In the wake of record-setting visitation and unprecedented levels of "tourists behaving badly," the national parks are getting creative about how they keep both wildlife and humans safe. Yellowstone National Park even hired a social scientist to study human behavior and hopefully come up with better ways to encourage human visitors to respect the rules. Glacier National Park in Montana has also hired a new employee to help protect wildlife from people — but she's not your typical new hire. Gracie is a "Bark Ranger," a dog who herds mountain goats and bighorn sheep away from areas highly trafficked by visitors to protect both the animals and the sometimes ill-informed guests.
Gracie, a 2-year-old border collie, is part of a pilot program initiated at Glacier to use a trained herding dog to chase wildlife away from Logan Pass, a busy visitor center located along the Continental Divide in the park. In the summer months, Logan Pass is not only flooded with human visitors, it also sees its fair share of wildlife — namely bighorn sheep and mountain goats that venture into the area in search of the tasty treats that humans leave behind. Their favorites? Antifreeze and puddles of human pee.
In the past, park rangers have tried using traditional "hazing" methods to scare the wildlife away, including waving their arms, shouting, shaking cans of rocks and honking horns. But the sheep and goats have not been deterred. While no serious injuries have been reported to date due to interactions between humans and wildlife and Logan Pass, park officials are keenly aware that habituated wildlife can pose a danger to humans and themselves in other national park areas.
Gracie has been trained to herd wildlife without making physical contact. She will wear an orange vest and will be off-leash while shepherding, a job that park officials expect she will do three to four times a month. According to a park press release, "the shepherding will only occur if the wildlife shows no signs of stress from interaction with humans and vehicles. Shepherding will not occur if it is too hot, if there are other wildlife in the area, or if there is too much traffic and crowding in the parking lot."
When she's not shepherding, Gracie and her handler — Mark Biel, Glacier's national resource program manager — will act as wildlife safety ambassadors, patrolling the area around Logan Pass and reminding visitors about the importance of staying a safe distance away from wildlife.