Stupid Human Tricks

Yellowstone is the planet’s cathedral to stupid human behavior around wildlife

By Rob Breeding

A friend who lives in West Yellowstone posted a photo on social media from the park the other day. You probably know where this is going. A visitor, spying bison about 10 feet from the road, stopped, got out of his car, and with camera in hand, lay down on the shoulder to click away.

That photographer must be serious about his craft. He was willing to risk life and limb for the perfect perspective, fulfilling his artistic vision.

Yellowstone is the planet’s cathedral to stupid human behavior around wildlife. You might think people don’t need to be warned about bison, but if you think so you haven’t been to Yellowstone lately. That belly-flopping photographer was just the first wave of summer stupid descending on the park.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying wildlife. I’ve driven through Yellowstone plenty and it never ceases to amaze. But I’m happy watching critters from my slow-moving automobile, though honestly, I’m primarily concerned with brake lights. Getting a look at a wild beast or two is a bonus.

The Big Kahuna in Yellowstone is the grizzly. I’m guessing even the bison photographer knows to keep his distance around bears, though nothing surprises me anymore.

Back in the dark days of television prehistory, also known as the 1970s, Saturday Night Live foreshadowed our current national park nonsense in a skit featuring Jane Curtin and Dan Akroyd. Curtin played a very serious talk show host interviewing Bob Crawford, author of the book “Mauled.” Akroyd played the writer.

Horribly disfigured by a past run-in with a bruin, Crawford explained he wrote the book because the media inaccurately portrays bears as jovial, friendly characters. Think Smokey, or Yogi and his conscientious sidekick, Boo-Boo.

Crawford worked himself into a frenzy, finally telling Curtin he had three proposals to make national parks safer for visitors:

• Signs should be posted at entrances reading, “Do not ride the bears.”

• Rangers should warn campers that if they find bear cubs not to dress them up in kids’ swimsuits.

• And finally, Crawford warned, “Never feed a marshmallow to a grizzly like this,” as he put the treat in his mouth while posing, as the SNL transcript reads, wantingly.

Even as a teenager who had barely traveled out of Southern California I got it. Wildlife wasn’t something to be messed with. Especially grizzlies.

That old SNL skit was meant to be funny, and it was. But 40 years later you have to wonder if people “actually” get it. Was that bison photographer really that confused? Sure, getting low likely allowed him to frame the bison against an azure sky rather than grass or brush, but I guess he was clueless about what that bison might have done if it had been slightly ornery that morning.

Or maybe he wished he had a carrot to offer, wantingly, to lure the bison in for a closeup?

The key for those of us smarter than Bob Crawford is to resist the impulse to do the stupid. I know it was a long winter and we’re all itching to get outside and bask in spring, but before you do, I have a few of my own:

• If you think that bison looks gentle enough to ride, the feds should install on your person an electronic ankle bracelet that alerts authorities whenever you’re within 500 yards of wildlife.

• If you think that coffee-and-cream high water offers the perfect opportunity to learn to row, your electronic ankle bracelet should unleash limb-numbing voltage whenever you’re within 500 yards of a river.

• If you stop on a blind curve in Yellowstone because you think you spied a mule deer in the brush, your electronic ankle bracelet should take command of your vehicle, ease it out of traffic and permanently disable it.

• And don’t feed the dang bears!

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.