Why did Samantha Dehring receive a prison sentence for a wildlife encounter at Yellowstone National Park? 

Samantha Dehring, a 25 year old woman from Carol Stream, Ill. pleaded guilty Wednesday and received a sentence for “willfully remaining, approaching, and photographing wildlife [a grizzly bear and cubs] within 100 yards.”

Dehring appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark L. Carman, Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming on Oct. 6. He sentenced her to a brief jail term — four days — and to one year of unsupervised probation. She was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and make a $1,000 community service payment to the Yellowstone Forever Wildlife Protection Fund. 

As further punishment, Dehring is banned from Yellowstone for a year.

Remorse and Regret

Visitors to the park are required to remain 100 yards away from bears or wolves. In the words of the Wyoming U.S. Attorney, Bob Murray, “Approaching a sow grizzly with cubs is absolutely foolish.” 

Dehring also initially faced another count of feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentionally disturbing wildlife, but it was dismissed.

In a statement, Ethan Morris, a lawyer representing Samantha Dehring, said she had “showed great remorse and regret for her actions throughout this case.”

The incident occurred on May 10, at Roaring Mountain, a hillside in the park with a lot of steam vents, known as fumaroles. 

International Attention

The grizzly approached a group of visitors, and most of them responded by backing away and getting in their cars. Dehring held her position and continued to take photos. 

The grizzly eventually ran at Samantha Dehring, but then turned away without attacking her, a “bluff charge.” 

“Pure luck is why Dehring is a criminal defendant and not a mauled tourist,” Murray said. They aren’t always bluffing: grizzlies have killed eight people in the region since 2010.

The incident has received international attention. The Daily Mail, in Britain, ran a story about what happened at Roaring Mountain in early August.

The Daily Mail specified that the other people in the group warned Dehring that she was too close, but she paid no heed.

Yellowstone closed down during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has seen a spike in visitors since it reopened.

There were 438,000 visitors in May, the month of this incident. That made it the busiest May on record.

The spike emphasizes the reasoning behind the prosecution: it is human behavior that must be contained so that the behaviorof the wildlife can remain, in fact, 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 Murray.

Even in zoos and circuses bears are bears, and tragedies can happen if the humans are not well behaved.

The Role of Social Media

Ever since the video of the incident went viral this spring, social media has been all over the subject. Samantha Dehring said at the sentencing hearing that she has suffered emotionally from personal attacks on her due to the incident. She deleted all her accounts on such sites.

Social media is not merely a platform for public commentary: it is a tool for investigators. Dehring, who was not immediately apprehended, posted a photo of the bear and cubs on her Facebook page with the caption, “absolutely floored by the beauty of this place.” Tips from the public led authorities to that post.

Judge Carman observed at the sentencing hearing that Dehring had no criminal record. He expressed sympathy for her emotional distress. But he said his decision had to “put an exclamation point on his serious this is.”