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Wolverine Spotted in Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park biologists discovered something rare last month when looking through trail camera footage: a wolverine.

The wolverine (the animal, not the arguably best member of the X-Men) was spotted running through the Mammoth Hot Springs area and managed to trigger a remote trail camera.

Footage of the wolverine was posted to the Yellowstone Twitter account on Wednesday morning. A user asked how rare it was to find a wolverine in the park.

“The last population estimate was 7 in the park!” the Yellowstone account responded.

According to the Yellowstone website, commercial trapping and predator control efforts substantially reduced wolverine distribution in the lower 48 states by the 1930s.

In the greater Yellowstone area, wolverines have been studied using live traps, telemetry, and aerial surveys.

Of the seven wolverines known to be in the park, two are females and five are males, according to the most recent population estimates.

Climate change models predict that by 2050, the spring snowpack needed for wolverine denning and hunting will be limited to portions of the southern Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range and greater Yellowstone.

Wolverines are so rarely seen and inhabit such remote terrain at low densities that assessing population trends is difficult and sudden declines could go unnoticed for years.

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Researchers Still Confounded About Yellowstone Geyser Reawakening

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Researchers still can’t quite explain what caused a Yellowstone National Park geyser to reawaken in 2018, according to a recently published study.

The Steamboat Geyser, inside of the park’s Norris Basin, reawakened in 2018 after four years of complete dormancy. Since becoming active, the geyser has regularly erupted every year since then.

A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America was penned by 11 researchers that investigated the geyser’s resurgence and its eruption dynamics.

“The reason for reactivation remains ambiguous,” the group concluded.

“An improved understanding of geyser dynamics can provide insights into other multiphase episodic processes on Earth and other planets that result from localized input of energy and mass (e.g., volcanism),” the study said.

In 2019, the Steamboat geyser had its largest number of eruptions in recorded history, with 48. In 2020, there were 26 eruptions.

This resurgence in the geyser came after more than 30 years of sporadic activity. Prior to 2018, the geyser only erupted four times over a 13-year period (in 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2014).

The researchers analyzed a wide range of data in an effort to determine what triggered the geyser’s reactivation and the intervals and height of the eruptions.

They did find a correlation between eruption height and inferred depth to the shallow reservoir supplying water to eruptions.

Steamboat Geyser’s eruptions are taller than most geysers because the water supplying it stored deeper than at other geysers, so more energy is available to power the eruptions.

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Yellowstone Treasure Hunter Pleads Guilty to Damaging Cemetery

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man who was found digging in a cemetery inside Yellowstone National Park while hunting for Forrest Fenn’s mysterious treasure chest has pleaded guilty to causing damage to the park.

Rodrick Dow Craythorn, 52, of Syracuse, Utah, pleaded guilty to charges of excavating or trafficking in archeological resources and injury or depredation to United States property in U.S. District Court on Monday.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury in September.

The indictment alleged that Craythorn was found digging in the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery inside the national park between Oct. 1, 2019 and May 24, 2020 while looking for the treasure buried by Fenn.

The treasure was found earlier this year by a Michigan man. Fenn died a few months after it was discovered.

“The hunt for the Forrest Fenn treasure was often viewed as a harmless diversion, but in this case it led to substantial damage to important public resources,” said US Attorney Mark Klaassen. “The defendant let his quest for discovery override respect for the law.”

Excavating or trafficking in archeological resources carries a potential penalty of up to two years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, and one year of supervised release. Injury or depredation to United States property carries a penalty of not more than ten years imprisonment, up to a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Scott W. Skavdahl accepted Craythorn’s plea and scheduled his sentencing to take place on March 17 in Casper at the Ewing T. Kerr Federal Court House.

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Yellowstone Reminds Tourists Not to Cook Thanksgiving Turkey Over Hot Springs

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Yellowstone National Park continues to have a sense of humor.

A few months ago, the Park posted some advice for tourists on what to do if they see a bear.

They advised not tripping your friend and then running (which is, although humorous, still good advice).

On Saturday, they took it to a different level.

Using Legos, they reminded tourists that it is illegal to cook turkeys in the hot springs of Yellowstone.

This advice, of course, jumps on the recent story of the idiots from Idaho who attempted to cook a chicken in the hot springs of Yellowstone.

“We don’t know who needs to hear this, but it is illegal to cook a turkey in the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park,” the Facebook post reads. 

“Boiled, baked, stewed, brined, spatchcocked, grilled, braised, smoked, and deep fried are all illegal.  They will ban you from the park!  Just don’t do it,” it said.

Kudos to Yellowstone not only for the usage of Legos but because the park ranger and the lawbreaker are both wearing masks.

In Lego court, we hope the ruffian gets probation just because — even though he is breaking the law — his mask covers his nose (which so many non-Lego people don’t understand).


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Yellowstone Sets Another Milestone With Busiest October In Recorded History

in News/Recreation/Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Continuing a trend seen throughout the fall, Yellowstone National Park smashed another visitation record, reporting its busiest October in recorded history.

The park hosted 360,034 recreation visits in October, up 110% from October 2019. October’s visitation numbers also exceeded the previous record of 252,013 set in 2015 by 43%

The park hosted 837,499 recreation visits in September, a 21% increase from September 2019.

August was the second-busiest on record for the area — with visitor numbers coming in at 881,543, second only to 2017, the year of the total solar eclipse.

The park has hosted 3,743,907 visits so far this year, down 6% from the same period last year. However, the park was closed due to health and safety reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic beginning March 24 until mid-May, when its two Wyoming entrances opened.

All five of the entrances were opened on June 1, and the park has been completely open since then.

Here are the park’s year-to-date visitation numbers through October for the last several years:

  • 2020 – 3,743,907
  • 2019 – 3,979,153
  • 2018 – 4,078,771
  • 2017 – 4,084,762
  • 2016 – 4,212,782
  • 2015 – 4,066,191

All roads in Yellowstone, with one exception, are closed to automobile traffic from early November to late April.

The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance and the communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, is open year-round, weather-permitting.

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Most Roads Into Yellowstone To Close Monday

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Three of the four entrances into Yellowstone National Park, including all of those from Wyoming, will close beginning Monday for winterization reasons.

The west, south and east entrances and all roads in the park, with one exception, will close to vehicle travel at 8 a.m. Monday. This is an annual closure to allow park staff to prepare the roads for the winter season and snowmobile and snowcoach travel, which begins Dec. 15.

The park’s north entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through Mammoth Hot Springs to the park’s northeast entrance and the communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, remains open all year, weather permitting.

However, travel east of Cooke City isn’t possible from late fall to spring because the Beartooth Highway between Cooke City and Pilot Creek is closed to vehicle travel.

Officials from Yellowstone National Park did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday.

These road closures come after a massively successful summer and fall for the park. Yellowstone saw its busiest September in recorded history this year, a 21% increase in visitation over September 2019.

The park was closed from March 24 until May 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The two Wyoming entrances opened in May and the Montana entrances opened in June.

Yellowstone saw its second-busiest August on record this year, as well. It should be noted that monthly records have only been kept since 1979.

In addition to the surge in visitors on September, the park also saw an increase in coronavirus cases among park staff. Last month, 16 Yellowstone employees, 0.8% of the entire personnel at the park, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Temporary travel restrictions or closures in the park can occur at anytime, so visitors are encouraged to keep track of updates on the park’s website.

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Yellowstone To Introduce Automated Vehicles; What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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If there is a fear that automated vehicles in Yellowstone will turn the park into the movie set of “Maximum Overdrive” — the Stephen King movie where machines (especially cars and trucks) come to life and run over people for fun — that fear is probably overblown.

Yes, the National Park Service did announce it is going to demo driverless, electric, low-speed vehicles next summer in the park, but that doesn’t mean it’s a recipe for sheer chaos. 

Granted, there are some similarities between the movie and the upcoming foray.

In the movie Maximum Overdrive, automated 18-wheelers — to an AC/DC soundtrack — circle around a truck stop and run-over patrons who unwisely step outside the facility.

In Yellowstone, automated shuttles — to a yet unspecified musical selection — will reportedly circle around pre-determined areas such as campgrounds, commercial buildings, and lodging areas.

But instead of running over patrons, the plan is to drop visitors off at these facilities.

“Yellowstone and the National Park Service are proactively engaging with emerging transportation technologies by looking for ways to test, pilot and learn from these capabilities,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said.

On its surface, the Yellowstone plan appears to be more user-friendly than the Stephen King plan.

Another nice benefit to the automated vehicle plan is it is unlikely — unlike many tourists — that the automated vehicle will stop when it detects a squirrel on the side of the road and run out to take photos, thereby causing a two-mile long traffic jam.

Park officials say they are giving the automated thing a try in an effort to make the Yellowstone experience better.

“We will continue exploring possible ways to reduce congestion and to improve visitor experience and access in heavily traveled areas of the park,” Sholly said.

To find out more about this upcoming pilot program, check out this page.

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Pittsburgh Family Spots Pack of Wolves; Doesn’t Attempt to Pet or Ride Them

in News/Yellowstone

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Not every tourist to Yellowstone deserves to be described as a “touron” (the combination of the words tourist and moron).

Put Kristie Campbell and her family from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in that camp.

While driving to Old Faithful, the family saw a pack of wolves cross the road and did a lot of things right.

They slowed and eventually stopped the car.

They seemed to know right away that the animals they spotted were wolves, not dogs.

They didn’t get out of the car and try to pet them.

They didn’t try to take them home.

Perhaps most impressively, they shot their video horizontally and not vertically.

Instead they proceeded slowly and acted thrilled that they spotted wolves.

“There’s another one,” one of the family members screamed.

“Oh my God, there’s two, there’s three!,” they yelled over each other.  “There’s the whole pack!”

“There’s six. There’s seven,” they continued like they were auditioning for Sesame Street.

When the last wolf crossed the road, one member of the family (perhaps a wildlife biologist) opined that it looked tired.

“He must have been chasing something,” she said with authority. “He looks tuckered out.”

“That is amazing,” another chimed in.

In short, the tourists acted like responsible visitors and should give us all hope that not all tourists act like Yellowstone National Park is a petting zoo.

Campbell family: You made Pittsburgh, PA look good. You are a credit to your community.

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Bison Herd Keep Tourists Away From Calf In Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Tourists managed to avoid being treated like a “Mortal Kombat” character, thankfully, after being warned to keep away from a herd of bison in Yellowstone recently.

By the bison.

A video posted to Rumble that was recorded in August showed three bison warding off curious tourists trying to get a closer look at the herd and a calf in particular.

Unlike many other wildlife encounters in the park, this one ended peacefully and with no blood or pants being ripped off.

A family was shooting a video of the bison as two males began to approach, grunting loudly.

It was unclear if the family recording a video were the same people who uploaded the video to Rumble.

In the video, people can be heard commenting on the bison calf, saying things such as “Look at the baby.”

“The person shooting the video realized the danger of the situation and quickly jumped into the car to get out of their way,” the video description said.

After the person shooting the video got into their car, you can hear them say “Oh my God” as more of the bison herd appears in the frame.

It should be noted that the average bison weighs in at one ton, making it about an even match with most of the cars usually surrounding the animals in Yellowstone.

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Child Suffers Thermal Burns In Yellowstone, Life-Flighted To Idaho

in News/Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A three-year-old was burned on Friday near the Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.

The child took off running from the trail, slipped and fell into a small thermal feature on Friday morning, officials announced in a release. The child suffered second-degree burns to their lower body and back.

Due to the injuries, the child was life-flighted to the burn center at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. The incident is under investigation.

The ground in hydrothermal areas is fragile and thin and there is scalding water just below the surface. Visitors are to remain on boardwalks and trails and exercise caution around thermal features.

This is the second significant injury in a thermal area in the park that’s occurred this year. In May, a visitor illegally entered the park while it was closed and fell into a thermal feature at Old Faithful while backing up and taking photos.

In September 2019, a man suffered severe burns after falling into thermal water near the cone of the Old Faithful geyser.

In June 2017, a man sustained severe burns after falling in a hot spring in the lower Geyser Basin. In June 2016, a man left the boardwalk and died after slipping into a hot spring in Norris Geyser Basin.

In August 2000, one person died and two other received severe burns after falling into a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin.

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