Greater Yellowstone Coalition Partners with Grand Teton National Park to Protect Wildlife

Wildlife Brigade Monitors "Bear Jam" at Willow Flats

August 18, 2008
In 2007, Grand Teton National Park established the Wildlife Brigade—a team of park rangers and citizen volunteers—to help manage human-wildlife interactions and to increase food storage compliance at park campgrounds and picnic sites through public contact and education efforts. This newly created wildlife-protection squad is thriving in its second year of operation thanks in part to the generosity of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) which provided funding for two positions with the 2008 brigade.

This year’s Wildlife Brigade team consists of three full-time National Park Service employees, three full-time volunteers, four part-time volunteers, and two full-time GYC internship positions. Although working in a variety of park settings, the team’s primary job is to educate the public about responsible and ethical interactions with park wildlife. These individuals spend their days assisting with traffic flow and people management at roadside “wildlife jams” and conducting patrols in developed areas to look for unsecured food and other bear attractants. They also provide visitor education at trailheads and on popular trails, offer interpretive education to park visitors about wildlife and other park resources, and collect wildlife and visitor use data.

Grand Teton National Park was able to supply limited funding for members of the Wildlife Brigade; however, additional positions became possible through volunteer help and the welcome funding provided by the GYC—a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the lands, waters, and wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The GYC recognized the importance of this new wildlife protection program and partnered with Grand Teton to help ensure its success. As a part of the pilot project, GYC funded two former University of Montana students, Ariel Blotkamp and Lee Rademaker, for the 2008 season. Blotkamp graduated from the University of Montana in 2006 with a degree in recreation resource management, and spent two summers in Glacier National Park researching the park’s new transportation shuttle system. Rademaker completed undergraduate work in 2005 in recreation resource management at the University of Montana, and earned a Master’s degree, also in recreation management, studying interpretive technology in parks.

Blotkamp says she very much appreciates the role non-profits like the GYC play in conservation. About her job with the brigade, she commented: “I like talking with so many different people from across the country and the world while traveling around the park to keep wildlife safe. I also love being a part of someone’s first wild bear sighting; their enthusiasm and appreciation for the bears makes me smile every time. I feel that this love of the bears and the park, and this face-to-face experience, are what drives the protection of the resources.” Rademaker concurs, saying that there are few situations more exciting than a wildlife jam. “Everyone, from the visitors to the volunteers and staff working the jam become so focused in the moment, so engaged in the excitement. I know they won’t ever forget their experience with the animals.” He added: “After six years of class work, it is nice to ‘ground truth’ some of what I learned.”

The two brigade members are excited to gain experience working for the NPS, since they both hope to one day obtain full-time positions with the agency.

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott praised the value of the Wildlife Brigade and commended the GYC’s support. “The brigade has become an essential component of this park’s wildlife management. It is crucial that we educate visitors about how to properly behave around wildlife, in order to keep both people and animals safe,” she said. She also said the new partnership with the GYC is a great example of how the park can work with other agencies and organizations to enhance resource protection in this ecosystem. “It demonstrates the ideological common ground that we share with the GYC. We are both concerned with maintaining diverse and healthy wildlife populations, with providing recreational opportunities, and with sustaining the ecological processes that make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem unique.” Both the park and GYC are guided by similar missions to preserve and protect this fragile ecosystem for future generations.

The Wildlife Brigade was launched in response to growing concerns for wildlife protection in the park. Thriving wildlife populations and a rising number of visitors to the park means a greater potential for interface between people and wildlife. Increased visibility of wildlife in the park—especially highlighted by the presence of bear #399 and her three cubs, that frequently use habitat near park roadsides—has also increased the incidence of wildlife jams. One of the primary responsibilities for members of the brigade is to educate both visitors and local residents about responsibly sharing habitat with wild animals.

Wildlife Brigade Patrol Park Campground for Food Storage Violations