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Wind Cave officials concerned about bison crash deaths

This undated photo provided by the National Park Service shows bison walking on a road near the south entrance to Wind Cave National Park in southwestern South Dakota. (AP file photo)

HOT SPRINGS (AP) — Officials at Wind Cave National Park in southwestern South Dakota are taking steps to reduce the number of bison killed by motor vehicles after a rash of deaths this year.

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Fourteen bison have been confirmed killed in crashes in 2013, with six of those deaths happening in the last three months.

“In a typical year, we average three bison killed. Six in just three months is an alarming amount,” Park Superintendent Vidal Davila said. “We’re concerned about the safety of our travelers. We don’t want people to get hurt. Sometimes just driving the speed limit is too fast for bad weather conditions.”

No people have been hurt in the crashes this year, according to park spokesman Tom Farrell.

The park is stepping up patrols, working on better signs and moving bison away from roads, where animals are drawn by salt used to melt snow and ice. The park doesn’t salt the roads, but vehicles carry it in from other areas.

“Bison licking salt on roads during or after a winter storm, especially at night, can be nearly impossible to see,” Davila said. “It is hard to imagine an invisible 2,000-pound animal, but with their brown hair they just blend into the darkness.”

The park attempted to donate meat from the animals recently killed to a local food pantry but state regulations do not allow for road-killed bison to be donated. The bison carcasses instead provided food for the park’s many predators.

The park has about 500 bison. This year is the 100th anniversary of the reintroduction of the animals to Wind Cave. The last of the bison native to the area was killed in 1881, more than two decades before Wind Cave was declared a national park in 1903. In November 1913, the 14 bison that would form the foundation of the current herd were shipped by rail from the Bronx Zoo in New York to Hot Springs and then by truck and wagon to the park.