‘Bark Ranger’ Helps Wildlife in Glacier National Park

Visitors to Glacier National Park in Montana this summer may have noticed that one of the rangers was quite a bit shorter and a whole lot hairier than the others.

In an effort to protect visitors from wildlife and vice versa, the Glacier National Park Conservancy launched the pilot “Bark Rangers” program this year. A 2-year-old border collie named Gracie was trained to keep mountain goats, bighorn sheep and other park inhabitants away from people — and, importantly, to also help people learn how to deal with wildlife.

“We did see a lot of crazy stuff up there,” park ranger Mark Biel, Gracie’s owner and handler, told NPR. “People getting way too close, trying to take pictures. Or surrounding a goat, with a kid on the outside running around crying and trying to get to mom, but there’s 15 people around mom taking a picture. That’s kind of unacceptable.”

He was referring to a problem the park had with mountain goats wandering into a parking lot to eat snacks left behind and lick up sweet-tasting but very poisonous antifreeze.

Before Gracie’s arrival, the rangers would use hazing methods like arm-waving, shouting and shaking cans of rocks to keep goats and sheep out of the parking lot. But after a while, the animals would always return.

With the bark ranger’s help, the goats and sheep are no longer congregating in the parking lot. And since these animals have an innate fear of predators, they’re not expected to come back anytime soon.

“To us she’s a pretty little border collie, but to them she’s a fuzzy, little, wolf-like thing,” Biel told NPR.

Gracie works a couple days a week, wearing an orange vest indicating she’s a wildlife service animal. She’s only off-leash during her shepherding activity, which occurs about three to four times a month — and only when the wildlife shows no signs of stress from interaction with humans and vehicles.

“We don’t want her to stress them out, so we don’t want her bolting or chasing after them,” Ally Cowan, Gracie’s trainer, said. “We want her to move them like she would a heard of livestock. Gracie was trained at the Wind River Bear Institute in Florence, Mont., known for training bear-shepherding dogs.

There’s also no shepherding when it’s too hot, if other wildlife is in the area, or if the parking lot is busy with cars and people. When the wildlife has moved a safe distance away, Gracie stops shepherding and is leashed.

‘Bark Ranger’ Helps Educate Visitors In addition to keeping wildlife away from people, Gracie the bark ranger also helps her two-legged handler seem more approachable to visitors. “No one wants to talk to me, but if they see Gracie they come up and pet her — then I’ve got you,” Biel told NPR. Once he gets a visitor’s attention, he can talk about how to safely view wildlife from the park’s trails. When she’s not chasing away goats and sheep, Gracie serves as a wildlife ambassador, meeting tourists at the Logan Pass Visitors Center. This isn’t the first time a dog has been put to work at Glacier to help wildlife. In 2009, a group of collies were used around hostile deer protecting their newborns. Encounters between aggressive deer and people dropped from 40 each year to four. The Bark Rangers pilot program is also being considered a success, and is expected to be expanded in 2017. You can follow Gracie and the bark rangers on Instagram at @barkrangernps.

Photo credit: GlacierNPS

85 comments

Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer Habout a year ago

As long as people realize the dogs are needed to protect the wildlife from PEOPLE!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIEabout a year ago

Thank you

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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Great article. Thank you for sharing.

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chris B.
chris Babout a year ago

Great idea. Keeps everyone safe. Love Border Collies.

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Leanne K.
Leanne Kabout a year ago

I love that a dog bred to round up sheep to go to their death is now saving lives. So much better!

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Leanne K.
Leanne Kabout a year ago

Beveley S. my sentiments exactly. And I bet those same people leave throw their rubbish out their car window into the carpark. They don't want their car dirty. They also think they are being magnanimous in 'giving someone a job' instead of putting it in the bin 3ft away!

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Beverly S.
Beverly Sabout a year ago

God, people are just too ignorant for words! Such uncaring and dangerous things they'll do
for a photograph.
Great solution though. Love the name "Bark Ranger".

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