The latest updates on that Yellowstone National Park grizzly encounter offer a clear message: Don’t be a touron.
Way back in May of 2021 (which feels a lifetime ago at this point), the internet watched as a woman left her car, walked straight for a grizzly bear sow and her cubs, and proceeded to take photos as she moved closer. Clearly agitating the protective mother bear, the woman stood with her phone pointed at death incarnate as the sow charged her to protect her cubs from a perceived threat.
The tourist, or touron, as she helped coin, got lucky. The Yellowstone grizzly chose to let her live, deciding to bluff rather than maul. But the actions of the woman remain; immortalized by the footage of a separate tourist who watched from the comfort and safety of her vehicle.
This isn’t only the smart thing to do, it’s the legal thing to do. Yellowstone National Park has strict wildlife safety regulations in place to protect both visitors and wildlife. And when broken, consequences can (and should) follow. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, which only perpetuates “touron” behavior. But it’s not for lack of chargeable cases. Yellowstone simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to monitor all 3 million visitors to the park each year.
They shouldn’t have to, either. But not every individual who enters America’s first national park knows how dangerous a place it can be/is. Which is why this woman’s case remains important, and will for years to come.
$2,000 Fine, 4 Days in Jail, One Year Probation, and One Year Ban from Yellowstone National Park
It’s just as easy, however, to find fault with the internet’s tendency to dogpile on people who made mistakes. We all make mistakes. But in this case, the lives of both Yellowstone visitors and native grizzly bears are on the line. So let’s take a look at what punishment this woman (who we’ll refrain from naming) received.
Initially, as Tourons of Yellowstone highlights, the woman faced two charges:
- Willfully remaining, approaching, and photographing wildlife within 100 yards
- Feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing wildlife
She would plead guilty to the first count; a wise move considering this act was directly caught on film. The second charge, though, was dismissed. And this is understandable, as this woman was clearly a visiting tourist and completely ignorant of what wildlife is, how it lives in Yellowstone, and how approaching it could cost her life.
All too often, incidents that end tragically for national park visitors end worse for the wildlife. Bears that attack people are tracked, trapped, and euthanized for “posing a danger to the public.” And this is every bit as tragic.
In the end, this Yellowstone visitor had to pay a $2,000 fine. She then served 4 days in the Gallatin County Detention Center, and received one year of probation and a one year ban from Yellowstone National Park as a result of her actions.
She has now paid her debts, and can return to the park. She’s been able to since May of 2022. But will she ever endanger herself, other visitors, or the wildlife of Yellowstone National Park again? Highly doubtful.
For more information on wildlife safety in the park, and why their regulations are in place, see our Yellowstone National Park Wildlife: Animals You’ll Spot, Where to Best View Bison, Bears, Elk, Wolves, and Wildlife Safety next.