100 Years of National Parks : Famous Yellowstone jumps in visitors equals concerns over wildlife and safety

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When things go well – and people connect with Nature – the unforeseen consequences can be hard to handle…isn’t that ironic!? For starters: the park has hired Mandarin-speaking park rangers to communicate with the increasing number of Chinese visitors.

Park rangers reassess how to manage tourist violations, staff burnout and ‘animal jam’ as number of national park guests peaked to four million last year  

The Guardian reports: Yellowstone national park is finding new ways to manage tourism after visits jumped by almost 600,000 between 2014 and 2015. After 15 years of steady growth, last year’s 4m visits was a tipping point, says park ranger Charissa Reid.

The park expects the number to rise in 2016. July is likely to be the first million-visit month in the park’s 144-year history.

However, extra visitors have increased accidents between humans, animals, and the park’s flora and fauna.

Park rangers issued more than 52,000 resource violations last year. People broke thermal features, interacted with protected wildlife and relieved themselves in the park. DUIs and domestic violence inside the park also increased.

The number of full-time staff at Yellowstone has remained static for over a decade, adding to problems. The NPS employed only 330 permanent and 406 seasonal Yellowstone staff last year.

Some incidents have made headline news – a man who strayed 225 yards off a designated path and fell to his death in Yellowstone’s Norris geyser basin and five people were gored by bison. However, dying in Yellowstone is unlikely.

“When you consider we had 4 million visitors, I think we’re doing pretty good,” says Reid.

Managing human behavior to maintain safety, prevent staff exhaustion and keep visitors happy is a daily challenge.

A common disruptive human behavior at Yellowstone is an “animal jam”. This happens when people see a bear or a buffalo, or any other animal, and come to a full stop to jump from their cars.

“We can always tell the difference between a bison jam and a bear jam, because at a bear jam doors are flung open,” says Reid. “People kind of lose it over bears in the park.”

Yellowstone needs better understanding of visitor behavior to help with management, says Reid.

Animal biologists, law enforcement and printers in Yellowstone’s sign shop are all involved in visitor management. “We are trying to engage everyone to find solutions,” says Reid.

Yellowstone has also hired a social scientist to study humans. He researches how visitors enter and exit through the park, and how they interact with park attractions.

“Our superintendent often says visitors are the least studied mammal in Yellowstone,” says Reid. “We know more about bison biology than we know about park visitors.”

Increasing international visitors, use of social media and varied cultural expectations among visitors have all caused problems.

The park has hired Mandarin-speaking park rangers to communicate with the increasing number of Chinese visitors. Animal warnings have been translated into 10 languages and more toilets have been installed. New barriers and signs stop tourists from wandering, and protections outside wolf and wildlife dens keep them safe.

Reid acknowledges these are short-term solutions. Effective long-term solutions remain beyond park management’s immediate control, buried in budgets, and stored in as yet unmined visitor data.

In the meantime, visitors are part of the solution….. read the full article here 

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