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WildCam Grizzlies Project

Description: The WildCam Grizzlies project, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Port Alsworth, AK grew out of an agreement between Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (LACL) and the Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska to share resources and work on mutually beneficial projects. When LACL opened its Homer field office in 2005, park staff contacted the museum to see if they had any interest in establishing a partnership to allow the Park to use museum facilities for interpretive programs. Since LACL and the Pratt share a number of interpretive themes-including resource stewardship, natural history, and the living cultures of the Lower Cook Inlet region-it was agreed that the Museum would provide a venue for LACL interpretive programming in exchange for interpretive support for their remote bear cam project. This agreement enabled LACL to respond to an opportunity that led to the expansion of the museum's remote bear cam and the development of WildCam Grizzlies.

The WildCam Grizzlies project provides LACL with a powerful tool for educating people about brown bears and communicating the importance of brown bear conservation and stewardship by placing a remote camera at the McNeil River State Gem Sanctuary, NNL, video taping brown bear activity and transmitting the images for public viewing at the Pratt Museum. There are several places in Alaska where people can view coastal brown bears. However, the cost of traveling to remote locations where brown bears congregate is prohibitively expensive for many prospective visitors and their families. Wildcam Grizzlies has connected millions of virtual visitors-most of whom may never have an opportunity to see brown bears in the wild-with the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. Even though people watch the bears by a remote camera, the experience has a sense of reality and immediacy that allows them to connect with the bears and develop an appreciation and understanding for these amazing animals.

The Pratt Museum and the National Geographic Wildcam Grizzlies website showed over 1,000 hours of live video of brown bears from the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, NNL during the summers of 2006 and 2007. Nearly 30,000 museum visitors and more than 3 million Internet users remotely watched brown bears in real-time and interacted with an NPS interpreter who operated the camera and provided interpretive programs on brown bear behavior and natural history.

When LACL initiated its partnership with the Pratt in 2005, the museum had an existing remote video project with the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary that transmitted video of brown bears fishing for salmon at the McNeil River Falls to a museum viewing gallery. Since bear viewing is growing in popularity as a visitor activity in LACL, the park initially supported the remote video project by making a uniformed interpreter available to staff the webcam and interpret the video for museum visitors.

At the time, the McNeil video was a pixilated feed from a remote camera operated by researchers at a university in the Lower 48 and displayed on a computer monitor. Even with the limitations of poor quality video, it was clear that providing an opportunity for people to view brown bears from the museum was a potentially powerful tool for educating the public and promoting brown bear conservation. What was needed was some additional funding to upgrade the video equipment and install a remote camera that could be operated from the Pratt Museum. Since the McNeil State Game Sanctuary is designated a National Natural Landmark, LACL was able to submit proposals to the Alaska Coastal Marine Resources Grant and NPS Challenge Cost Share Programs and receive from them nearly $40,000 to implement improvements to the webcam project for the following year.

Shortly after receiving the grant awards in February 2006, the park responded to an e-mail from Diana Maxwell, Partnership Director for the NPS Natural Resource Program Center, who inquired about webcam projects with partnership potential with National Geographic Media. LACL passed along the information about the McNeil webcam, and Diana Maxwell pitched the idea to National Geographic, and National Geographic became a major partner in the McNeil video project.

With the participation of National Geographic, the scope of the McNeil webcam project expanded and the potential for public education and outreach greatly increased. In addition to the direct video feed from the McNeil Sanctuary to the Pratt, National Geographic worked with its partner, RealNetworks, to stream the video onto the Internet where it could be viewed on a National Geographic webpage. Over the course of four months, LACL, the Pratt Museum and National Geographic used their combined resources to upgrade the video to near broadcast quality; create a camera system to be remotely operated from the Pratt or the National Geographic offices in Washington, D.C., and; collaborate on the design and development of a website. By June 2006, the project was rebranded, WildCam Grizzlies and began streaming live video of brown bears at the McNeil State Game Sanctuary to both the Pratt Museum and the Internet.

The Pratt Museum serves as the project coordinator for the WildCam Grizzlies project and handles the administration of grants and funds received from various sources. They host the direct video feed that can be viewed by visitors in the Pratt's stewardship gallery. The National Park Service provides financial support for the project through the Alaska Coastal Marine Resources Grant and Challenge Cost Share Programs and a uniformed interpreter to operate the camera, answer bear-related questions and present programs on brown bear behavior, biology and conservation. National Geographic Media provides funding to transmit the streaming video to the Internet and in-kind services including designing, hosting and maintaining the WildCam Grizzlies website, hosting the WildCam Grizzlies blog and providing a liaison with the blog community.

Geographic area covered: The Cook Inlet Coast of Lake Clark National Park; The McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, NNL

List of partners and relationships: Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, The Pratt Museum, State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and National Geographic Media

Accomplishments to date: During the summers of 2006 and 2007 nearly 30,000 museum visitors and more than 3 million Internet users remotely watched over 1,000 video hours of brown bears in real-time and interacted with an NPS interpreter who operated the camera and provided interpretive programs on brown bear behavior and natural history.

In 2008, WildCam Grizzlies will move from the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park to reduce project costs, streamline logistics and make the project sustainable for the long term.

Key success factors:

  1. While each partner participates in the WildCam Grizzlies project for different reasons, there is a common commitment to providing a high-quality virtual bear viewing experience for people who may never have an opportunity to visit Alaska and view brown bears in the wild.
  2. Each partner has equal status. There is no dominant agency or organization controlling the direction or outcome of the program.
  3. Flexibility of the partners - while the WildCam Grizzlies project involves formal agreements that outline each partners' role and responsibility, the project design and implementation has been an organic process that required flexibility to respond to changing project and partner needs.
  4. Mutual trust between the project partners.
  5. Each organization has contributed the skills and expertise of their most capable and effective staff people.

Frustrations: The greatest frustration has been the amount of money necessary to fund the installation, maintenance and removal of the remote webcam from the McNeil River site. In 2006 and again in 2007, LACL was successful in securing nearly $40,000 from the Challenge Cost Share and Alaska Coastal Marine Resources grant programs to help support the WildCam Grizzlies project, but the funding stream is not sustainable and new funding strategies are needed.

Another frustration is the challenge of operating and maintaining a webcam in a remote location without on-site staff. Whenever the camera goes down-whether due to gale force winds knocking out the antennae or curious bears chewing on the power cables-a technician has to be flown out to the McNeil Sanctuary by charter aircraft that can only land in the shallow bay during high tide and in good weather. This is extremely expensive, and it often means that if the camera may be down for a few days until a technician can get to the site to make repairs.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. Don't overlook opportunities for internal partnerships with other parks, divisions and offices in the NPS.
  2. Utilize cooperative agreements and memoranda of understanding to clarify partner roles and responsibilities including project funding, commitment of staff and in-kind resources, recognizing partner participation, and program evaluation.
  3. Small parks, like LACL, can increase their capacity to interact with the public and tell their story by connecting with their partners' audiences.
  4. Collaborators may have other partners that can be of benefit to a project.
  5. An entrepreneurial approach creates opportunities to look for and develop relationships with new or unconventional partners.
  6. Stay flexible to adapt to changing project and partner needs.
  7. Don't promise more than you can realistically provide.
  8. Share the glory and publically recognize partners and their contributions.

What would you do differently next time: Begin developing strategies for program sustainability earlier in the partnership.

Suggested resource materials:

  1. Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act
  2. LACL Long Range Interpretive Plan
  3. LACL Foundation Statement
  4. Director's Order #20: Agreements
  5. Executive Order 13352: Facilitation of Cooperative Conservation
  6. NPS Challenge Cost Share Program Guidelines

For more information:

Name: Mary McBurney
Affiliation: Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Phone/Fax: 907-235-7891 / 907-235-7970

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements __; Facility Management __; Trails __; Design __; Program Delivery _X_; Visitor Services _X_; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services _X_; Transportation __; Mutual Aid _X_; Fire Management __; Planning __; Tourism __; Community Relations _X_;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Mary McBurney Date posted: 5/1/08
Phone: 907-235-7891

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