If your dog likes to take his duties seriously and you fancy the idea of becoming a “bark ranger” at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, the park is holding an orientation meeting on 10 May for anyone interested in volunteering.
Bark rangers have different duties depending on where they are working. For example, border collie Gracie, who works in Glacier National Park in Montana’s Rocky Mountains uses her herding skills to steer the large mountain goats and bighorn sheep away from park visitors.
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In Michigan, the duties of the bark ranger volunteers and their canine companions will be to serve as ambassadors on National Lakeshore beaches to provide visitors information about the park and highlight pet policies and safety. They will also help to protect the nesting shorebirds. According to National Lakeshore wildlife biologist, Sue Jennings, the park received numerous positive comments from visitors about the programme when it began last summer.
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Sue explains that while dogs are welcome in the park as long as they are on a leash and stay on beaches that are open to dogs, biologists are concerned about the potential impact unleashed dogs may be having on nesting shorebirds, particularly on its population of Great Lakes Piping Plovers. As of 2016, 28 of the 75 known pairs identified in the entire Great Lakes region make their temporary home in the National Lakeshore, providing critical habitat to over one-third of the entire breeding population.
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“We are seeing an increase in piping plover nest disturbances from dogs whose owners are not fully aware of the negative impact dogs can have on nesting plovers,” Sue explains. “The bark ranger volunteer programme is a fun way to inform dog owners of our policies, help bridge the information gap and protect our plovers. Volunteers play an integral role in our visitor education and outreach efforts and can often make a greater impact leading by example.”
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