Herding in Glacier National Park

This summer a Border Collie is attempting to move goats and sheep from crowded visitor areas.
By JoAnna Lou, August 2016
This year the National Parks Service has gotten a lot of attention as they're celebrating their Centennial. I'm planning a trip to Glacier National Park later this month and, besides the breathtaking landscapes, one of the highlights I hope to see is the mountain goats. Over two million people visited the 10th most popular national park last year causing the mountain goats and bighorn sheep to become unnaturally accustomed to humans, particularly around the Logan Pass visitors center.

Mark Biel, the park's natural resources program manager, says that the sheep and goats are highly attracted to salt and even lick sweaty backpacks that people leave near the trails. The herd animals also started using people as a shield against predators, since bears and wolves won't come near crowded places. In the past, park employees have used methods like arm waving, shouting, sirens, shaking cans of rocks, and moving vehicles to get goats and sheep out of the visitor center parking lot, but none have been effective in the long term.

So this summer the park has initiated a pilot program where Mark's Border Collie, Gracie, will herd sheep and goats off the pavement and condition them to stay a safe distance from crowded visitor areas. Gracie is the first employee-owned dog trained for work in a national park.

Starting in April, Gracie went to the Wind River Bear Institute, to learn basic banners, off-leash work, manners in crowds, and sheep herding. Allyson Cowan, the Wind River dog training program coordinator, says that Gracie was discouraged by the sheep at first, but now absolutely loves it. Allyson over prepared Gracie for her new job by putting her in more challenging situations than she'll ever be in at the park. For instance, using a round pen in training creates a confined environment that can be stressful for the sheep and the dog because there's nowhere to go. At the park, there will be open spaces where Gracie will have more room to push the sheep and have increased control.

When Gracie isn't herding, she'll be an interpretive learning tool for visitors, teaching them the importance of minimizing their impact on the environment and keeping a safe distance away from wildlife.

I hope to see Gracie during my visit later this month!

 

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.