Laws and Regulations
Regulations protect both the resources in the parks and park visitors. For example, when human-habituated bears become conditioned to human food they may become destructive and dangerous and may have to be relocated or killed. Many parks with bears have regulations on food storage to prevent habituation and protect visitors. And since problem bears may have to be killed the regulations also help protect the bears. And while we encourage watching the diverse wildlife found in parks, approaching too close to large wild animals that seem tame can be dangerous. For this reason Yellowstone National park has regulations that state that visitors must stay more than 100 yards away from bears and 25 yards away from other wildlife. Visitors can and have been injured by getting too close to wildlife. Yellowstone's Wildlife Safety Videos show real life examples of such encounters.
Sometimes regulations seem unreasonable such as those related to pets, but they are necessary to protect both the wildlife and the pets. For example, the general regulations prohibit "failing to crate, cage, restrain on a leash which shall not exceed six feet in length, or otherwise physically confine a pet at all times" (36CFR 2.15). And many parks have restrictions on where pets are allowed inside the park. We are often asked why such restrictions exist. There are several reasons. For example, dogs are common carriers of diseases such as parvovirus and distemper that can be exchanged between wildlife and domestic animals. The regulations also protect your pet. Pets occasionally escape from their owners and generally lack the ability to survive in the wild. They can become prey for predators such as bears and coyotes.
Regulations cover a broad range of topics, including recreational activities such as camping and fishing. There are also regulations on collecting research specimens. It is important to know about the regulations in a park you visit or do research in. The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, Parts 1 to 199 (36CFR) provides for the proper use, management, government, and protection of persons, property, and natural and cultural resources within areas under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. 36CFR contains both general regulations and special regulations for particular parks in Part 7. Park Superintendents also issue orders called the "Superintendent's Compendium" that may address closures and other restrictions. Although this seems complex, many parks have handouts that explain the regulations. Park Web sites are another good source of information.
Links to some of the general regulations meant to protect the natural resources in parks are listed in the box to the right. As mentioned above, in addition to the general regulations there may be regulations specific to a park and you should be sure to check on park regulations when visiting a park.