15 buffalo killed on US 191 - Buffalo Allies of Bozeman signs on to letter to MT Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol
Over the past week, 15 bison were killed on U.S. 191 just north of West Yellowstone in three vehicle collisions. A coalition of bison advocates talked about and drafted a letter that is posted below.
In addition to the letter, we in Buffalo Allies of Bozeman want to send out this message to the public at large. You will notice that the letter talks about increased enforcement; however, we believe that no amount of enforcement will matter unless we in the community take steps to educate each other, slow down, and be aware.
The situation with the buffalo moving to habitat where the highway crosses it will continue to create this situation in the spring. It is imperative that we are aware for our safety and for the safety of the buffalo. Please slow down! Please be aware! Please let your friends and neighbors know that buffalo are in the roadways OUTSIDE OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, especially in the spring. Like so many of the changes we would like to see with the buffalo, it's up to us.
ANIMAL WELFARE INSTITUTE
BUFFALO ALLIES OF BOZEMAN
BUFFALO FIELD CAMPAIGN
DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE
HORSE BUTTE NEIGHBORS OF BUFFALO
THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES
NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL
WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
April 15, 2009
BY ELECTRONIC AND REGULAR MAIL
Mr. Jim Lynch, Director Colonel Michael T. Tooley, Chief Administrator
Montana Department of Transportation Montana Highway Patrol Headquarters
2701 Prospect Avenue 2550 Prospect Avenue
P.O. Box 201001 P.O. Box 201419
Helena, MT 59620-1001 Helena, MT 59620-1419
Re: Urgent request to install additional emergency signage and to increase enforcement to protect public safety and bison on Highway 191 near West Yellowstone, Montana
Dear Director Lynch and Colonel Tooley:
On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we request your immediate attention to a public and wildlife safety issue on Highway 191 near West Yellowstone, Montana, and to request that your agencies urgently act to mitigate the risk by:
1) installing additional emergency signage explicitly warning drivers of bison on the roadway;
2) reducing the nighttime speed limit on Highway 191 from the northern boundary of the West Yellowstone city limits to the Fir Ridge Cemetery until, at a minimum, June 1, 2009; and
3) increasing law enforcement presence in the area to ensure drivers are abiding by the reduced speed limit and to promote increased public safety.
Over the past weekend fifteen bison were struck and killed (or subsequently shot and died), and others were injured as a result of collisions with vehicles traveling on Highway 191 at night near West Yellowstone, Montana. Miraculously, though the vehicles were damaged, no human lives were lost or injured.
Due to their immense size, dark coat color, and the lack of lighting along Highway 191 outside West Yellowstone, it is difficult to see bison at night. Moreover, there is insufficient signage along Highway 191 to warn drivers of this risk. To its credit, the Montana Department of Transportation recently reduced the speed limit to 55 miles per hour from the Fir Ridge Cemetery south to the town of West Yellowstone and along Highway 287 from its junction with Highway 191 to mile marker 7, but there are only two signs advising drivers of these changes; additional signs must be temporarily installed along this road section. Furthermore, there is insufficient enforcement to ensure drivers are complying with the reduced speed restrictions.
Considering that the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included over 211 million dollars allocated to Montana highway funding, surely a miniscule fraction of these funds -- if other state funds are not available -- can be immediately allocated to mitigate this public safety issue.
The undersigned organizations are immensely concerned about this issue due to the threats to both public safety and the bison who are struck by vehicles. Moreover, considering the immense scientific, economic, aesthetic, and cultural value of these bison and their limited numbers, every effort must be made to reduce bison mortality due to vehicle collisions. We are prepared to work with your agencies to ensure that people can safely use Highway 191 while protecting bison from being killed and injured as a result of a vehicle collision.
In the short term, we strongly recommend that you immediately consult with the Western Transportation Institute (WTI) at Montana State University to determine which of several wildlife-vehicle collision reduction techniques might be most effectively and quickly employed. For instance, emergency equipment that combines infrared detectors that illuminate temporary driver warning signs when a large animal is detected in or near the road has been tested by WTI in Montana and may be suitable for this situation. In addition, the nighttime speed limit along a section of Highway 191 (as defined above) must be reduced, at least through June 1, 2009 to 45 miles per hour. Law enforcement presence in the area must be enhanced to monitor vehicle speed, enforce speed restrictions, and to provide a rapid response to travelers who may still be involved in a collision with bison. Finally, a public education effort to alert residents and visitors to the need to use extra caution in this area should be conducted in a cost-effective manner, such as the distribution of press releases to local newspapers and television and radio stations.
In the long term, since bison will continue to use and traverse Highway 191 in the future, a project must be initiated to study bison use of the Highway 191 corridor, to devise permanent strategies to protect public safety while also protecting bison, and to implement those strategies. The Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University may be particularly well suited to be enlisted to help define and mitigate this public safety and wildlife protection issue.
Thank you in advance for seriously considering this request and for acting urgently to resolve or mitigate this public safety issue.
Buffalo Field Campaign
On behalf of:
Animal Welfare Institute
Buffalo Allies of Bozeman
Buffalo Field Campaign
Defenders of Wildlife
Horse Butte Neighbors of Buffalo
The Humane Society of the United States
Natural Resources Defense Council
Western Watersheds Project
cc: Mr. Jeff Ebert, District Administrator, Montana Department of Transportation, Butte, MT
Captain Tom Butler, Montana Highway Patrol, District VII Office
Mr. Christian Mackay, Executive Officer, Montana Department of Livestock
Mr. Joe Maurier, Director, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks
The Honorable Brian Schweitzer, Governor, State of Montana
The Honorable Max Baucus, Senator
The Honorable Jon Tester, Senator
Mr. Hal Harper, Chief Policy Advisor, Governor’s Office
Mr. Jon Swartz, Chief of Maintenance, Montana Department of Transportation
Mr. Pat Flowers, Director, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Region III
Mr. Sam Sheppard, Warden Captain, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Region II