bear with cubs

Woman Faces Multiple Criminal Charges After Yellowstone Bear Encounter

Officials charge an Illinois woman for violating federal regulations after she aggravated a sow bear while taking photos.

A picture’s worth a thousand words — or in one woman’s case, some cash in court fees. Samantha Dehring of Carol Springs, Illinois, faces two offenses in district court after getting too close to a sow bear while taking photos in Yellowstone National Park.

bear with cubs

Yellowstone Park officials charged Dehring with violation of park policy and federal regulations that prohibit “[the] feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentional disturbing of wildlife nesting, breeding or other activities.”

The park policy at issue requires visitors to keep a distance of at least 100 yards between themselves and the bears. It also explicitly prohibits visitors from approaching a bear for a photo op.

According to a citation filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, Dehring is due to appear at the Yellowstone Justice Center in Mammoth, Wyoming, on August 26 at 9 a.m.

Bear Encounter and Violation Details

On May 15, Dehring and a group of other tourists spotted the bear and her two cubs in Yellowstone’s Roaring Mountain area. According to witnesses, the bears started approaching the crowd, most of which started returning to their vehicles.

Investigators report that despite warnings from others, Dehring did not retreat. Instead, she got within 15 feet of the bear to take photos. That’s when the sow charged her.

A viral YouTube video shows the incident.

As the video circulated, park authorities solicited the public for tips on Dehring’s identity via the YNP Facebook page.

A tip recovered from a source who had seen Dehring tagged in a video post ultimately led to her identification, court records state. Investigators then obtained a warrant to search her Facebook page, which revealed her photos of the bears with the caption “absolutely floored by the beauty of this place.”

Bear Safety: Keeping Your Distance

Because bear encounters can happen anywhere near their natural habitats (and usually by surprise), maintaining a distance of 100 yards might not always be possible. Of course, in the interest of all parties involved, it’s ideal if you can keep that buffer — especially if encountering a mother bear with cubs.

(photo/Zdenek Machace)

Regardless of the distance, visitors should never approach a bear, per Yellowstone’s guidelines. In the event of a bear encounter, the park recommends giving it as much space as possible and retreating calmly if it sees you.

If you have a surprise encounter, the move is to draw your bear spray and back away slowly. If at all possible, do not attempt to do any of the following: run away, play dead, make loud noises, climb up the nearest tree. Refer to official safety guidelines and be mentally prepared to handle a surprise encounter.

If good ol’ fear for your life doesn’t do it for you, consider the legal implications of tampering with wildlife. In Dehring’s case, the writing is on the wall — adhere to wildlife regulations, or your next sightseeing trip could land you with a court date.

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Sam Anderson

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.