The Secretary of the Interior is “authorized and directed to assure that management of units of the National Park System is enhanced by the availability and utilization of a broad program of the highest quality science and information” (P.L. 105-391, Sec. 202: Research Mandate). The NPS issues Scientific Research and Collecting Permits to conduct scientific studies involving natural resource or social science fieldwork and specimen collecting of biological, geological, and paleontological resources in National Park System areas. A broad range of scientific studies in parks is highly valuable, and is encouraged and expedited whenever possible. Scientific study and collecting activities involve the systematic approach to investigations of natural resources and social systems conducted by qualified individuals. Permits are issued to individuals who are representatives of federal, tribal, state, and local governments, educational and scientific institutions and organizations, and qualified individuals and students. Permits provide permissions to conduct scientific studies in National Park System areas involving natural resource or social science fieldwork, and specimen collecting of physical and biological resources.
Activities in parks allowed for the general public without restrictions do not require a permit when conducted by scientists as recreational, not scientific, activities (examples include bird watching, non-commercial photography that does not require special access and hiking). Research that involves special access or permission to conduct activities not normally allowed, such as collecting specimens, placement of field markers and equipment, capturing and handling animals, or using motorized vehicles and equipment in areas closed to such use requires a permit. Some management discretion exists in determining, in some instances, whether a permit is required for any given study.
Other park, federal and state permits and approvals may be required such as permits for threatened and endangered species, animal immobilization drugs, backcountry or wilderness permits, and archeological permits. Research that involves a federally funded collection of information from the public, such as formal surveys, generally will require the funding agency to seek approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (refer to Director’s Order 378: Social Science). Studies involving human subjects or the use of animals (including the capture and handling of wild animals) should conform to any requirements of the researcher’s institution, including institutional compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.