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How to recreate safely around bison at Antelope Island State Park this summer

Bison stand in the grass near a road on Antelope Island. Mountains and part of the Great Salt Lake are visible in the background.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
A small group of bison at Antelope Island State Park, home to one of the nation's largest and oldest bison herds.

Of the three populations of bison in Utah, the place where visitors are most likely to see them is Antelope Island State Park at Great Salt Lake, home to one of the nation’s largest and oldest public bison herds.

While the vast majority of bison sightings will remain just that, altercations with them have happened — five incidents have been reported in the last 10 years. According to Faith Heaton Jolley, spokesperson for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, altercations usually happen because people get too close.

“They typically just try to get closer and closer for pictures,” Jolley said. “And so anytime that happens, it doesn’t end well.”

Jolley said this lack of caution around big game like bison is often because they’re prey animals.

“There is kind of this common misconception that we see from the public that with a lot of our big game species ... that because they are not predators, that they aren’t dangerous, which unfortunately is not the case,” Jolley said.

Big game can become territorial if people get too close, especially if they have babies — and since a lot of Utah’s big game species have babies around June, summer can be an extra dangerous time to approach wildlife like bison.

Safety tips

Fortunately, the division has tips to stay safe when recreating at Antelope Island, and the biggest one is to give bison lots of space.

“We love that they love wildlife, it's exciting to see wildlife, but please keep them wild and just admire them from a distance,” Jolley said. “Don’t get too close, don’t try to feed them.”

Jolley noted that if a bison stops what it’s doing and starts paying attention to you, that’s a sign you’re too close.

For hikers who encounter bison near the trail, they should either slowly back up the way they came — not turning and running, as that could startle the animal — or go around to give the animal a wide berth.

“However far away you feel like you should be from that animal, double it,” Jolley said.

Antelope Island has trail restrictions in the back country, but visitors are permitted to leave the trail for safety or to give wildlife adequate space.

When bison are on or near the road, the most important thing is to remain inside the vehicle. Either wait for the bison cross if it’s in the road or carefully drive on.

Any altercations with wildlife at Antelope Island, especially if there’s an injury involved, should be reported to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the state park. You can find regional offices to contact here.

For more safety tips and resources about wildlife in Utah, visit Wild Aware Utah.

Duck is a general reporter and weekend announcer at UPR, and is studying broadcast journalism and disability studies at USU. They grew up in northern Colorado before moving to Logan in 2018, so the Rocky Mountain life is all they know. Free time is generally spent with their dog, Monty, listening to podcasts, reading or wishing they could be outside more.