Gracie the Bark Ranger Is Protecting Glacier National Park Wildlife

Posted by Stacey Venzel

Glacier National Park welcomed a new member to the park force to control human-wildlife interactions, but this ranger has four legs.

The National Park Service gained another set of helping hands when Gracie joined the Glacier National Park team in Montana's Rocky Mountains. Four helping paws to be precise.

Record-breaking human traffic to national parks has come with a downside. The amount of wildlife interactions between campers and day visitors has increased, putting wildlife, tourists, and park staff at risk.

In Montana, the Glacier National Park team got creative with its controlling efforts. The most recent hire is Gracie, an Australian Shepherd "Bark Ranger" who does not take her shepherding skills lightly. Having the canine on property helps ward off bighorn sheep and mountain goats from getting too near humans--or humans getting too near the wild animals.

As it's more difficult to control humans than animals, the idea seemed a good fit for the "leave no trace" region. The two-year-old dog is trained to herd the wildlife without physical contact. The park aims to employ her skills up to four times a month.

However, the herding is contingent upon the response of the wildlife. The weather cannot be brutally hot for the canine to be on the job, nor can the foot and vehicular traffic load be too high. Everyone's safety is being taken into account before this new program can be deemed successful.

Yellowstone National Park even hired a behavioral scientist to study the interactions and brainstorm ways to mitigate the human desire to feed and pet wildlife on the trails and at campsites.

Gracie and handler Mark Biel, Glacier National Park Resource Program Manager, spend "office" days around the visitor center acting as educational ambassadors.

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Gracie the Bark Ranger Is Protecting Glacier National Park Wildlife