NewsMontana and Regional News


Visitor pleads guilty to disturbing wildlife in Yellowstone National Park

Man intentionally 'disturbed' a bison calf in Yellowstone National Park
Visitor pleads guilty to disturbing wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
Visitor pleads guilty to disturbing wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
Posted at 4:27 PM, May 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-01 12:43:28-04

GREAT FALLS — Yellowstone National Park said in a news release on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, that Clifford Walters of Hawaii pleaded guilty to one count of feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing wildlife in the park.

Walters appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Hambrick, and was charged a $500 fine, a $500 Community Service payment to Yellowstone Forever Wildlife Protection Fund, a $30 special assessment, and a $10 processing fee.

According to the violation notice, on May 20, 2023, Walters approached a struggling newborn bison calf in Lamar Valley near the confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek.

The calf had been separated from its mother when the herd crossed the Lamar River. We received reports that the calf had already been rejected by its mother and herd, but have not been able to confirm that.

As the calf struggled, the man pushed the calf up from the river and onto the road. Visitors later saw the calf walking up to and following cars and people.

Park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the calf with the herd, but their efforts were not successful.

The calf was later euthanized by park staff because it was abandoned by the herd and causing a hazardous situation by approaching cars and people along the road.

According to the news release, there was nothing in the court documents indicating that Walters acted maliciously.

Some people were critical of park staff, wondering why the calf couldn't be saved and taken to an animal sanctuary. The park has received so many questions that they created a web page explaining park policies. It reads, in part:

Federal and state regulations prohibit the transport of bison out of Yellowstone unless those bison are going to meat processing or scientific research facilities. We now have a quarantine facility so bison can go through the months-long testing protocols for brucellosis and, if negative, be used to start conservation herds elsewhere. However, the use of quarantine for a newborn calf that's abandoned and unable to care for itself is not a good candidate for quarantine.

It's important to understand that national parks are very different than animal sanctuaries or zoos. We made the choice we did not because we are lazy, uncaring, or inexpert in our understanding of bison biology. We made the choice we did because national parks preserve natural processes. By this we mean undomesticated wildlife and the ecosystems they both depend on and contribute to. Every day in national parks, some animals die so that others may live. In fact, as many as 25% of the bison calves born this spring will die, but those deaths will benefit other animals by feeding everything from bears and wolves to birds and insects. Allowing this cycle of life to play out aligns most closely with the stewardship responsibility entrusted to us by the American people.

Park staff say that interference by people - even well-meaning visitors - can cause wildlife to reject their offspring. Approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being and, as in this case, their survival. Park regulations require that people stay at least 25 yards away from all wildlife (including bison, elk and deer) and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves.

Disregarding these regulations can result in fines, injury, and even death. The safety of these animals, as well as human safety, depends on everyone using good judgment and following these simple rules.