THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE HAS INITIATED A CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OF THE TUESDAY RELEASE OF 52 BISON HELD FOR POSSIBLE QUARANTINE IN A PEN AT THE STEPHENS CREEK FACILITY IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK.

YELLOWSTONE PARK SPOKESWOMAN MORGAN WIRTHAN SAID SHE COULD NOT COMMENT ON THE DETAILS OF HOW THE STEPHENS CREEK FACILITY, WHICH IS PERMANENTLY CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC, WAS ENTERED AND WHAT HAPPENED TO RELEASE THE 52 BISON.

WARTHIN SAID AS OF WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, PARK OFFICIALS HAD NO SUSPECTS.
THE BISON WERE BEING HELD AND TESTED FOR BRUCELLOSIS AT STEPHENS CREEK AS PART OF A POSSIBLE PLAN TO ESTABLISH A QUARANTINE PROGRAM TO AUGMENT OR ESTABLISH NEW CONSERVATION AND CULTURAL HERDS OF DISEASE-FREE PLAINS BISON.

THE PROGRAM ALSO WOULD ENHANCE CULTURAL AND NUTRITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR NATIVE AMERICANS, SPECIFICALLY FOR THE FORT PECK TRIBES IN MONTANA.

THE RELEASE OF THESE BISON POSSIBLY COULD RESULT INFECTING OTHER BISON THAT RUN WILD IN THE PARK.

ANYONE WITH INFORMATION ABOUT THIS INCIDENT IS ENCOURAGED TO CALL THE YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK TIP LINE OR VISIT THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE WEBSITE.
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THE NATRONA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE IS ASKING FOR THE PUBLIC'S HELP IN FINDING A MAN WHO DID NOT RETURN TO THE CASPER RE-ENTRY CENTER AS REQUIRED ON TUESDAY.

27-YEAR-OLD WADE BATES WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ATTENDING CLASS AT CASPER COLLEGE, ACCORDING TO INVESTIGATOR DAVID HULSHIZER. BATES WASN'T AT THE COLLEGE, AND DIDN'T RETURN TO CRC WHEN ASKED. HE WAS REPORTED TO AUTHORITIES SHORTLY BEFORE 9 P.M. TUESDAY.

BATES, FROM ROCK SPRINGS, WAS SERVING THE REMAINDER OF A SENTENCE FOR A FORGERY CHARGE OUT OF SWEETWATER COUNTY.

BATES IS DESCRIBED AS A WHITE MALE STANDING 5'6" TALL, WEIGHING 170 POUNDS. HE HAS BROWN HAIR AND GREEN EYES.

ANYONE WITH INFORMATION ON BATES'S WHEREABOUTS IS ASKED TO CALL THE NATRONA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE.

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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK IS TRYING NOT TO BE A VICTIM OF ITS OWN SUCCESS.

THE PARK SAID WEDNESDAY IT RECORDED ITS SECOND-BUSIEST YEAR EVER LAST YEAR WITH MORE THAN 4.1 MILLION VISITS.

TOP HONORS WENT TO 2016, WHEN THE PARK TALLIED NEARLY 4.3 MILLION VISITS.

SINCE 2008, ANNUAL VISITATION TO THE NEARLY 3,500-SQUARE-MILE PARK HAS INCREASED BY NEARLY 40 PERCENT.

THE POPULARITY HAS COME AT A HIGH COST FOR PARK MANAGERS WHO MUST BALANCE THE PARK'S POPULARITY WITH THE MAINTENANCE OF ONE OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST NEARLY INTACT TEMPERATE-ZONE ECOSYSTEMS WITH CHALLENGES FROM CLIMATE CHANGE, POLITICAL INTERESTS, INVASIVE SPECIES, AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT.

IN 2016, THE PARK COMMISSIONED STUDIES ABOUT VISITOR USE AND TRANSPORTATION.

THEY'VE FOUND MORE VISITORS HAVE CAUSED OVERFLOWING PARKING LOTS, MORE TRAFFIC JAMS, UNSANITARY CONDITIONS AROUND RESTROOMS, SOIL EROSION AND TRAMPLING OF VEGETATION ALONG ROADSIDES, AND EVER MORE TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS, AMBULANCE USAGE, AND SEARCH AND RESCUE EFFORTS.

MEANWHILE, STAFFING LEVELS AND FUNDING HAVE REMAINED FLAT OVER THE PAST DECADE.

YELLOWSTONE MANAGERS WONDER HOW THE PARK CAN PREPARE FOR INCREASING VISITATION AND HOW THAT AFFECTS RESOURCES AND VISITOR EXPERIENCES, HOW TO DEAL WITH VISITORS' EXPECTATIONS, AND HOW TO HANDLE TRAFFIC.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE PARK'S WEBSITE.
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THREE MEN ARE FACING FELONY DRUG CHARGES AFTER A WYOMING TROOPER FOUND 19.5 POUNDS OF MARIJUANA IN THEIR SUV.

ACCORDING TO COURT DOCUMENTS, 20-YEAR-OLD TYLER KOSHUTA (COE-SHUT-UH) OF JANESVILLE, WISCONSIN, 19-YEAR-OLD VINCENT RITACCO (REE-TACO) OF MILTON, WISCONSIN, AND 19-YEAR-OLD JOSEPH SHIELDS OF KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, WERE PULLED OVER FOR SPEEDING ON INTERSTATE 80 EAST OF CHEYENNE ON JAN. 13.

THE TRAFFIC STOP LED TO A SEARCH OF THE SUV AND 19.5 POUNDS OF RAW MARIJUANA AND NEARLY NINE POUNDS OF HARD CANDY THC EDIBLES, AS WELL AS OTHER MARIJUANA PRODUCTS, WERE FOUND IN A PLASTIC TOTE IN THE REAR CARGO AREA.

THE TROOPER SAID RITACCO TOLD HIM THAT HE BOUGHT THE MARIJUANA IN NEVADA AND PLANNED TO SELL IT IN WISCONSIN.

RITACCO IS CHARGED WITH CONSPIRACY TO POSSESS MARIJUANA, POSSESSION WITH INTENT TO DELIVER MARIJUANA, FELONY POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA AND MISDEMEANOR POSSESSION OF THC EDIBLES. HE COULD FACE UP TO 26 YEARS IN PRISON IF CONVICTED.

KOSHUTA AND SHIELDS ARE CHARGED WITH CONSPIRACY TO POSSESS MARIJUANA, FELONY POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA AND MISDEMEANOR POSSESSION OF THC EDIBLES. THEY COULD FACE UP TO 16 YEARS IN PRISON IF CONVICTED.

THE MEN'S BONDS HAVE BEEN SET AT $5,000 CASH AT 20 PERCENT. THEIR PRELIMINARY HEARINGS ARE SCHEDULED FOR JAN. 23 IN LARAMIE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT.