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How Much Deference Do Yellowstone Bison Deserve?

BlueStar Coach

Perhaps loitering bison deserve a little more patience than they got last weekend from a tour bus.  Photos posted to a Facebook page called Yellowstone National Park:  Invasion of the Idiots! showed a Bluestar tour bus crossing the double yellow line, cutting into the line of vehicles ahead of it and nudging its way through the bison. The bison promptly moved off the road, and the bus continued onward.

Other photos showed the tour bus stuck in a line of vehicles that had stopped for the bison jam, holding up traffic in both directions.

The photos sparked a lively debate about driving etiquette when approaching Yellowstone’s famous bison jams, as reported by Cowboy State Daily.

The woman who posted the photos, Rhea Cicale, is a top contributor to the popular Facebook page.  “I’m reporting this driver and bus company,” Cicale posted when she shared the photos. “We were all waiting for bison and this imbecile went on the wrong side of the road and forced the herd off the road. One of the bison jumped to get out of his way.”

The reaction to Cicale’s photos was mixed. That’s a rarity in a group like Yellowstone National Park: Invasion of the Idiots!, which is usually universal in its disdain for the actions posted in its feed.

Some people shared Cicale’s frustration over the bus driver’s impatience while others thought it was perfectly acceptable and compared driving through a herd of wild bison to navigating around a herd of domestic cattle.

“Those of us that have spent loads of time in the park know how to navigate through them,” said Patricia Nasby of Billings, Montana. “The smart ones know there’s zero reason to wait. Those creatures will tie up traffic for hours! All the cars idling is bad for the atmosphere, (so) we’re doing the planet a favor by moving through!”

Duane Wettstein, a semi-truck and tour bus driver from Salt Lake City, Utah, also weighed in. In his perspective, the Bluestar bus driver was doing precisely what he should have done.

“We are instructed to do this,” he said about how to navigate around wildlife in the road. The goal is “to not add to the congestion.”

Several other people added that they’ve seen Yellowstone rangers execute the same maneuver in bison jams, albeit with vehicles considerably smaller than a 26.5-ton Prevost bus.

There isn’t an official Yellowstone policy that specifically addresses how, or if, drivers should proceed through bear or bison jams. Seems the only thing that’s crystal clear is to not get out and approach the wildlife as photo opportunities.

The only rule posted on the National Park Service’s Yellowstone website is to “stay in your vehicle if you encounter a wildlife jam” and never park on the road or block traffic to observe wildlife.

If visitors outside their vehicles stay 25 yards away while they observe, they’re free to do so as long as they fully pull off the road. Of course, anyone closer than that is required to stay in their vehicles for their own safety.

Alvin Heggie owns local tour company Cody Shuttle and said he encounters bison jams all the time, but he never drives through them.

“That’s how I interpret park policy,” he said. “Give the wildlife all the space they need. You need to stop and let the bison do their thing.”

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