Why Are So Many National Parks Visitors Vandalizing Nature?

bison calf

My initial impression was that this trend is another canary dying in the mine (yes, I know THAT isn’t a canary!), as being and acting stupid and unethical becomes increasingly culturally acceptable. My theory holds that the public sees so many rich, powerful, successful public figures exhibiting these traits, and yearns to adopt their habits and values

The most recent example is the episode represented by the photo above. Well-meaning but ignorant tourists in Yellowstone National Park, where no human is supposed to get within 25 yards of the wildlife, decided to “rescue” a bison calf they found away from its herd, so they stuffed the animal into their car. They drove it to a ranger station, where they were cited for violation of park rules.

In effect, they had killed the calf. When the young bison was returned to the herd, the mother rejected it, and the beast began approaching humans, seeking food and company.

The park had to euthanize it.

Said the park officials in a statement,

“In recent weeks, visitors in the park have been engaging in inappropriate, dangerous and illegal behavior with wildlife. These actions endanger people and have now resulted in the death of a newborn bison calf.”

Morons. The Park Service should release their names, or give some Yellowstone wolves their scent. This is not a new taboo; there is no excuse for any visitor to a National Park to think this is responsible conduct.

Not fatal but equally infuriating is the tale behind this photo:


“Vanessa” is Vanessa Hudgens, former Disney ‘tween TV star most recently seen handling the role of Rizzo not too badly in the recent live broadcast of “Grease.”  Hudgens carved the heart bearing the names “Vanessa” and “Austin” into a red rock wall during a trip to the state park in Sedona, Arizona. Then, to make sure nobody misunderstood that she saw nothing wrong with defacing an amazing natural phenomenon that is part of my land, your land, and made for you and me because as far as she was concerned it is only Vanessa Hudgens’ land, since she is, you know, special.  This narcissist then posted the damning photo on her Instagram page around Valentine’s Day. Some mean viewers blew the whistle, and the actress was alerted that she had committed a federal offense. Incredibly, she was allowed  to escape with a puny $1000 mandatory  donation to a charity.

Wait, maybe the culprit isn’t the Donald Trump virus. Maybe it is the Obama Administration’s war on accountability. Professor Turley, anavid hiker who knows and loves the area vandalized by Hudgens, wrote…

“[D]amaging a natural feature is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. So a celebrity defaces a park and self-incriminates herself with a self-obsessed posting. The government could have made a statement by insisting on a short jail stint. I have long argued that we need to increase those penalties to the level of a serious felony — as would we destroying or defacing a great piece of art in a museum. There is a long-standing theory that deterrence is a balance of the size of the penalty and the rate of detection. As detection rates fell, penalties are increased to maintain the level of deterrence. Since these are often remote areas, detection is very low. We also need to create units that can target areas of graffiti with special cameras and surveillance to catch and then guarantee prosecution of such individuals. This should include a campaign to enlist hikers to take pictures of people defacing natural areas and sending those pictures to rangers. The Park Service needs to place advertisements on these efforts in leading hiking magazines.

The irony is that the laughable penalty for Hudgens has achieved the very opposite result: confirming that this crime is not only rarely detected but lightly punished. It is the perfect combination to ensure more criminal conduct by juveniles like Hudgens who see a beautiful natural setting and want to carve their names into it.”

This also eliminates, at least in this case, my Trump/Kim Kardashian virus theory. Americans have probably been defacing our natural treasures for centuries, but until recently social media didn’t present an opportunity to be really stupid and publish evidence of the results.

Turley’s suggested solutions seem reasonable and necessary too. Here, also from Turley, is a recent case where another hiker’s video resulted in the apprehension of some more destructive jackasses.


Pointers: Fark, Res Ipsa Loquitur

16 thoughts on “Why Are So Many National Parks Visitors Vandalizing Nature?

  1. I would have preferred the Rudy Giuliani approach: He probably would have thrown the book at her, celebrity or not. Maybe some community service cleaning up graffiti in bathrooms for about six months or so would have been appropriate.

    • Yes, and his way worked. I believe it’s called the broken windows theory. I’m sure it’s more detailed than this but in a nutshell: It was discovered that if a building was neglected and left with one broken window, soon all the windows were broken and other damage was done. So that theory was used to beef up the police force, catch crime early before it got bigger, and punish all criminals. It worked, crime went down.

      Now we have just the opposite. A President who tells the DOJ to look the other way when “some” laws are broken; people who no longer are interested in truth and believe that truth can be whatever they feel it should be; and people who no longer want to listen to authority. Anyone who has had kids knows that most authority figures only have the power those under authority allow them to have. (Try to make a teen mind who doesn’t want to.) It is the same with other authority too. (Things are MUCH tougher on teachers nowadays.) Unless, of course, the authority figure has a gun and then they are definitely powerful or if the one under authority has a gun and can fight back. In day to day life, though, that rarely happens so if the one under authority no longer believes in truth or authority, they can do whatever they want and “who are you to tell me not too.”

      Frankly I believe all this stems from kicking God out of our country. God has a standard of right and wrong. When we thumbed our noses at him, we decided to say for ourselves what right and wrong is. That makes no standard because what gives one person the authority to tell another what is right or wrong. Even our President is deciding for himself what is right and wrong and it doesn’t matter to him if he violates laws or not. And He is awful picky which laws he upholds.

      This is where kicking God out has led us. Yes, people didn’t obey authority before but it is getting far worse. Politicians lie and people don’t even care. It used to be one lie was enough to get them thrown out and now they tell whoppers all the time and it doesn’t matter. We are reaping what we have sown.

      • I live by Yellowstone. As I wrote my comment above, along with the mentioned stories, I was also thinking of the four men who walked out onto the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone. If you don’t know about that, here’s some info. http://buckrail.com/182260963829874688/ There are signs all over that it is dangerous and illegal to get off the boardwalk but they blatantly did it. They’re the ones I was thinking of as ignoring authority. (The tourists with the bison calf were too. There are signs all over that say not to touch the animals or feed them.) Yes, both groups were ignorant of the dangers but they were also blatantly thumbing their nose at authority and doing what they felt was right.

        This is the apology put on facebook from the men who walked on the Spring. Personally, I don’t think it was much of an apology. It reeked of “we’re going to do what we want to do and apologize later.” Especially because of the at least 20 or more signs they saw before they got there that were telling them not to do exactly what they did do. https://www.facebook.com/sundayfundayz/photos/a.188406514557455.50309.186280661436707/1158149900916440/?type=3&theater
        They are incredibly lucky to still be alive. The area within the boardwalk is a thin crust and under that crust is boiling water, hence the steam and geysers in the area. Living close to Yellowstone we hear of the tourists who do as they feel best and die from being gored or get severely burned or die in the geysers. It’s a bad way to end a vacation when one of your party dies.

        There is not only the issue of their safety, but the areas around the geysers are made up of minerals. Now those men’s footprints are going to be there for a long time. That’s ugly.

  2. Why do so many national park visitors vandalize nature? Myriad factors, but I’d argue that the bison incident shows that most people don’t UNDERSTAND nature.

    True story: although I will keep using the moniker Arthur in Maine here on EA, the truth is that several months ago I moved to Cape Cod for family reasons.

    The local paper had a most interesting story about two months ago. You (and EA readers) may be cognizant of the fact that many bird sanctuaries blessed by the presence of raptors (birds of prey) put webcams on the nests, so that the public can keep an eye on chicks and rearing. A local sanctuary did same with an osprey nest – until this year.

    Mother Nature can be a bitch, and so can raptors. Of course, the fact is that every species’ primary responsibility is its own self-perpetuation; in nature, this sometimes means that parents neglect, even kill, their young.

    This particular pair of ospreys was neglectful to the weakest chick in the nest. Obviously, the birds had figured out that the other chicks stood a better chance at thriving, and the weakest chick wasn’t fed.

    One could argue that the sanctuary running the cam should have said something about this (indeed, many such sites now have BIG disclaimers adjacent to the video feeds warning viewers that what they’re seeing is entirely natural and might not be for the squeamish).

    The sanctuary got scads of outraged emails, including numerous demands from well-meaning but ignorant members of the public to DO SOMETHING!!! Remove the chick, kill the negligent mother, kill themselves – there actually WERE death threats. Reasoned responses to outraged viewers were met with scorn, derision and even more outrage.

    Hence, the article in the local papers was all about exactly WHY this sanctuary would no longer stream the action from their osprey nest.

    Long way of getting to point: most people think of nature as something scenic. They think of animals in terms of what they grew up with watching TV. They don’t understand how gritty and cruel the natural world is, or the unfairness of the universe, and how cruel it can be. A cheetah taking down a gazelle? Sad for the gazelle, but hey – cheetahs eat meat. But a bird neglecting a chick? They expect someone to step in when the natural indifference of nature becomes fully visible. And they protest mightily when they’re confronted by it.

    There are lots of these people. They are well meaning, but largely ignorant.

    (I’m tempted to add “and they vote Democrat,” but I won’t.)

    • They must not have watched Wild Kingdom when they were growing up. 🙂 Yes, people are ignorant of the wild. I don’t know about the other State Parks but at Yellowstone when people enter the park they are given a newspaper and brochures about the animals and the dangers. Of course, few probably bother to read them. Personal responsibility is not what it used to be. That’s not to say though that people weren’t feeding the bears when I was growing up, they were. They’d stick their hands out the window and a bear would come up and eat. Bears were plentiful and many cars were touched by bears. Tourists were even crazy enough to go close to the bears to get their pictures taken. (I remember black bears, not grizzlies.) That would never happen today. Since I grew up in this area, I am terrified of the bears. I heard about too many tourists being eaten or hurt, but it is hard to see a bear in Yellowstone now.

      The difference between then and now is that now there are signs everywhere saying, “Don’t feed the bears.” and also signs warning people that bears have been seen in one area or another. In the past, there were no signs. I think people at least had an excuse for their ignorance then.

      • First, Yellowstone if Federal, not State. I assume this was a minor error. Most all parks or monuments, those that do not deal more with culture than wildlife, urge visitors to avoid the wildlife. This is not to say that they actually do. I once watched a boy, 13 or 14, poking a stick (fairly long, thankfully) at a Western Diamondback at one of the missions in San Antonio, Texas. My first thought was to let Darwin take it’s course. After brief reflection, I warned the boy that the snake in question was deadly poison. His mother, after screaming at the snake, yanked him away. You can’t cure stupid.

  3. That is the top subject on my Facebook feed. My fellow Wyomingites and I are not as polite about it as you are. While it doesn’t excuse the fools in Yellowstone, the calf was probably rejected by its mother before they came along. It isn’t that uncommon for bison, especially first time mothers, to abandon a calf for starvation or prey. I think that is what happened in this case given the simple fact that they aren’t in the hospital and their car in the body shop. Every year at least one Yellowstone visitor lands up in the hospital for thinking they are in a petting zoo instead of a wild habitat. Thanks Disney.

    • Cool. I’m from Powell and I never knew that about the mother’s abandoning their calves. I knew the mom wasn’t around though for the same reasons you stated. Thought maybe they were just separated. Never thought about the mom purposely abandoning the calf. Thanks for the info.

    • Yes, it has appeared on mine as well. Lots of comments about the park rangers being ‘mean’ and bleating on about how they should have found a home for it. Someone who knows about bison posted that they need to be quarantined for months, and he also included a report that half of young calves that people try to raise on a bottle don’t make it.

      The comments that culls are ‘murder’ do my head in. Is it too many cute and cuddly animal videos online that make people think like this?

  4. My theory is that destruction and desecration are pretty strongly wired into the human psyche. I think it’s part of the instinct to make every necessary effort to dominate and control our surroundings. Like dogs, people like to leave their marks. One of the first steps of settling an area for human habitation involves clearing the area.

    I think this instinct is countered by a preservationist instinct that is strong in some but not all humans. I suspect this sort of thing is getting no better or worse on an individual scale but frankly, I find the Wahabist destruction of ancient, non-Islamic historical sites a major problem.

  5. We’ve known for years that the IQ of the race was dropping. It would seem that as we dumb-down, we also become savages. Kind of frightening, really…stupid, ignorant savages with high tech, hand guns and Trump.

  6. Its idiots like these that caused my family to enclose the family graveyard with a wall and a wrought iron fence as people has vandalized all the tombstones.

    To this day when I go to visit , if someone sees me inside they will ask how I got in and no matter how hard I try to explain that its a private family cemetery and they are not allowed in they never understand and get upset.

  7. I’ve been a trail runner for over 40 years and I have seen many positive changes in how the nature areas I visit are maintained by visitors – especially hunters. The mindset took a dramatic shift about 20 years ago when I notice trash started to disappear after hunting season. Now it is like the old Boy Scout motto “Leave it better than you find it.” And that applies to areas in which hunting is not allowed.

    I am on a town forest committee and the two areas we manage it is unusual to find even a coffee cup. Folks are becoming far more responsive. I can also apply that to the various state parks I routinely go to.

    There is still the idiot gene buried in the DNA of some and maybe it will somehow be eradicated?

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