The man behind Glacier’s ‘Bark Ranger’ recognized for his work

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Mark Biel demonstrates Gracie’s training during a media event at Glacier National Park last week.

Glacier Natural Resources Program Manager Mark Biel has earned the 2017 National Park Service Intermountain Region Director’s Award for Professional Excellence in Natural Resource Stewardship.

Biel was recognized for his leadership on several fronts, including his work to initiate a wildlife shepherding program, dark sky conservation, and mountain goat research.

The wildlife shepherding program, also known as the “bark ranger” uses a trained border collie, Gracie, to move bighorn sheep and mountain goats out of areas of high visitor use, such as the Logan Pass parking lot. It also gives Biel the chance to talk about the importance of wildlife safety with visitors, schools, and community groups. In 2017, the Public Lands Alliance presented the program with its “Partners Choice Award for Outstanding Public Engagement.” The project is funded through private donations to the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Biel noted that preliminary data has shown that the use of a dog as a deterrent at the Logan Pass parking lot moves the animals out of the area about the same distance as other methods, like flapping plastic bags and using loud sounds, but with Gracie, the sheep and goats stay away longer, as they presumably view her as a predator.

He said the hope is to get another dog and trainer for use in other problem areas, like the Many Glacier parking lot and the Two Medicine campground, where sheep gather to lick salt off vehicles.

The Park will also embark on a parkwide study of mountain goats beginning this summer. That study will take a more in-depth look at Glacier’s mountain goat population. It will look to track not just goat behavior, but goat body mass over time as well as habitat and vegetation, he noted. The Park recently did a goat study of the population near Logan Pass. That study showed that goats will often use people as shields against predators. It also found that goats are attracted to the area because of the salt in human urine, as thousands of people hike the Hidden Lake Trail and a few, invariably, urinate in the bushes and leave salt behind from sweaty arms on railings and such.

Biel grew up outside of Buffalo, New York and then moved to Michigan when he was 15. He said he’s always had passion for animals.

“I always loved anything to do with wildlife and exotic animals,” he said.

Biel also cwas instrumental in Glacier’s recent designation as the world’s first transboundary International Dark Sky Park, along with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.

“Mark Biel’s innovative approach to natural resources management is truly taking Glacier into the 21st century of conservation, science, and partnership, Glacier National Park Acting Superintendent Eric Smith said.

“This award is an honor and a surprise. Wildlife–human interactions have been an issue at every park I’ve worked at and I’m grateful to have the support it takes to start making a positive difference. There are so many NPS employees doing incredible work to preserve and protect our nation’s natural resources that to be singled out is really humbling,” Biel said.

Biel’s career includes 24 years with the National Park Service. He came to Glacier National Park in 2010. Prior to his time at Glacier, he worked at Devils Tower National Monument, Padre Island National Seashore, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Yellowstone National Park, where he started as a volunteer in the park’s Bear Management Office.

He holds a master’s degree in animal science/nutrition from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s in agriculture and natural resources from Michigan State University. Biel lives in Columbia Falls with his wife, daughter, and bark ranger Gracie.

As the regional recipient of the award, Biel will compete against six other regional winners for the national award, which will be presented at a later date.

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