US national parks staff spend their days preserving the country’s most beautiful places, but one canine employee is protecting both people and animals – and winning hearts – in Glacier National Park.
Gracie is the first ‘bark ranger’ in the park, which is located in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. Gracie has an important job: using her herding skills to steer the large mountain goats and bighorn sheep away from park visitors. The adorable border collie was brought on board as part of a pilot program to help reduce human-wildlife interactions. The park reported that an increase in visitors also meant more interactions at Logan Pass, a popular spot to see wildlife. However, as animals grow used to the presence of humans, it can increase the chances of people or animals being harmed.
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Generally, park staff must use methods like shouting, sirens, and shaking cans of rocks to get animals out of high-traffic areas like parking lots, but they tend to come back quickly. However, since animals have a naturally fear of predators, the park hoped that Gracie would help condition animals to stay away for longer.
Gracie came to the park with her owner Mark Biel, who is also Glacier National Park’s Natural Resources Program Manager. The dog was given training at the Wind River Bear Institute in Montana, which trains Karelian Bear dogs. She goes to the park wearing an vest and harness that indicate that she is a wildlife service animal.
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Biel and Gracie also serve as ‘wildlife ambassadors’ and seek to educate people about the importance of staying a safe distance from wild animals. Now, after about a year on the job, Gracie has actually been given an award. The bark ranger program was honored with a Partners Choice Award by the Public Lands Alliance, which honors achievements in preserving lands and creating enriching experiences for visitors.
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