtemanch said. “If they make up their mind that they don’t want to go, you can’t make them. Bison aren’t like other animals that way.
“They’ll just run right over you,” she said.
That was the situation, headed into nightfall at press time. The herd was lingering near Lost Creek Ranch, somewhere between where wildlife managers wanted them to be, and where they didn’t.
From the Snake River Overlook to Moran, motorists were being advised to be on guard and take it slow over the snow-packed road in case the bison decide to return to the highway.
Mother Nature and the overnight hours leading into the weekend will determine whether Friday’s Highway 89 bison drive was a success. But it’s a good bet the story isn’t done, even if the 45 bison do keep tracking south.
Only about half of the bison that are “wintering out” — off of the feedgrounds, in Game and Fish lingo — were involved in the drive. Another 50 or so were spotted the same morning near Wolf Ridge further north.
“We may have to go to plan B,” Courtemanch said during the bison’s midmorning indecision.
The backup plan, of using hay as an attractant, hasn’t come to fruition — at least not yet.
Editors note: This story has been updated to correct the make and model of a Game and Fish vehicle.