Yellowstone National Park officials determined Tuesday that a top Wyoming Highway Patrol leader did not violate park rules when he took a photo near a bison at the park.
Park officials began investigating Major Keith Groeneweg last week after he posted the photo of him posing behind a bison, possibly violating a park rule that people stay at least 25 yards from all wildlife.
Groeneweg, the third-highest official at the highway patrol, posted the photo on Facebook with the caption: “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.”
The photo, which Groeneweg made his profile picture, was taken during his recent vacation and shows him behind the bison with his arms outstretched as if to hug the animal.
Groeneweg told park rangers and his boss at the highway patrol that he was respecting the rule and was more than 25 yards away. The photo made him appear closer than he actually was, and there was a ravine between him and the animal, he said.
“Major Groeneweg fully cooperated with the Park Rangers throughout the investigation and the National Park Service has advised the investigation has been closed with no further action,” Highway Patrol Colonel Kebin Haller said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
People shared the photo with park officials, who then investigated this incident, Pete Webster, the park’s top ranger, told the Star-Tribune last week.
Bison have injured more people in the park than any other animal and can run three times faster than people, according to the park website. Bison injured five people in 2015, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Two of the people were gored, and the other three were tossed into the air.
People on foot must remain at least 100 yards away from wolves and bears and 25 yards away from all other animals, according to park rules. Violations of the wildlife rules as well as other park regulations have been on the rise in Yellowstone over the past few years, increasingly damaging natural resources and displacing animals.
Yellowstone officials have dealt with a series of high-profile incidents this year. In May, a Canadian tourist made international headlines after he put a baby bison in the back of his SUV because he thought it was cold. The baby bison had to be euthanized. In June, a man died after wandering from a boardwalk and falling into an acidic hot springs. A few days later, a Chinese tourist was fined for leaving a boardwalk, walking on thermal areas and illegally collecting water. In July, a Texas man was sentenced to three days in jail for carving his initials into a park landmark earlier in the summer.