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And we’re off! The East Gate to Yellowstone National Park has opened, and my friends and I have already passed through the popular entrance for our first park experience of the year.  Around here, we call it the “Wildest Way into Yellowstone”.

The National Park Service rangers were all smiles as they welcomed my carload of adventurers. We had our binoculars around our necks and spotting scopes packed in the trunk, ready to quickly set up in the event of a wildlife sighting. Bears, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, eagles, foxes, coyotes, mule deer…we know that wildlife sightings in the spring can be frequent and close to the road.

I Took the Pledge and You Should Too!

Some Yellowstone visitors get far too close to bison and other wildlife in the park.

As we arrived at the gate, our friendly ranger provided us with park information and a map. And we also learned about the park’s new Safe Selfie policy and the accompanying push encouraging park visitors to “Take the Yellowstone Pledge (#YellowstonePledge).”

It’s a verbal pledge encouraging visitors to be aware of their own safety and the safety of the wildlife in the park. It’s a promise that you make to yourself.  Yellowstone’s wildlife roam freely right along with its visitors, and frankly, the wildlife were there first. Travelers looking for a nice, safe zoo experience should go to San Diego.

I Took the Pledge and You Should Too! 1

Visitors should use caution around wildlife, even when they wander near park lodges and other buildings.

The National Park Service has made it clear that it is essential to keep at least 25 yards between yourself and wildlife, and 100 yards if it happens to be a bear or wolf. Yet some travelers inexplicably ignore the rule – perhaps not quite understanding that the quietly grazing bull bison along the road weighs 2,000 pounds, can pivot quickly, jump high and run 35 miles per hour!

I Took the Pledge and You Should Too! 2

Spotting scopes are a safe way to view wildlife in Yellowstone. Photo courtesy Yellowstone Forever.

The pledge is for the protection of visitors as well as the park’s precious mammals.

During the last two years, unfortunately, several visitors got way too close to the animals, and paid the consequences. Two summers ago, a group of selfie-shooters ignored the Park rule of keeping 25 yards away from a bison to take a closer picture. The bison responded by attacking them. They survived but needed medical attention.  Lastly, in a very publicized incident that turned tragic, two visitors loaded a bison calf into their vehicle and delivered it to a ranger sharing that they were concerned it was cold. The calf couldn’t be returned to its herd and had to be euthanized.

I Took the Pledge and You Should Too! 3

Bears have emerged from their dens, and they are commonly seen throughout the region in the spring.

Here’s the pledge. Repeat after me:

To be a steward and help protect myself and the park, I pledge to:

  • Practice safe selfies by never approaching animals to take a picture.
  • Stay on boardwalks in thermal areas.
  • Protect hot springs by not throwing anything into them.
  • Park in designated areas and avoid blocking traffic.
  • Stay with my car if I’m stuck in a wildlife jam.
  • Follow speed limits and pull over to let cars pass.
  • Travel safely in bear country by carrying bear spray, making noise and hiking in groups.
  • Keep my food away from animals.
  • Recycle what I can and put my garbage in bear-proof containers.
  • Report resource violations by calling 911 or talking to a ranger.

Until next time, I’m loving life and wildlife – from a safe distance – here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.