The recent incident at Yellowstone has tongues wagging about tourists’ naiveté. Park rangers and wilderness experts in the Northwest try to be sympathetic to people who are perhaps new to the outdoors. But still, they’re sometimes left shaking their heads.
It’s not stupidity. It’s just what happens when city folk get to have a real wilderness experience and find out that wilderness life can get kinda rough.
A few years ago, here in the Pacific Northwest we had our own version of the recent story about the bison calf at Yellowstone National Park that had to be euthanized.
The calf met its fate after a Canadian dad and his son saw what they described as a “wet and shivering” bison baby in the middle of the road, and loaded it into the back of their Toyota Sequoia.
When rangers tried to return the calf to the bison herd, it was rejected, one speculation being that it had been handled by people. The calf was put down.
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Followers of cute baby-animal stories might recall a May 2010 encounter at Westport, in which a young couple had gone on an oceanside vacation.
They saw a harbor-seal pup all alone on the beach by the lighthouse.
Of course, they had to save it. They didn’t know that mom seals sometimes leave a pup on the beach and head into the water to look for food, not returning for two or three hours.
The pup ended up at the PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, spent 3½ months there and then was deemed ready to go back to the wild.
There, great efforts were made not to acclimate the pup to humans. Plastic tarp was put around his tank so there’d be no human eye contact. He was not given a name. He was simply No. 100848.
Despite all that, when released at Ocean Shores, the pup at first swam toward humans, before eventually swimming away.
Jim Burnett, 71 and now retired, is a 30-year veteran park ranger who has worked in various parts of the country. He lives in Asheville, N.C., and is the author of two “Hey Ranger!” books. The title comes from how visitors address people like him, and the questions they ask.
“In the Rocky Mountains, and I’ll bet in the Olympic National Park, you have people asking, ‘At what elevation do the deer turn into elk?’ This one guy was absolutely convinced they morphed at a certain altitude.”
Barb Maynes, spokeswoman for Olympic National Park, says that she doesn’t “engage in stupid visitor questions.”
She is sympathetic: “People are going into an entirely new environment.”
“A big one people ask is, ‘Where is the road to the Hoh?’ ”
There is no road going through the Hoh Rain Forest. “It’s a wilderness,” says Maynes.
Burnett remembers a visit he made to the Hoh, which gets 12 to 14 feet of rain a year.
But this was a sunny, clear summer day with blue skies.
A tour bus full of elderly visitors pulled up, and a woman walked up to the parks employee greeting them.
“I thought this was supposed to be rain forest,” said the woman. “Then why isn’t it raining?”
At Mount Rainier National Park, a couple of staffers tell of a mother and child seeing a furry animal outside a visitors entrance.
The kid says, “It’s a monkey!”
The mom says, “That’s not a monkey, that’s a cat.”
It was a live marmot, a member of the squirrel family, but how would you know if you’d never seen one?
Paul Harrington, a wilderness ranger, tells of visitors going out hiking in the backcountry “even though the forecast is for fairly bad weather.”
Then he’d hear the hikers insist the forecast hadn’t called for such weather.
“Some people just don’t want to walk back into the office and admit defeat,” Harrington says.
Burnett says that when working as a ranger, he had to remind himself that these were city visitors he was dealing with.
When he worked at the Grand Canyon National Park, he says, he would get asked about its famous mule trips down to the bottom of the canyon.
He remembers a woman asking him, “Ranger, can you tell me if there is a dining car on the mule train?”