Washington, DC — A live streaming web camera installed last year to broadcast Old Faithful Geyser was instrumental in the arrest of six vandals last week. In photos posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a group of six “cone walkers” ventured off the visitor boardwalk; two apparently urinated and one dropped a rock into the iconic geyser at Yellowstone National Park.
The incident took place on the evening of May 4th and lasted for approximately 20 minutes. Outraged viewers on the Old Faithful webcam contacted park officials and the transgressors were apprehended as they returned to the boardwalk. The six, who are employees of the park concessionaire, were cited by park officials and will appear before a magistrate on May 19th where they face possible fines and jail time.
The webcam footage shows that several of the cone walkers appeared to urinate on the geyser cone. Two of them are seen digging around the geyser catch basin and one looks to have dropped a rock into the geyser itself.
This may be the first instance in which a webcam has been used in this fashion to protect park natural resources. Yellowstone National Park now has five webcams but only one at Old Faithful has continuous streaming video.
“We are on the threshold of cyber-parks where spectacular vistas can be viewed from the nearest screen, even one in the palm of your hand,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The brave new world of cyber-parks officially started last week.”
Yellowstone National Park has recently unveiled a controversial Wireless Communications plan that authorizes more cell phone coverage within the park and provides for a possible expansion of webcams:
“Existing webcams within developed areas could be upgraded to wireless, or new wireless webcams could be installed in developed areas of the park if they are found to meet the siting criteria…It is possible that wireless webcams could be placed in backcountry areas for resource monitoring or to address safety concerns.” (p.30)
In 2000, former National Park Service Director Robert Stanton placed a moratorium on all new webcams in our national parks pending development of a strategy that addressed a broad spectrum of issues relating to webcams. Nine years later, a comprehensive strategy has yet to emerge.
“Technology can have both good and bad effects and that is why we have urged the National Park Service to carefully plan before they start installing the latest gadgets,” Ruch added. “If a tree falls in the forest, we will not only be able to hear it, but we can watch it topple and then run the video backward.”