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Yellowstone

Yellowstone Employee Severely Burned At Old Faithful

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A woman was life-flighted to an Idaho hospital on Thursday after suffering severe burns after leaving the boardwalk near Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.

On Thursday morning, rangers provided initial care to a 19-year-old woman from Rhode Island who had suffered second- and third-degree burns to 5% of her body.

“The ground in hydrothermal areas is fragile and thin, and there is scalding water just below the surface,” park officials said. “Everyone must always remain on boardwalks and trails and exercise extreme caution around thermal features.”

The patient, a concessions employee, was taken by ambulance to West Yellowstone, Montana, and life-flighted to the burn center at Eastern Idaho Medical Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Her condition was unknown as of Thursday evening.

Some social media reports said the woman fell into an area of Old Faithful as the geyser erupted.

Officials say the scalding water in Yellowstone can reach over 400 degrees, which means instant death.

In 2016, recovery efforts for a man who fell into a spring were stopped because park authorities believed the body simply dissolved.

“Recovery efforts have been terminated in part because we have not been able to locate any remains, unfortunately,” a spokesperson for the park said at the time.

This is the first significant injury in a thermal area this year. In 2020, a three-year-old suffered second-degree-thermal burns to the lower body and back and a visitor (who illegally entered the park) 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 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 people received severe burns from falling into a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin.

A woman from Connecticut was sentenced last month to seven days in jail for walking off the boardwalks and onto geothermal grounds in the park. Leaving the designated walkways in Yellowstone is a federal crime.

More than 20 people have died after leaving the boardwalk and walking on thermal ground. In some cases, victims have never been found as the scalding water dissolved their bodies.

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Connecticut Woman Jailed For Walking on Geyser at Yellowstone

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A woman from Connecticut was sentenced on Wednesday to seven days in jail for walking off the boardwalks and onto geothermal grounds in Yellowstone National Park.

Madeline Casey, of New Hartford, was immediately taken into custody and held at the Yellowstone jail — one of only two national parks with its own jail — after the July incident.

Leaving the designated walkways in Yellowstone is a federal crime and justice officials don’t wince about sentencing.

“Although a criminal prosecution and jailtime may seem harsh, it’s better than spending time in a hospital’s burn unit,” Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray said.

No hyperbole in that statement.

More than 20 people have died after leaving the boardwalk and walking on thermal ground.

As the Justice Department explained in a statement, the ground is fragile and thin and scalding water just below the surface can cause severe or fatal burns.

In some cases, victims have never been found as the scalding water dissolved their bodies.

In the book Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, author Lee Whittlesey said the pools are “so astringent that a dip in one would be like a swim in battery acid.”

Casey was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, $40 in fees, and a $1,000 community service payment to the Yellowstone Forever Geological Resource Fund.

The U.S. Attorney added a Darwinian-scolding as well.

“For those who lack a natural ability to appreciate the dangerousness of crusty and unstable ground, boiling water, and scalding mud, the National Park Service does a darn good job of warning them to stay on the boardwalk and trial in thermal areas,” Murray said.  “Yet there will always be those like Ms. Casey who don’t get it.”

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Yellowstone Saw 1 Million Visitors In July, Breaking Another Visitation Record

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park saw 1,080,767 recreation visits in July, the highest number of visitors seen in one month in the park’s history.

The total announced by park officials is a 13% increase from July 2020 (which saw 955,645 recreational visits) and a 15% increase from July 2019 (which saw 936,062 recreation visits).

The visitor numbers in July also marked the first time visitation to the park exceeded 1 million in a single month. 

So far in 2021, the park has hosted 2,668,765 recreation visits, up 16% from 2019. This year is compared to 2019 instead of 2020 because of COVID-19, which forced the closure of the park for part of 2020.   

The list below shows the year-to-date trend for recreation visits over the last several years (through July): 

2021 – 2,668,765

2020 – 1,674,699

2019 – 2,294,691

2018 – 2,322,271

2017 – 2,316,541

2016 – 2,427,988 

“Increases to Yellowstone’s visitation have accelerated rapidly over the past 12 months and we continue to be on pace to set record numbers for 2021,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly. “We are actively developing defensible short and long-term solutions, with our partners, which focus on protection of park resources, improving visitor experience, and considering impacts on park staffing, infrastructure and our gateway communities and regional economies.”

Yellowstone’s road corridors and parking areas equate to less than 1,500 acres of the park’s 2.2 million acres. Most visitors stay within one-half mile of these corridors.

As such, the park’s efforts to deal with the high visitor numbers are focused largely on the most heavily congested areas: Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Norris, Canyon rims and Lamar Valley.

A report on the economic indicators for Wyoming for the first quarter of 2021 issued by the Department of Administration and Information shows tourism numbers have skyrocketed in the state this year compared to 2020.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks both saw more than a 20% increase in visitations from January through March of 2021, with Yellowstone seeing 107,846 visitors in the first quarter (up 20.7% compared to last year) and Grand Teton seeing 194,447 visitors (up 22.8% compared to last year).

“Visitation figures for both national parks were the highest recorded for the first quarter in history,” the report said, noting that this was attributed to people wanting to spend time outdoors during the pandemic, while coronavirus cases also trended downward.

According to a National Park Service report, more than 3.8 million people visited Yellowstone National Park last year and spent more than $444 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 6,110 jobs in the area near Yellowstone, which had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $560 million.

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World’s Top Seismologist: Yellowstone Volcano Is Still Not Going to Blow-Up Soon

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Good news. Yellowstone National Park is still unlikely to blow up any time soon.

Despite speculation by some in the media that Yellowstone’s so-called “super-volcano” is getting ready to blow up, the world’s foremost seismic expert scoffed at the thought.

Bob Smith, who has studied seismology in Yellowstone for more than 60 years, told Cowboy State Daily that the latest round of discussion about the volcano exploding is just “hyperbole”.

“There is no imminent threat,” Smith said while laughing. “There is no likelihood that it’s going to happen any time soon.”

The longtime professor at the University of Utah and the founding member of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory said his office is used to “near constant” speculation that the park is going to blow up but said there was “no evidence to support the speculation.”

What seems to have started the discussion are reports that the seismic activity in the park in July — which was above normal — is something to be concerned about.

Anything but, Smith said. He said although there were more earthquakes — the overwhelming majority of which couldn’t be felt — but the activity was so insignificant that his office didn’t even put out a press release on it.

“There’s always a chance it could happen,” Smith said. “But that chance is .00014% per year. That’s an exceedingly small probability.”

The professor acknowledged the volcano will have an eruption at some point as it is still a living volcano, but there would likely be signs beforehand that would portend a major explosion.

“We have a very modern seismograph network of 35 stations which report back in real-time to the University of Utah,” Smith said.  “And we have a staff of people who are trained to analyze all of the earthquake activity in Yellowstone.”

Smith said no one on his staff was concerned with the earthquake activity in July.  

“We have a mathematical physics-based approach, not wild speculation,” Smith said, laughing again.

He said the largest earthquake in July registered a 3.6 — which is the “minimum range of people being able to feel it.”

“The activity in July wasn’t unusual at all,” he said.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich was in Yellowstone on a fishing trip the last time a magnitude 4 earthquake hit Yellowstone.

“There was some screaming going on and people worried that the volcano was going to explode,” Ulrich said of the June, 2017 quake. “Their screams — not the earthquake — were startling. So much so that I accidentally dropped my flyrod in the river and this wasn’t a cheap-ass Snoopy flyrod you buy at K-Mart. Sadly, it could not be retrieved. I hate that damn volcano.””

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Illinois Woman Charged With Disturbing Wildlife At Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Illinois woman had been charged with disturbing wildlife this week after she was caught on video getting too close to bears in Yellowstone National Park in May.

Samantha R. Dehrin, 25 of Carol Stream, Illinois, was charged with one count of willfully remaining, approaching and photographing wildlife within 100 yards and one count of feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentionally disturbing wildlife. She faces up to one year in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Dehring is expected to appear in front of U.S. District Court Magistrate Mark L. Carman in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming on Thursday, Aug. 26, for her arraignment.

According to the violation notices, Dehring was at Roaring Mountain within the park on May 10 when visitors noticed a sow grizzly and her three cubs. Other visitors slowly backed away and got into their vehicles, but Dehring remained to take pictures.

The sow bluff charged Dehring, which was captured on video and in photos. This helped lead to her identification.

According to the National Park Service, a bluff charge is the more common type of charge and is meant to scare or intimidate. If a bluff charge is about to happen, a person is supposed to slowly back away from the bear while waving their arms above their head and speaking to the bear in a calm voice.

People should not run when a bear bluff charges, because it may trigger the animal to attack.

Yellowstone rangers shared the results of their investigation to rangers in Illinois, who served Dehring with the violation notices in person.

She is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

This case is being investigated by Yellowstone National Park Rangers and will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Hambrick.

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Missouri Family Sues Over Mistaken Identity Stop By Yellowstone Rangers, Deputies

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Missouri family is suing officers of the National Park Service and Park County Sheriff’s Office, alleging they were held at gunpoint for more than one hour in 2017 in a case of mistaken identity.

Brett and Genalyn Hemry, of Independence, Missouri, are seeking unspecified damages for violations of their rights against improper search and seizure, use of excessive force and false imprisonment in the traffic stop near Yellowstone National Park that resulted from a search for a man suspected in a triple murder.

In a lawsuit filed July 19 in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, the Hemrys said they left Yellowstone through the park’s east gate on the morning of July 20, 2017, with their daughter, identified only as F.M.H.

According to the lawsuit, law enforcement officials in Teton and Park counties, along with Park Service officers, had been on the lookout for a week for a man named Gerald Michael Bullinger, who was wanted in connection with a triple murder in Idaho.

As the Hemrys left the east gate of the park, a ranger identified Hemry as Bullinger because both have white hair.

The lawsuit said as Brett Hemry drove the family’s car toward Cody along the North Fork Highway, he noticed he was being closely followed by two Park Service ranger vehicles. He pulled over to allow the vehicles to pass.

“When Mr. Hemry pulled over … the Park Ranger vehicles pulled in front of the Hemry family vehicle to block it from continuing down the highway, and from each vehicle, a Park Ranger exited with a drawn firearm in hand,” the complaint said. “The family was detained at gunpoint in their vehicle for about a half hour, without notice or knowledge of the rangers’ purpose.”

After about one-half hour, Park County Sheriff’s deputies arrived and forced Brett Hemry and his wife at gunpoint to get into their vehicles. While they were detained in the law enforcement vehicles, another officer continued to point a weapon at F.M.H., who remained in the family’s car.

The lawsuit said after about an hour of detention in the deputy’s vehicle, Brett Hemry was allowed to display his identification and was told why he was stopped. At that point, the three were told they were free to go, the lawsuit said.

The actions of the park rangers and deputies violated the Hemrys’ rights against unreasonable search and seizure, the lawsuit said, adding that park rangers had no authority to stop the Hemrys once they left Yellowstone.

“The seizure and detention of the plaintiffs by the Park County (deputies) was continued for an unreasonable time, and under unreasonable circumstances, in the complete absence of reasonable suspicion or other constitutional justification,” it said.

The lawsuit also alleged the deputies and park rangers used excessive force in the stop by “holding plaintiffs at gunpoint for an extended period.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to compensate the Hemrys for “their loss of freedom and for their emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life” and punitive damages for the “intentional, reckless, and outrageous actions” of the law enforcement officers.

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Yellowstone Says It’s Too Hot To Fish

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s too hot – even for the fish.

Due to high water temperatures and unprecedented low stream flows, anglers headed to Yellowstone National Park’s rivers and streams won’t be able to fish in the afternoon and evening.

The National Park Service released the closure notice on Friday, saying that the restrictions will protect the park’s native and wild trout fisheries.

Water temperatures have exceeded 68 degrees in recent days, according to park biologists, and flows on many rivers are approaching historic lows. Officials say these conditions are extremely stressful, and can be fatal to fish.

The extended forecast calls for continued hot and dry conditions with a slight chance of isolated afternoon thunderstorms, which contribute to continued low stream flows and high-water temperatures.

There is no indication when the closure might be lifted.

So until further notice, fishing on rivers and streams will be prohibited from 2 p.m. to sunrise the following day.

Anglers will be allowed to fish those areas from sunrise to 2 p.m. daily.

This does not mean all fishing is off limits in the later part of the day. Yellowstone Lake and other lakes will remain open to fishing from sunrise to sunset. 

Officials are urging anglers to fish during the coolest times of day, and land fish quickly; to gently handle fish in the water as much as possible; and to let them recover before release.

This cooperation will protect the park’s fisheries, and biologists note that precautions such as these may ensure that closures like this can be avoided if conditions worsen.

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Yellowstone Seeing Swarm Of Small Earthquakes This Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park has seen almost 300 small earthquakes in the last week, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The event is a fairly typical earthquake swarm, the USGS said.

Earthquake swarms are sequences of elevated earthquake activity with no clear originating event and are common in Yellowstone and other places.

The park saw 280 earthquakes in just a few-day period, the USGS reported on Saturday on social media.

“Earthquake sequences like these are common and account for roughly 50% of the total seismicity in the Yellowstone region,” the USGS said on social media over the weekend. “This swarm is similar to one that occurred in about the same place during December 2020.”

Swarms occur in a variety of volcanic and tectonic settings and have several possible causes, ranging from a slow fault slip at a few patches between two tectonic plates or magma-filled cracks pushing their way through the crust.

The most common way swarms are generated, though, is when water enters and interacts with pre-existing fault lines in the earth’s crust, which is probably what caused the most recent swarm in Yellowstone, according to the USGS.

Yellowstone National Park’s seismic activity increased in 2020, with the park experiencing about 500 more earthquakes than in 2019. At least 1,722 earthquakes were recorded, an increase from 2019, when the park experienced 1,218 earthquakes.

The park can experience anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 earthquakes per year, according to historical records.

Only three of the 1,722 earthquakes recorded in 2020 could actually be felt, meaning people reported some shaking.

Around 890 of the earthquakes occurred as a part of 26 swarms.The largest swarm occurred the week of Sept. 10, when 123 earthquakes happened in a one-week period.

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Yellowstone Sees Best June On Record With Almost 1M Visitors

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park continues to see its visitation records smashed this summer, recording its best June on record, according to park officials.

The park hosted 938,845 visits in June, a 64% increase from last year (with 573,205 visits) and a 20% increase from June 2019 (781,853 visits).

So far this year, the park has hosted 1,587,988 visits, a 17% increase from 2019. Visits in 2020 are not used for comparison because the park was closed for almost two months due to the coronavirus.

A report on the economic indicators for Wyoming for the first quarter of 2021 issued by the Department of Administration and Information shows tourism numbers have skyrocketed in the state this year compared to 2020.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks both saw more than a 20% increase in visitations from January through March of 2021, with Yellowstone seeing 107,846 visitors in the first quarter (up 20.7% compared to last year) and Grand Teton seeing 194,447 visitors (up 22.8% compared to last year).

“Visitation figures for both national parks were the highest recorded for the first quarter in history,” the report said, noting that this was attributed to people wanting to spend time outdoors during the pandemic, while coronavirus cases also trended downward.

According to a National Park Service report, more than 3.8 million people visited Yellowstone National Park last year and spent more than $444 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 6,110 jobs in the area near Yellowstone, which had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $560 million.

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Weather, Geyser Experts Say Prediction Old Faithful Will Dry Up Is Unlikely

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Recent extreme weather — along with alarming projections by some scientists — have some people wondering about the future of the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park.

But don’t worry overly about the future of the park’s most iconic landmark — experts in the weather and geysers say the threat is small. 

Searing hot temperatures in the West have raised questions about the regularity of Old Faithful.

An assessment of the climate in the Greater Yellowstone Area released in June inferred that by the year 2100, Old Faithful could go dry. 

Bryan Shuman, a geology professor at the University of Wyoming, said research conducted by the park, the University of Montana, the UW and others indicates that the average snowfall in the Yellowstone area has decreased by 2 inches per year since 1950 and in that same time period, the average temperature has increased by 2 degrees.

The report also predicted a worst-case scenario of a 10-degree average temperature increase in the area by 2100.

Another report released in October found that a severe drought in the 13th century that lasted dozens of years reduced the amount of water sinking into the ground to supply the geyser, causing it to dry up. 

Some researchers believe that if the climate assessment’s worst-case scenario occurs, Old Faithful could dry up again.

But an expert on the Yellowstone waterworks disagrees. 

Bob Smith is a distinguished professor emeritus of geology and geophysics through the University of Utah in Salt Lake City who has studied the geology of Yellowstone since the mid-1950s.

Smith said it would take hundreds of years of drought to alter Old Faithful’s water supply.

“In the extreme case, you could argue that it could in fact die off. But this takes hundreds of years, thousands of years,” Smith said. “In one of these extreme long periods of drought, that could certainly change the level of Old Faithful.” 

But that possibility assumes the worst-case scenario outlined in the climate assessment.

The scenario was one of four future greenhouse gas emission scenarios, known as Representative Concentration Pathways included in the climate assessment.

But the projected 10-degree increase in temperatures is unlikely, according to meteorologist Don Day.

The projection is an extreme vision, Day said, which doesn’t take into account steps already being taken by world leaders to mitigate carbon emissions.

“People need to understand that these are projections, and understand that there is more than just one scenario of how the Earth’s temperatures are going to change over the next 100 years,” he said.

Day emphasized that the rising temperatures that have been experienced recently aren’t necessarily cataclysmic, noting the term “record high” doesn’t mean all that much in terms of global history.

“Remember, we do not have long historical weather records in this country — really, the world doesn’t in terms of calibrated thermometers and people measuring things,” he said. “Wyoming’s a great example. We may, in a few locations in Wyoming, have 100 years of data. And we don’t know, in that 100 years of data, if that thermometer was placed correctly, if it was done correctly to get the most scientific accurate reading.”

Day also explained that from a historical perspective, the Earth has been slowly warming for the last 11,000 years.

“We are in an interglacial period of history,” he said. “The last glacial period was about 11,000 or 12,000 years ago, and the Earth’s been getting warmer for the last 11,000 years. From an Earth cycle standpoint we should all be thanking our lucky stars we’re in an interglacial time, because Wyoming 12,000 years ago was a very harsh, cold environment. Nothing like nothing like it is now.”

Smith pointed out that surface temperature has very little to do with the underground waterworks of Yellowstone, which are more complex than most people realize.

“A lot of people think that this reservoir is just 100% hot water,” Smith said. “But it’s not – it’s highly fractured rock, and the hydrothermal system reservoir Old Faithful covers, it covers all the way from the Old Faithful Inn up to a kilometer in diameter. So there’s this volume of highly fractured wet rock and hot water and steam that’s a kilometer wide, and it’s only a few hundred meters deep. 

“And so this body of hot water and steam gets replenished, rather continuously, and essentially it exceeds itself every 90 minutes,” he continued. “And every 90 minutes, the tea pot goes off. And while you can stop the heat in a teapot by taking it off the stove, you can’t take Old Faithful’s reservoir off of the stove, right? It’s going to be continuously replenished. And the timing is simply the amount of how long it takes to refill this highly fractured rock.”

Which means that rising air temperatures only have a small effect on a thermal feature like Old Faithful.

“One of the issues is, the surface meteorology only extends this effect down to about 10 to 15 feet,” Smith notes. “That winter-summer temperature change has a very, very shallow effect, it’s a skin effect. So beneath that you’re dealing with the actual magmatic system and the hydrothermal reservoir. So the surface air has little or nothing to do with the periodicity or the effects of Old Faithful.”

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