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Yet Another National Park Tragedy

As a photographer, I spend a fair amount of time in National Parks. (Since relocating to the Intermountain West last summer, two parks are each less than 80 miles from my front door - so my visits are now even more frequent.)

After all this time, you'd think the stupidity - and arrogance - of some of the visitors I come across would no longer surprise me. Still, it does. What's more disconcerting is the fact that bad behavior seems to be on the rise. Far too many people think posted rules apply to everyone but them. They don't respect nature. They don't care about animals they encounter. And the repercussions are often quite serious.

The other day I read a story in the local newspaper about a pair of Yellowstone visitors who abducted a newly born bison. It made the national wire, so you may have heard about this also.

They plucked the poor creature up (undoubtedly with its mother and/or other members of the herd in the vicinity - extremely foolhardy), put it in the back of their vehicle, and drove it to a park ranger demanding he do something about the baby animal whom, in their ignorance, they had determined was cold. Net result? An innocent baby bison is now dead.

Though rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the calf with its herd, the adult animals shunned it. The baby was seen afterward wandering along the roadway, approaching people and cars - which led to the heartbreaking decision to euthanize it.

An innocent animal pays for the stupidity of these people with its life.

What price did the offenders pay? A $110 fine...barely a slap on the hand.

Think this is an anomaly? In late April, also in Yellowstone, a woman approached a full-grown bison to pet it. How unbelievably reckless. A bison can weigh as much as a ton. Though they are large, they're quick on their feet: they can run at speeds of 40 miles an hour. This woman could easily have been gravely injured. (After which, no doubt, her family would sued the Park.)

Posted signs warn visitors to keep a distance of 25 yards between themselves and large animals. These are not pets. Still, nearly every time I'm in either Grand Teton or Yellowstone on a photo shoot during tourist season I see people getting dangerously close to wildlife.

So cute! Got to get that snapshot! Let's touch it! Put little Johnny on the bison's back!

Then when something happens: the animal acts like the wild creature that it is and the human is hurt or killed, or the baby animal is shunned by its mother after human contact, and so on. What happens? The innocent animal pays the price, often with its life.

There is also the serious issue of people routinely defacing our National Parks (and forests) by carving graffiti in rocks and trees. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll recall I mentioned the latest damage which was inflicted on the landscape in one of Utah's National Parks a few weeks ago.

If not, here's the Readers' Digest version: Just after my visit last month to Arches National Park, someone did serious (and possibly irreparable) damage near iconic Delicate Arch, carving deep, massive (six-foot wide) names in the red rock.

The Salt Lake Tribune quotes a park ranger who describes a "tidal wave of graffiti" at Arches and other national parks in recent years. How is it possible to have so little respect for the natural world to think nothing of vandalizing it?

I don't understand it, and I never will.

In 2016, the 100th anniversary of our national parks, it is my fervent hope that the clueless among us wake up, realize the seriousness of this type of behavior, and knock it off before irreparable damage is done to these beautiful places and the wildlife who call them home.

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