IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hawaii man pleads guilty and is fined after death of baby bison at Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park rangers euthanized the calf after it was rejected by its herd.
/ Source: TODAY

A Hawaii man pleaded guilty to a federal charge after he interacted with a bison calf earlier this month in Yellowstone National Park, where park staff later euthanized the calf when its herd rejected it.

Clifford Walters pleaded guilty Wednesday, May 31, to one count of feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentionally disturbing wildlife, according to the Wyoming U.S. Attorney's Office.

Walters was charged with about $1,000 in a fine and a community service payment to the Yellowstone Forever Wildlife Protection Fund, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Walters approached the calf in the Lamar Valley area of the park on May 20, where the newborn had been separated from its mother when the herd crossed the Lamar River, the national park said in a press release.

He pushed the struggling calf out of the river and into the roadway, the park said. Park visitors later reported seeing the baby bison approach cars and people.

Park rangers "tried repeatedly" to reunite the calf with its herd, but the efforts failed, the park said. Staffers later killed the calf because it was abandoned by the herd and was causing a "hazardous situation by approaching cars and people along the roadway."

There was nothing to indicate Walters acted maliciously in his actions toward the calf, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Walters declined to comment to NBC News.

Yellowstone National Park explained in a statement why park rangers' decided to euthanize the calf instead of caring for it or sending it to an animal sanctuary.

"It's important to understand that national parks are very different than animal sanctuaries or zoos," the park said. "We made the choice we did not because we are lazy, uncaring, or inexpert in our understanding of bison biology. We made the choice we did because national parks preserve natural processes."

The park said as many as 25% of all bison calves born this spring will die, but the deaths will support other animals.

"Allowing this cycle of life to play out aligns most closely with the stewardship responsibility entrusted to us by the American people. Unfortunately, the calf’s behavior on roads and around people was hazardous, so rangers had to intervene: but the calf’s body was left on the landscape," the park said.

The park added federal and state regulations prohibit the transport of bison out of Yellowstone unless those bison are going to meat processing or scientific research facilities. 

Park regulations require visitors to stay at least 25 yards away from all wildlife, including bison, and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves. Fines, injuries and even death can occur if people disregard the regulations, the Wyoming U.S. Attorney’s Office passed along on behalf of the park.