The Secretary of the Interior “shall ensure that management of System units is enhanced by the availability and utilization of a broad program of the highest quality science and information” (54 USC 100702). In addition, “The Secretary may solicit, receive, and consider requests from Federal or non-Federal public or private agencies, organizations, individuals, or other entities for the use of any System unit for purposes of scientific study” (54 USC 100705 (a)).
The NPS issues Scientific Research and Collecting Permits to permit scientific studies in National Park System areas involving natural resource or social science fieldwork and specimen collecting of air, water, biological, geological, and paleontological resources. 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.
Activities in parks allowed for the 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). Activities intended as scientific study, especially studies that involve 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, require a permit. NPS issues permits to individuals who are representatives of federal, tribal, state, and local governments, educational and scientific institutions and organizations, and qualified individuals and students.
Other park, federal, and state permits and approvals may be required, such as permits for threatened and endangered species, permits to use animal immobilization drugs, backcountry or wilderness permits, and archeological permits. Scientific study 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) (The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) requires Federal Agencies to submit proposed collections of information for review and approval by the OMB). Studies involving human subjects or the use of animals (including the capture and handling of wild animals) must conform to any requirements of the researcher’s institution, including its Institutional Review Board or procedures to comply with the Animal Welfare Act. In addition, studies involving the handling of wild animals in parks require review by the NPS Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
Scientific studies are documented through the Investigator’s Annual Report (IAR). These reports provide synopses of the annual findings and accomplishments of permitted studies. Once a park has reviewed and checked in an IAR as non-sensitive, it will be available to the public through the Research Permit and Reporting System IAR search page. Use the search options to find specific IARs. To search by topic, enter search terms into the “Study Title” or “Objectives” fields. Alternatively, use the “Discipline” pick list.
Last updated: August 16, 2018