We recently spent about two weeks in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. While we were there we learned some interesting things about our nations parks, the people that visit them, and the wildlife that lives there. It turns out that not everyone follows the rules. I’m sure you know not to feed the bears, right? There are signs everywhere, when you check in to your campground they give you a pamphlet of information about bear safety, and they even give you a one-on-one briefing about the bears. Well at least that was our experience. They went so far as to say that if we left any of the prohibited items outside (grills, food, lotion, etc) that they would be confiscated without warning. I feel like even if you don’t get the in depth introduction like we did, you should still know to not feed the bears, right?.
A little background about bears. There’s this really cool thing they do called scavenging. If they think there’s an easy source of food they won’t hunt, forage, etc. Instead they’ll troll your campsite and pick up anything left out or left behind. Well there’s a problem with this, they’ll start to associate humans with food. Guess what happens when they’re hungry, see a person, and the person doesn’t have food… they become the food. I know that not everyone understands why they shouldn’t feed the bears, but I’m willing to bet that everyone’s been told a time or two.
That’s enough of the backstory, here’s why I’m writing about this. Our neighbor, and by neighbor I mean he was about 20 feet away in the next site, was some words I can’t write in here. It all started quite by surprise. I was looking out of the living room windows in our RV when I see a BIG white fox in the road next to our spot. I said something to Laura about it, grabbed the DSLR, and snapped a picture. After all, it’s not every day you get an opportunity like that. After it left I went outside to see if I could find it again for another picture, it had ran off pretty fast. Instead I found my neighbor and we got to talking.
My neighbor had been fishing that morning and was cleaning a bunch of trout on his picnic table, that’s a big no-no in the bear safety world. I mentioned the fox to him and he seemed pretty happy about it. I didn’t notice how odd his excitement was until I thought back on the situation later. Turns out he loves wildlife, and he’d been camping in that RV park for 30 years. Then the conversation turned weird. He said that he’d fed the fox, and that he’d been doing it for 30 years because he loves seeing the wildlife up close. Then the out into wierd-ville. He proceeded to show me pictures he’d taken THE NIGHT BEFORE of a male grizzly in the road in front of our RVs. He swore that he hadn’t fed the bear, but that seemed a little too coincidental. With my skin crawling I went back inside and kept watching for the fox, or anything else.
It’s a good thing I was watching or else he’d have probably got away with it if not for us meddling kids! I saw him walking into the woods with a five gallon bucket, so I grabbed my phone and started filming him. We have a YouTube channel after all, and you never know when you’ll find the next viral video. At first I thought that he was just dumping the water from cleaning the fish. I actually said on camera that’s dumb, he’ll attract bears. He should dump it down the sewage hole. I watched him dump it and walk back out. Well very shortly thereafter the fox came back, except it was in the woods this time. I tried and tried to get a good picture, but it was moving too fast with too much brush in the way. So after missing it several times I took the next logical step and went outside to try and get closer.
I followed the same path that my neighbor had walked, and about 50 feet into the woods I saw something that didn’t make any sense. There was a pile of fish in the woods. There was a lot of brush in between me and the pile, I couldn’t see it very well, so I walked around. As I walked I pulled out my phone and started filming again. Like I said before, you never know. I could tell the video was too shaky so I stopped recording about the time I walked up on the fish. I’d only been there half a minute when I heard growling in the brush behind me. I jammed my phone in my pocket and spun around reached for my gun! I have a carry permit that was legal in that state, it’s also legal to carry concealed in national parks. My first thought was that it’s only a .380 and not powerful enough for a bear, but I hadn’t brought my usual one so it was all I had. Like an idiot, I’d left the bear mace that you should never go outside without, inside next to the door. So I found myself standing there, doubly under prepared, waiting for the grizzly that had been there the night before. All of this raced through my head in the amount of time it took me to turn around. I knew I was in trouble.
Just as I was pulling my pee shooter out of my pocket I hear my neighbor start talking. The genius had followed me into the woods, and thought it would be a hoot to start growling at me to scare me. He actually did a very good impression. I understand that he didn’t know me. However, I happen to be a retired infantryman with three tours between Afghanistan and Iraq which include the invasions of both. He’s actually lucky that he pulled that stunt on me, because I’m trained on how to NOT be trigger happy. Ammo conservation is actually really important, regardless of what Hollywood will have you believe. So anyway, he walks out from behind a tree all smiles, as I’m trying to put my gun back without him seeing it. He walked right up to me, wayyyy too close for comfort. He then started joking about some stuff, I don’t really remember what he said. I walked out of the woods with him, said goodbye, and went back inside.
Within minutes Laura saw him loading some stuff in his truck and then he left. So I went back out there because he clearly didn’t want me to see what was in the woods. What I found was a PILE of trout. There were about seven full size fish. That was after the fox had made several trips. They were gutted and cleaned, but NONE of the meat had been taken. Now I challenge anyone reading this to give me another reason for him to have dumped all of his freshly caught fish in the woods, without keeping any of the meat, other than to bait the local wildlife. I’ll wait.
I shot a short video showing the fish, and explained how close they were to us. Then I went back inside and explained everything to Laura. We were both really bothered by it. Especially since there were A LOT of kids playing all over the campground. That’s a really bad place to bait carnivorous wildlife, like grizzlies. After stewing over the situation for a few minutes I decided to tell the rangers what had happened. Knowing that the fox was making quick work of the pile I jumped in the truck and quickly drove up to the front office so they could contact a ranger. I parked, jumped out of the truck, and was halfway into the building when I realized that my neighbors truck was parked in front of it. OH NO!! He knew that I knew, and he’d beat me there.
I couldn’t ask the office where the ranger station was located with him in there, so I got back in the truck and just started driving. We didn’t have enough cell service to use the internet so I started literally driving just hoping to flag down a ranger. Lucky for me one of their offices was nearby and I found it. I walked inside, didn’t see anyone, so I called out “anyone here?” A ranger responded in a nearby office so I proceeded in. He looked like he was just about old enough to shave, but I went ahead and told him what had happened. About a minute in he stopped me and said he needed to push this up to one of the law enforcement rangers. He had me wait and went in the back. After a few minutes a man old enough to be my dad walked out. He asked me what had happened so I told him. I could tell he’d been at the job a VERY long time, and that he knew what he was doing. I was really worried I’d get a kid who wouldn’t understand the severity of the situation. Oh, I also happen to be a criminal justice major, so we got through the Q&A very quickly. I showed him the videos, explained how time sensitive the evidence was, he agreed, and we took off.
He followed me back to my RV and I showed him what was left of the fish pile, the fox had been busy while I was away. He took pictures, asked me a few more questions, and gave me a witness statement to fill out. While I was working on it my neighbor returned. The ranger went over and had a fairly long conversation with him. They walked out into the woods, came back and talked some more. The neighbors wife brought out binders of paperwork and they went through them for a while. After almost an hour we finally saw the ranger hand the neighbor something that looked like a ticket, then he came back to our camper. I gave him the witness statement and an extra 8 GB SD card we didn’t need with copies of the videos.
The ranger told us that he had in fact ticketed the neighbor, he didn’t say for how much though. However, he did say that the neighbor had to return to that county for court. There was NO WAY to handle the ticket by mail. So that was also a punishment in itself, great! The ranger then told us that the man had lied through his teeth and claimed that he’d only thrown one fish out, accidentally with the water. He also claimed to have a traumatic brain injury that affected his judgment. But apparently not bad enough to stop him from hauling a 40 foot camper, what? That seemed a little….fishy. So, you remember the wierdville I mentioned earlier? Well I took a stroll down main street this time, quite involuntarily. The ranger then told us that he wasn’t able to kick my neighbor out of the park. WHAT!?!?!?!? So this guy that likes to bait grizzlies now knows that we turned him in, and he can’t be forced to leave. We fully expected retaliation so we started looking for someplace else to go, and couldn’t find anything within an hour away.
I called the office after the ranger left and asked them if they could kick out the bear baiter. To my great shock they said no. Apparently I’d stopped for lunch in wierdville, great. Even though this guy had broken park rules and FEDERAL LAW no one could do anything. The “people” (I can’t say what I’d like to call them) in the office actually said “you have insurance don’t you?” Great, so if this clown is angry (I’m sure he was) and slashes our tires I guess it’s just on us then. Since we couldn’t find anywhere to go we stayed put, and I pulled one man guard duty most of the night.
The next morning we went to the office to talk to the manager and get some answers. The manager started by informing us that she’d known the guy for 30 years… oh crap. She then went on to defend him by telling us that he was at her place the previous night giving her, wait for it, FISH! So he couldn’t have possibly thrown as many fish in the woods as I said he did. UGHHH!!! When did I rent a room in wierdville? I couldn’t seem to escape it! He fed her the same lie he’d told the ranger. The one where he’d only thrown out one fish by accident, that old chestnut. She bought it hook, line, and sinker. She insisted over and over that he was such a nice man, that she’d known him for years, that he’d never lie to her, and that there was no way he’d ever retaliate against us. We didn’t buy a word of it. After all, the only thing we knew about him was that he liked to break the law, endanger others, lie to law enforcement, and lie to his friends. She refused to listen or back down. Well, I can be a “bit” ornery when I’m upset, just ask my wife. So I whipped out my phone, pulled up the video of the fish pile, and shoved it on her face. I then proceeded to inform her that her “friend” was lying to her. And that he’d only run over to her place with fish the previous night to grease the wheels because he knew that he’d been caught.
It’s amazing how fast the excuses disappeared once she saw the evidence. I wanted to scream “Do you really think I’d have ruined our vacation over one fish?!?!?!?” All of a sudden she was much more willing to work with us. She still insisted that she couldn’t have him removed. However, she did quickly find us another spot we could move to. It wasn’t a perfect fix, but it was a lot better than the “sucks to be you” they’d been giving us. We happily took the new spot, and never dealt with our previous neighbor again.
So what’s today’s lesson kids? If you do need to report someone for breaking the law in a national park make sure that either
- You’re leaving immediately.
- They’re leaving immediately.
- Law enforcement assures you AHEAD OF TIME that the offender will be removed.
- Or, just keep your mouth shut.
Since the people in charge seem incapable, or unwilling, to protect the law abiding citizens, it’s up to us to protect ourselves. If you’re like me, and you care about a little thing called safety, don’t assume that others will share your sentiments. Back when we posted a video about this we actually received a fair amount of hate and trolling. Apparently some people think it’s totally cool to bait grizzlies into the campgrounds. Now I feel like I’m buying property in wierdville…..