High-profile incidents at Yellowstone prompt bison safety reminder in Utah

A bison roams around Antelope Island State Park on Oct. 23, 2020. The island is home to about 750 bison in the spring and summer months.

A bison roams around Antelope Island State Park on Oct. 23, 2020. The island is home to about 750 bison in the spring and summer months. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Your odds of being attacked by a bison are low but never zero.

The probability increases when someone tries to get closer to one for a photo, said Antelope Island State Park manager Jeremy Shaw. In some cases, an attack may happen when someone doesn't even realize they were close to bison out in the wild.

"Any time there is a dangerous interaction with wildlife, it's because the person got too close," he said in a statement Wednesday.

Shaw and other bison experts in Utah are reminding people recreating in Utah to be careful around the large creatures if they stumble across them this summer.

Their message comes after a pair of high-profile incidents at Yellowstone National Park last week, injuring a 34-year-old Colorado man and a 71-year-old Pennsylvania woman. A 25-year-old Ohio woman was also gored at the park in May after getting 10 feet from a bison. Park officials require visitors to stay 75 feet away from bison.

Similar incidents have happened in Utah in recent years. In 2020, a Syracuse man running at Antelope Island was killed in what was described as a likely bison attack. Another Utah man was attacked by bison on two separate occasions at the park in 2019.

There's also a growing likelihood that humans come in contact with bison in Utah.

While bison herds can be found in eastern Utah, especially in the Henry Mountains or the Book Cliffs, most people are likely to encounter them at Antelope Island. It's home to about 750 bison in the summer months after female bison birth calves.

The island attracted over 1 million visitors for the first time last year, making it the third-most visited state park in Utah. There are no signs of its popularity slowing down either; more than 400,000 people visited the island in the first five months of this year, according to Utah Division of State Parks data. Past data indicates that the summer months are when it's most popular.

So what should you do if you encounter a bison? The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has some tips:

  • Do not walk across the rangeland to get close to a bison. Take any photos from a safe distance.
  • Back away slowly if you see a bison stop to pay attention to you. This means you are too close to the animal.
  • Wait for a bison to pass if it is standing in the middle of a roadway. Do not get out of your vehicle.
  • Stay inside your vehicle if you come across a bison on the side of a road or drive past it.

Experts add people who come across bison while on hiking trails should back away and return the way they came from. It's also OK to wander off a trail to give the animal more space; as Shaw puts it, safety trumps any rules about leaving backcountry trails.

"If you are in the backcountry hiking and you come across any wildlife that's in your path, we urge you to travel around it," he said. "Whatever distance you think you should remain from the animal, double it — that's how far back you should stay."

More safety tips about bison or other wildlife can be found here.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.


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