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A Critique of Wildlife Radio-tracking
and its Use in National Parks


The U.S. national park system has long been one of the most important, if not the most important, venues for environmental research in the world. This fact pertains especially for wildlife research, and many prominent wildlife studies have been conducted in the parks (Murie 1941, Mech 1966, Houston 1982, Peterson 1977, Mech et al. 1998), including such classics as those of Murie (1944) on wolves and Craighead and Craighead (1972) on grizzly bears.

The reason so much wildlife research has been conducted in the U.S. national parks is obvious - the national park system forms the most extensive tract of pristine wild land anywhere, with animal populations functioning essentially unhindered by human activities. In other words, the parks and their wildlife are natural.

The same reasons that have drawn scientists to the national parks also daily attract multitudes of private citizens there. In some cases, park wildlife studies themselves have put national parks on the map (Murie 1944, Allen and Mech 1963) and have caused increased visitation.

Both because of the intrinsic value of the parks' naturalness and because of the public's strong interest in the national parks, the National Park Service (NPS) is mandated to gather as much information as needed to help understand and preserve the natural functioning of its ecosystems, especially its wildlife.

It is inevitable that the administrative infrastructure that helps preserve the system yet helps host millions of visitors will also impose on the visitor. Thus park visitors must tolerate entrance fees, concessions, park personnel, laws, rules, regulations, and various restrictions. As public visitation increases, such impositions will also increase.

Park ecosystems are complex, and in order to meet its mandate to preserve them, the NPS needs to understand them. Understanding natural ecosystems requires research. Increased park use further fosters the need for increased information to help preserve park resources, manage the visitation, and minimize the conflicts among the natural system, the administrative infrastructure, and the constituents.

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