Visitor Misbehavior Abounds as US Parks Agency Turns 100 | NBC Chicago
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

Visitor Misbehavior Abounds as US Parks Agency Turns 100

Visitors at Yellowstone have transformed the summer rush into a frenzy, with tourists breaking park rules

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    In this Aug. 3, 2016 photo, tourists take photos of elk outside Yellowstone National Park's Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Elk frequent the grass outside the hotel, where park administrators say visitors routinely violate park rules that require them to stay a minimum 25 yards from the animals.

    Tourist John Gleason crept through the grass, four small children close behind, inching toward a bull elk with antlers like small trees at the edge of a meadow in Yellowstone National Park. 

    "They're going to give me a heart attack," said Gleason's mother-in-law, Barbara Henry, as the group came within about a dozen yards of the massive animal.

    The elk's ears then pricked up, and it eyed the children and Washington state man before leaping up a hillside. Other tourists — likewise ignoring rules to keep 25 yards from wildlife — picked up the pursuit, snapping pictures as they pressed forward and forced the animal into headlong retreat. 

    Record visitor numbers at the nation's first national park have transformed its annual summer rush into a sometimes dangerous frenzy, with selfie-taking tourists routinely breaking park rules and getting too close to Yellowstone's storied elk herds, grizzly bears, wolves and bison. 

    Pig Escapes Slaughterhouse Fate, Sells Original Paintings

    [NATL] Pig Escapes Slaughterhouse Fate, Sells Original Paintings

    A pig who escaped slaughter is now living out her life in a South African sanctuary and painting original works that have sold for up to $2,000.

    "She was really small when I rescued her," said Joanne Lefson, who manages the South African Farm Sanctuary, a haven for rescued farm animals where the pig now lives. "She's very smart and intelligent so I placed a few balls and some paintbrushes and things in her pen, and it wasn't long before I discovered that she really liked the bristles and the paintbrush...She just really took a knack for it."

    Funds from the art sales go towards the sanctuary.

    (Published Wednesday, March 29, 2017)

    Law enforcement records obtained by The Associated Press suggest such problems are on the rise at the park, offering a stark illustration of the pressures facing some of America's most treasured lands as the National Park Service marks its 100th anniversary. 

    From Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains to the Grand Canyon of Arizona, major parks are grappling with illegal camping, vandalism, theft of resources, wildlife harassment and other visitor misbehavior, according to the records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

    In July alone, law enforcement rangers handled more than 11,000 incidents at the 10 most visited national parks. 

    In Yellowstone, rangers are recording more wildlife violations, more people treading on sensitive thermal areas and more camping in off-limit areas. The rule-breaking puts visitors in harm's way and can damage resources and displace wildlife, officials said. 

    Clinton Gives First Major Post-Election Speech

    [NATL] Hillary Clinton Gives First Major Post-Election Speech at Event for Businesswomen

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her first major public speech on Tuesday since losing the 2016 presidential election, speaking at a meeting of the Professional Businesswomen of California organization in San Fransisco, California.

    (Published Wednesday, March 29, 2017)

    Often the incidents go unaddressed, such as when Gleason and the children approached the bull elk with no park personnel around. Gleason said he was "maybe" too close but felt comfortable in the situation as an experienced hunter who's spent lots of time outdoors. 

    These transgressions add to rangers' growing workload that includes traffic violations, searches for missing hikers and pets running off-leash in parks. 

    "It's more like going to a carnival. If you look at the cumulative impacts, the trends are not good," said Susan Clark, a Yale University professor of wildlife ecology who has been conducting research in the Yellowstone area for 48 years. "The basic question is, 'What is the appropriate relationship with humans and nature?' We as a society have not been clear about what that ought to be, and so it's really, really messy and nasty." 

    Recent events at Yellowstone grabbed national headlines: 

     

    • A Canadian tourist who put a bison calf in his SUV hoping to save it, ending with wildlife workers euthanizing the animal when they could not reunite it with its herd.
    • Three visitors from Asia cited on separate occasions for illegally collecting water from the park's thermal features.
    • A Washington state man killed after leaving a designated boardwalk and falling into a near-boiling hot spring. 

     

    The flouting of park rules stems from disbelief among visitors that they will get hurt, said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk. "I can't tell you how many times I have to talk to people and say, 'Step back. There's a dangerous animal,' and they look at me like I have three heads," he said. 

    Inconsistent record keeping, including a recent switch to a new criminal offenses reporting system, makes it difficult to identify trends that apply uniformly across the major parks.

    But the records reviewed by the AP reveal the scope of visitor misbehavior is huge. In Yellowstone, administrators and outside observers including Clark say the park's problems have become more acute. That threatens its mission to manage its lands and wildlife "unimpaired" for future generations. 

    Mom Tells Son's Story in Fight for NIH Funding

    [NATL-DC] Mom Tells Son's Story in Fight for NIH Funding

    Pediatric cancer research is one of the least funded and proposed budget cuts to NIH will deplete it even more. A family whose child died from pediatric cancer is testifying on Capitol Hill Wednesday, March 29, to save the funding. Tammi and Jason Carr in Michigan founded the ChadTough Foundation to honor their son Chad, who died at age 5 after battling a brain tumor. News4’s Shomari Stone reports. 

    (Published Tuesday, March 28, 2017)

    Beyond incidents that lead to citations are many more that result in warnings. More than 52,000 warnings were issued in 2015, up almost 20 percent from the year before. 

    Washington state resident Lisa Morrow's son was among the children Gleason led toward the elk. Despite safety advisories — and numerous examples of visitors getting gored by bison, mauled by bears and chased by elk — Morrow declared herself unafraid of the park's wildlife. She said she was eager to see a grizzly up close. 

    "I want to see one right there," Morrow said, pointing to a spot just feet away. "I'd throw it a cookie." 

    The top 10 parks by visitation collectively hosted almost 44 million people last year, according to National Park Service figures. That's a 26 percent increase from a decade earlier, or more than 9.1 million new visitors combined at Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the other national parks on the list. 

    Martial Artist Breaks 111 Cement Blocks with His Head

    [NATL] Martial Artist Breaks 111 Cement Blocks with His Head

    Sixteen-year-old Bosnian taekwondo martial artist Kerim Ahmetspahic performed an incredible stunt over the weekend. He smashed 111 cement building blocks with his head.

    (Published Tuesday, March 28, 2017)

    Yellowstone boasts the most large, dangerous carnivores among those parks, but each has its risks. In Rocky Mountain National Park, it's elk that become more aggressive during mating season. In Yosemite, it's towering waterfalls where visitors insist on swimming near the edge. In the Grand Canyon, it's squirrels habituated to humans and sometimes quick to bite an outstretched hand.

    Wenk said the rise in popularity of social media complicates keeping visitors safe. 

    "You take a picture of yourself standing 10 feet in front of a bison, and all of a sudden a few hundred people see it, and it's reposted — at the same time we're telling everybody wildlife is dangerous," Wenk said. "They get incongruous messages and then it happens. They get too close, and the bison charges."