Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Research in national parks forms both part of the solution to contending with the above conflicts and part of the problem. The information that research provides greatly facilitates administration and management of park resources. For example, public use surveys provide administrators with information on the number of facilities necessary, and their best locations. Nevertheless, the surveys intrude on visitors' park experience.
So, too, it is with wildlife research. Wildlife research in national parks has more potential to be both problem and solution than does most research. This is because wildlife species form one of the most important reasons people visit parks and because wildlife constitutes one of the most contentious park resources. Bears versus people, proper bison management, and elk population control have all been longstanding problems for National Park Service (NPS) administrators. Wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone was contentious for decades before adoption, and wolf management will continue to be contentious long after full restoration.
Thus wildlife research plays a special role in national park administration, and it is imperative that the best possible information about wildlife in the parks be developed. Decades ago, that meant merely a lone naturalist with binoculars, snowshoes, and a notepad, blending into the environment like every other one of the meager numbers of park visitors. Today, as visitor loads have mushroomed and potential conflicts multiplied, wildlife research means technology. No number of naturalists with notepads will ever be able to assess the details of the effects of wolves on Yellowstone's elk population.
With increased use of improved technology for wildlife research comes the potential both for much better understanding of wildlife problems and for greater conflict with visitor appreciation of the parks. The use of aircraft to census wildlife is an obvious example.