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Bison hampered by an unusually deep ice-encrusted snowpack are taking to Alaska’s highways this winter to search for forage, creating dangerous standoffs with drivers. Motorists in the Delta Junction area have been confronted by stampeding bison running around, and, in at least one case, over their stopped vehicles.

A recent YouTube video recorded by Kurt Schmidt shows a herd of at least a dozen bison running down a road at night toward his vehicle, backlit by the lights of an approaching car. As the herd nears Schmidt, they pause before turning and running towards the approaching car. The sound of crunching metal can be heard as the bison surge past the other car and disappear into the night. 

December storms dumped deep snow followed by freezing rain in Delta Junction making it difficult for bison to reach their forage areas or to travel in search of new feeding sites, according to Clint Cooper, a wildlife tech with the Alaska Fish and Game Department. 

“They’re having a tough time right now, getting through that ice crust,” Cooper said in an interview with KTOO News. The ice can injure the bison when their legs punch through the crust repeatedly as they try to slog through the snowpack. “It’s painful. It’ll scrape and cut up their legs when they get through that ice,” he says. As a result, bison are using roads to travel in search of food, “more so than normal, that’s for sure.” 

With snow piled even deeper on the roadsides by plows, bison that encounter cars avoid the ditches where they can bog down in the drifts and become easy prey for wolves. Where roads are narrow, the standoffs can get dangerous, as the drivers in the video discovered. After the bison passed, the two men stopped to talk.

“Those #@#$$@%* took out my car!” the driver of the damaged vehicle exclaims when Schmidt asks him what happened. 

“They ran up your hood?” Schmidt says.

“They went right over me!”

To provide some relief to the bison (and drivers), AGFD is working with the state Forestry Division to clear paths and forage areas in the 90,000-acre Delta Bison Range, Cooper told KTOO. 

“Forestry brought down a D7 bulldozer from Fairbanks, and they were planning to do some habitat work,” he said. “We were able to take that dozer and have him plow some snow and break through some of that crust.” But if you’re driving anything less than a D7 and encounter a herd of hungry buffalo on an Alaska backroad, Cooper said it’s best to give them as wide a berth if possible.

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