An Illinois woman who got dangerously close to a Yellowstone grizzly sow this spring to take cellphone photos of it was sentenced Wednesday to four days in federal custody, one year of unsupervised probation and $2,040 in fines and fees.
Samantha R. Dehring, a 25-year-old from Carol Stream, Illinois, is also banned from Yellowstone National Park for one year, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Dehring was at Roaring Mountain near the northwest corner of the park on May 10, 2021, when visitors saw a grizzly sow and her three cubs in the area, the news release said. Other visitors blacked off and got into their vehicles, but Dehring stayed outside and continued to take pictures or videos on her cell phone as the bears got closer. The grizzly sow eventually bluff charged her, and she turned her back and ran out of the frame of the widely-shared video, taken by a bystander.
“Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park are, indeed, wild. The park is not a zoo where animals can be viewed within the safety of a fenced enclosure. They roam freely in their natural habitat and when threatened will react accordingly,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray in the news release. “Approaching a sow grizzly with cubs is absolutely foolish. Here, pure luck is why Dehring is a criminal defendant and not a mauled tourist.”
Dehring pleaded guilty on Oct. 6 to one count of willfully remaining, approaching, or photographing wildlife within 100 yards. Magistrate Judge Mark L. Carman in Mammoth Hot Springs presided over the hearing. The case was investigated by Yellowstone National Park rangers and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hambrick.
A second charge against Dehirng for feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentionally disturbing wildlife was dismissed at the hearing.
Yellowstone National Park regulations require visitors to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from all other large animals, including bison and coyotes.
Since the park opened in 1872, eight people have been killed by bears inside its borders. At least two of those people were killed by grizzly sows with cubs, which can be more aggressive than bears without cubs. Bear-caused injuries in developed parts of the park are rare, though about once a year there is a reported bear-caused injury in the park’s backcountry.
A bear’s bluff charge is intended to scare whatever it’s charging at and is sometimes but not always a precursor to a full-on attack. A bear that is bluff charging will move in big leaps or jumps towards whatever it’s charging and will veer off before reaching its target, as the bear in the video of Dehring did.
The National Park Service recommends doing the opposite of what Dehring did if bluff charged by a bear. NPS recommends continuing to face the bear, slowly backing away and waving your arms above your head while speaking in a calm voice. Turning and running could trigger the animal to change its bluff charge into a full-on attack.
A bluff charge is different from an aggressive charge. Prior to an aggressive charge, a bear will yawn, clack its teeth, huff or pound its paws into the ground.