Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
As indicated earlier, any administrative functions in national parks intrudes on visitor experience. However, given the needs of the NPS to administer parks and gain information about national park ecosystems, a certain amount of intrusiveness is necessary. Because wildlife problems are so pervasive in national parks and because the public is so interested in the parks' wildlife, the NPS needs the best possible information about its wildlife. Radio-tracking, although intrusive, is not only the best way to obtain much of the needed information but it is often the only way.
Thus the NPS, faced with the dilemma of either forgoing the needed information or tolerating the intrusiveness of the information-gathering technique, can only try to minimize conflict over the intrusiveness of radio-tracking.
Minimizing such conflict can be done in several ways: (1) assessing the perception by park visitors of the intrusiveness of the technique so as to obtain an accurate picture of the problem; (2) educating park visitors (and staff) about the value and methods of radio-tracking, (3) urging researchers to consider the latest refinements in radio-tracking equipment, and (4) funding more expensive techniques if they are adequate and less intrusive.
Documentation of the extent to which park visitors consider aspects of wildlife radio-tracking to be too intrusive is scarce to non-existent. Although the senior author has used radio-tracking in both Denali and Yellowstone National Parks, and was a member of a panel evaluating perceived intrusiveness of radio-tracking in Isle Royale National Park, he has never seen evidence that the public considers the technique intrusive. Instead, concerns that radio-tracking might be intrusive have come from park and concessions staff. While these concerns must be considered, they should not be accepted as representative of, or a substitute for, public opinion.
We highly recommend that the NPS conduct visitor surveys about the perceived intrusiveness of wildlife radio-tracking in its parks. Background information for the survey questions asked should explain what radio-tracking entails (including aircraft use, animal capture, and need for collars) and the type of information it provides, giving specific examples. Only through such research can the NPS know the true extent of the perceived problem.
Informing park visitors generally about radio-tracking and its benefits would help minimize misunderstandings and dissatisfaction with intrusive aspects of radio-tracking. Brochures, naturalist talks, and displays in kiosks and visitor centers could be used. Suggestions could even be made for visitors to try to see collars on animals so the visitors would regard those individuals as special. Specific information gained about radioed animals would enhance visitors' experience in the park, for example, maps with wolf or coyote pack territories, or of elk seasonal movements.
As indicated earlier, recent refinements in radio-tracking technology can reduce intrusiveness by minimizing numbers of times animals must be captured or that data must be obtained by in-field personnel. For example, for some studies, GPS collars hold promise to minimize in-field time by biologists. Urging researchers to consider such techniques will reduce potential conflict.
When funding radio-tracking research, the NPS should consider providing sufficient funds to allow researchers to use more costly technology if doing so will reduce intrusiveness while still providing the information needed.