Thirteen bison die after being hit by semitruck north of West Yellowstone

By: - December 30, 2022 2:33 pm

Bison from the American Prairie herd are seen covered in snow (Photo by Dennis Lingohr | American Prairie Reserve).

Thirteen bison were killed or euthanized after they were hit by a semitruck Wednesday evening north of West Yellowstone on U.S. Highway 191, according to the police department there.

The crash happened around 6:30 p.m. near mile marker 4. West Yellowstone Police Chief Mike Gavagan said in a news release the semitruck hit all the bison that died in the crash or were euthanized afterward due to “severe” injuries.

Previously, police believed two other vehicles had been involved in the initial crashes with the herd, but the department said Friday, after further investigation, those were “secondary incidents.” NBC Montana first reported the crash.

Montana Highway Patrol is investigating the crash, Gavagan said in the release. An employee at the department said Gavagan was unavailable and had written the news release because of the number of inquiries about the crash.

Whether the truck was speeding is still under investigation, according to the police department, which said snowy and icy road conditions at the time meant drivers should have been traveling under the speed limit.

“Please do not drive faster than you can stop within the distance that your headlights project,” the news release said.

Herds of bison are often found along Highway 191, near the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The police department said the animals typically are near paved roads and snowmobile trails in the winter so they can more easily walk through the often-deep snow.

“We deal with wildlife being struck and killed on the roadways in our area on a regular basis due to the abundance of wildlife in our area and our close proximity to Yellowstone National Park,” the police department said in the news release. “We are always saddened by any of these incidents, particularly when so many animals are lost.”

A commentary in the Yellowstone Gate news site said bison can be difficult to see at night because of the placement of their darkly colored eyes and that the Highway 191 corridor near West Yellowstone is a common route for bison from the park to travel.

USA Today reported in July 2021 that drivers were involved in 241 known or reported crashes with large mammals like bison, bears and elk inside the park over the previous five years.

A study conducted by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation found more than 500 animals were killed by vehicles each year in Teton County, Wyo., just across the border from West Yellowstone.

The study found around half of the crashes happen December through March and most often at night, when animals are more difficult to see. It also found that Highway 191 was one of the areas where the chances of encountering wildlife on the road was “very high.”

The West Yellowstone Police Department said the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Yellowstone National Park, Hebgen Basin Fire Department and Montana Department of Transportation helped the department in working the crash and investigation.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.