Yellowstone Officials Encounter Visitors Behaving Badly

May 20, 2016
Originally published on May 26, 2016 5:48 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

America's national parks have some basic rules - don't feed or touch the animals, stay on the path. Odds are, you've recently seen video evidence in your Facebook feed of at least one of those rules being broken at Yellowstone National Park. NPR's Nathan Rott has this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: She's petting it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: She's petting it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah, she's pet it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: She's freakin' petting it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, my gosh, she's petting it.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Close encounters of the head-scratching kind are nothing new to Yellowstone National Park.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Oh, God, is she stupid?

ROTT: This video, posted just a month ago, shows a woman petting a full-grown bison near Old Faithful. The more recent incidents were similar and different. The first, and the one you've probably seen, is that of a Canadian man who saw a bison calf in Yellowstone that he thought looked cold. So with the best of intentions, misguided as they were, he loaded it into the back of his SUV and drove it to park rangers for help. The calf was later rejected by its herd and had to be euthanized. The visitor was fined. So let's chalk that up as sad, misinformed rule breaking.

The second incident is very different. Four guys recorded in this YouTube video walked off of the boardwalk at Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the U.S., to pose for pictures at the edge of the water. They run a channel on YouTube called High on Life where pictures like this are the norm. And, unlike the first guy, it appears that they knew the rules, says Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk.

DAN WENK: Part of their stick, if you will, is they took photographs of the warning signs and were literally ridiculing the warning signs. So they got it, they understood, but they willfully chose to ignore.

ROTT: In Wenk's eyes, those two incidents of rule-breaking are different, and so was the way you deal with them. Yellowstone is seeing record visitation numbers from people all around the world. He says they're trying to keep pace - printing pamphlets in different languages and posting more signs.

WENK: The difficulty is, is that our visitation changes every two to three days.

ROTT: So you can never educate everyone, and he says the learning curve only becomes steeper as the world becomes more urban. For people who know the rules and break them, though - a group he's concerned could grow in the age of selfie stunts - the education may have to come in terms of penalties. Warrants have been put out for three of the four men that walked out to the hot spring. They're each facing two counts. The U.S. attorney's office in Wyoming says that the maximum penalty for each charge is six months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. So really, stay on the path. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.