If you've spent much time in Grand Teton National Park during the summer, you've likely been caught in a wildlife jam—or seen visitors doing something really dumb in terms of wildlife safety. Grand Teton is taking a proactive approach to these problems with its Wildlife Brigade, and applications are being accepted for two internships and two volunteer positions for the upcoming summer.
Originally established in 2007, the park's Wildlife Brigade was expanded last summer to include three full-time National Park Service employees, three fulltime volunteers, four part-time volunteers, and two full-time internship positions funded by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC). That's a lot of bang for a pretty small commitment of NPS bucks.
Wildlife Brigade team members spend their days assisting with traffic flow and people management at roadside "wildlife jams" and conducting patrols in developed areas, looking 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.
The idea is to tackle potential conflicts between visitors and wildlife with a proactive, public education approach rather than simply responding to problems after they occur. In addition to a sound management approach, this program offers an outstanding internship opportunity for undergraduate students, graduate students, or recent alumnae who are interested in wildlife biology, interpretation and/or park management.
The 12-week internships, funded by the GYC, will take place from May through September when wildlife-human conflicts are most common. Interns will work closely with National Park Service staff while managing situations where people are in close proximity to bears, moose, and other large mammals.
Monetary compensation for the two internships is $12 per hour; volunteer uniforms are provided and park housing is available for a nominal cost. Interns must posses a valid driver's license and a personal background check may be required before being employed. Applications for the internships are due by March 11, 2009. Click here for more details about these positions.
The two volunteer positions will be filled through the park's Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program. VIPs are required to wear a National Park Service Volunteer uniform while working and must work a minimum of 32 hours a week to receive Park Service housing or a RV site. Limited reimbursement may be available for meals, mileage and other out-of-pocket expenses related to the position. Shifts most likely will start mid-day and end after dark. Volunteers must possess a valid driver's license and may drive a government vehicle.
The announcement for these positions will remain open until they are filled. Additional details about these and other volunteer positions at Grand Teton are available on the park's website.
As a part of the pilot internship project in 2008, the GYC funded two former University of Montana students, Ariel Blotkamp and Lee Rademaker. 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. Both found their work on the Wildlife Brigade to be a positive experience. Blotkamp 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 concurred, 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 were 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 program. 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."