Park rangers at Yellowstone National Park busted a Chinese tourist last week for leaving the safety of the designated boardwalk at the park’s Mammoth Hot Springs.
The man admitted to collecting water from the hot springs and told rangers he did not read the safety information given to visitors at the park entrance.
He was fined $1,000.
Just days before, a 23-year-old Oregon man died after also walking off a designated walkway at Morris Geyser Basin and falling into the 200-degree hot spring. He was more than 225 yards off the boardwalk when he fell in.
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These and a handful of other accidents at the park have park rangers grappling with what to do about Yellowstone’s most problematic species this season.
Scientists and researchers have spent decades at Yellowstone studying the wildlife. This summer, park officials are doing field work on humans.
“The least-studied species of animal in Yellowstone National Park is the human and the visitor experience,” Dan Wenk, park superintendent since 2011, told The Casper Star-Tribune. “And that’s what we’re trying to change.”
Yellowstone has hired a full-time social scientist this season to study visitor expectations and how the park can deliver more effective safety messages and protect the park’s resources.
Park managers were “overwhelmed with a 17 percent increase” in visitors in 2015, Wenk recently told a group of chamber of commerce leaders in the Yellowstone area.
The uptick was partly caused by the National Park Service’s campaign last year that invited Americans to “Find Your Park.”
“Last year was an invitation — we invited the American people to find their park. This year, we’re asking people to find another park,” Wenk joked to chamber officials.
Park officials are girding for even bigger record crowds this season as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary.
The Star-Tribune described Wenk as “dumbfounded” by what’s been happening at the park already this season, some of which he described as “deviant behavior.”
Park rangers have been busy with so many people flouting park safety rules since the park opened.
At least six people have been fined in recent weeks for trespassing and unsafely walking onto the Grand Prismatic Hot spring, according to ABC News.
In May a Canadian film crew was fined for walking off-trail and onto the dangerous — and ecologically delicate — Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest natural hot spring in the country, The Oregonian reported.
A 13-year-old boy was burned after falling into a hot spring at the Upper Geyser Basin.
So many people were having dangerously close encounters with Yellowstone wildlife — including the woman who got too close to a black bear and two cubs — that park officials called out visitors for their bad behavior last month.
The park requires people to stay at least 25 yards from all wildlife and at least 100 yards from bears and wolves.
“In recent weeks, visitors in the park have been engaging in inappropriate, dangerous, and illegal behavior with wildlife,” Yellowstone officials said in a press release.
“In a recent viral video, a visitor approached within an arm’s length of an adult bison in the Old Faithful area. Another video featured visitors posing for pictures with bison at extremely unsafe and illegal distances.”
Last month a Canadian tourist who put a baby bison in the back of an SUV last month set off a public outcry because the animal had to be euthanized when it was rejected by the herd.
A video shot by a tourist showed a woman standing too close to take a picture of an elk when the animal decided it didn’t like being hounded by the paparazzi.
Another woman was luckier earlier this season when she was able to walk away with her life when she walked up to a bison resting near a walkway and, to the horror of onlookers, petted it. Videos of the encounter went viral.
Thirty years ago, said Wenk, Yellowstone visitors didn’t have cell phones.
So 30 years ago selfie-taking tourists weren’t a problem.
In 2015 five Yellowstone tourists trying to take selfies with bison were gored.
“Another difference today is social media,” Wenk told the Star-Tribune. “The fact that people see others in close proximity to animals and nothing bad happened to them, that’s probably a memory that resonates with them better than the sign that says, ‘Please don’t approach more than 25 yards.’
“More people see what we term as inappropriate behavior. So I think they wonder, ‘Why shouldn’t we be allowed to do the same thing or take advantage of the same situation?’”