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Bison on Facebook

This screenshot purportedly shows Highway Patrol Major Keith Groeneweg posing near a bison. Yellowstone National Park officials are investigating whether he violated a rule that requires people to stay at least 25 yards from wildlife.

The No. 3 official at the Wyoming Highway Patrol is under investigation for posing for a photograph near a bison at Yellowstone National Park, possibly violating the rule that people must stay at least 25 yards from wildlife.

Highway Patrol Major Keith Groeneweg posted to Facebook a photo of himself near the large mammal, with the description “Yellowstone signs everywhere: ‘Stay 100 yards from animals. They can be dangerous.’ Keith’s translation: ‘Time to sneak up and hug a buffalo!’#YNP #ILoveWyoming.”

Groeneweg has told the park’s chief ranger and his Highway Patrol boss he was observing the rule and that the photo appears closer than he actually was, they said.

The investigation comes after a busy summer in Yellowstone when an unusually high number of visitors, most from outside Wyoming, have approached wildlife too closely. Rangers for the National Park Service, which is celebrating its centennial this year, worked hard to educate people about wildlife rules. Nevertheless people have been gored, mauled and chased by bison, bears and elk.

Pete Webster, Yellowstone’s chief ranger, said a handful of people shared pictures of Groeneweg’s Facebook post with park officials.

“I did call and spoke with him,” Webster said. “He was apologetic. He said the photo was purposely distorted to appear a lot closer than he was, and he was beyond our prescribed distance of 25 yards.”

Rangers continue to investigate, he said.

Wyoming Highway Patrol Col. Kebin Haller said Groeneweg was forthcoming to him about the Yellowstone investigation and is cooperating with the park. Groeneweg told Haller the picture was taken during a vacation last week. A ravine cut between him and the animal, although the photo doesn’t show it, Haller said.

Haller said he believed everything Groeneweg told him and the major is not on any kind of administrative leave. Haller will obtain a copy of the investigation once it’s completed, he said.

Law enforcement officers are held to high standards in their personal lives, since they are in charge of enforcing the law in society, he said.

“I would have to say as individuals and professionals, we are always accountable for our actions and behaviors,” Haller said.

Despite Groeneweg writing the distance between people and wildlife must be 100 yards, it’s actually a minimum of 25 yards for most animals. Bears and wolves are the exception. People must stay at least 100 yards from them, said Chief Ranger Webster.

“It’s to allow wildlife to roam free on the land, stress-free,” he said.

The distance is also just as important to keep people safe, he added.

“We’ve had injuries caused by people getting too close to bison, by people getting too close to elk.”

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Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock

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