As the national parks brace for throngs of summer visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of wildlife, Colorado State University faculty and students are improving the way parks keep people from getting too close to wild animals.
Katie Abrams, assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Communication, and Tara Teel, professor in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, teamed up with the National Park Service to tackle the issue from a communications standpoint: What’s the most effective way to warn people about the dangers and problems posed by getting too close to animals in the parks?
People want to have an exciting wildlife experience and get a picture of it. But that doesn’t mean you have to get close. Some people think they have to zoom in with their feet, and they don’t know what a safe distance is. — Abrams says
The duo developed a communication campaign and evaluated how well it worked in four national parks from June to October 2017. They targeted Assateague Island National Seashore, Grand Canyon National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Shenandoah National Park. The materials and methods that Abrams and Teel developed successfully increased the number of people keeping a safe distance from wildlife by at least 16 percent in three of the four parks.
In addition to helping train park staff on key messaging, they worked with several CSU graduate students and a local marketing agency to develop a host of printed and digital materials around the theme “Sometimes the best relationship is a long-distance relationship.” The materials provide tips on things like how to estimate safe distances using the length of a bus, and stabilizing one’s arm to take good photos with a smartphone’s zoom feature.