Man pleads guilty to disturbing Yellowstone bison that later had to be euthanized

A man has pleaded guilty to disturbing a baby bison at Yellowstone National Park in an incident that ended with the calf being euthanized, officials said. 

Clifford Walters, a Hawaii resident, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentionally disturbing wildlife, the National Park Service said in a press release. Walters must pay a $500 fine, along with a $500 community service payment to Yellowstone Forever Wildlife Protection Fund, a $30 special assessment and a $10 processing fee, the park service said.

While park officials said there was no indication that Walters acted maliciously, his actions led to the baby bison’s death. 

The bison had been separated from its mother when the herd crossed the Lamar River, according to the National Park Service. Walters approached the newborn calf on May 20 after he spotted it struggling and pushed the calf from the river onto the roadway, the service said.

Once on the roadway, the calf approached people and cars, officials said. Park rangers repeatedly tried to reunite the baby with its herd, but they were unsuccessful. Officials then decided to euthanize the baby bison because it had been abandoned and was causing a hazardous situation. 

“We made the choice we did not because we are lazy, uncaring, or inexpert in our understanding of bison biology,” the park service said in explaining the situation. “We made the choice we did because national parks preserve natural processes.”

Many have questioned why Yellowstone did not care for the baby bison or send it to a sanctuary. The park explained that under both federal and state regulations, bison cannot be transported out of Yellowstone unless they’re 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,” the park service said. “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.”

Park officials urged visitors to follow guidelines around animals to prevent future problems. Yellowstone National Park requires all visitors to stay at least 25 yards away from most wildlife, including bison, elk and deer. Visitors are required to remain at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves.

“Help us make it socially unacceptable to do anything else.” the National Park Service said. 

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