Permit policies & procedures
Back to Permits index
National Park Service
Permits website: https://science.nature.nps.gov/research/ac/ResearchIndex
Online application system: https://science.nature.nps.gov/research/ac/apps/apply/AppInstructions
Application forms can be found here:
Note that as of June 2009, the forms on this website were outdated.
We have notified the National Park Service and have requested current
1. It is always a good idea to contact the park superintendent or
other park staffers to discuss your proposed research before you submit
2. The study proposal guidelines require the submission of an
approval from an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
These committees often withhold final approval until the researchers
provides proof that all required permits have been obtained. Should
this situation occur, ask your IACUC to provide approval conditioned on
receipt of the permits.
3. If your work involves scientific collecting, you should know that
there is an ongoing discussion between the Ornithological Council and
the National Park Service pertaining to the deposit and retention of
specimens by the institution where the specimens are deposited. As of
June 2009, this issue has not been resolved. Please consider contacting
the Ornithological Council for more information before obtaining your permit.
APPLICATION PROCEDURES AND REQUIREMENTS FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND COLLECTING PERMITS
United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service
POLICY AND GENERAL REQUIREMENTS
The National Park Service (NPS) welcomes your interest in considering
national parks for your research site. The NPS is responsible for
protecting in perpetuity and regulating use of our National Park areas
(parks, monuments, battlefields, seashores, recreation areas, etc.).
Preserving park resources unimpaired and providing appropriate visitor
uses of parks require a full understanding of park natural resource
components, their interrelationships and processes, and visitor
interests that can be obtained only by the long term accumulation and
analysis of information produced by science. The NPS has a research
mandate to provide management with that understanding, using the
highest quality science and information. Superintendents increasingly
recognize that timely and reliable scientific information is essential
for sound decisions and interpretive programming. NPS welcomes
proposals for scientific studies designed to increase understanding of
the human and ecological processes and resources in parks and proposals
that seek to use the unique values of parks to develop scientific
understanding for public benefit.
When is a permit required?
A Scientific Research and Collecting Permit is required for most
scientific activities pertaining to natural resources or social science
studies in National Park System areas that involve fieldwork, specimen
collection, and/or have the potential to disturb resources or visitors.
When permits are required for scientific activities pertaining solely
to cultural resources, including archeology, ethnography, history,
cultural museum objects, cultural landscapes, and historic and
prehistoric structures, other permit procedures apply. The park's
Research and Collecting Permit Office or Headquarters can provide
copies of NPS research-related permit applications and information
regarding other permits. Federally funded collection of information
from the public, such as when formal surveys are used, may require
approval from the Office of Management and Budget.
NPS superintendents may authorize their staff to carry out official
duties without requiring an NPS research and collecting permit. NPS
staff must comply appropriately with professional standards and with
all conditions normally associated with scientific research and
collecting permits issued by the park. All other natural and social
science research and data collection in a park requires a Scientific
Research and Collecting Permit and will be allowed only pursuant to the
terms and conditions of the permit.
Additional required permits, approvals, and agreements
In some cases, other federal or state agency permits or approvals may
be required before NPS staff can process an application for a
Scientific Research and Collecting Permit. Examples include U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service threatened and endangered species permits and
migratory bird permits and approvals by an Institutional Animal Care
and Use Committee. It is the responsibility of the principal
investigator to provide NPS with copies of such permits when they
submit an application. Applicants are encouraged to contact park staff
to determine if additional permits may be required in conjunction with
a proposed study.
Separate agreements between the investigator and NPS are required when
proposed studies or collected specimens are intended to support
commercial research activities.
Who may apply?
Any individual may apply if he/she has qualifications and experience to
conduct scientific studies or represents a reputable scientific or
educational institution or a federal, tribal, or state agency.
When to apply?
We recommend that you apply at least 90 days in advance of your first
planned field activities. Projects requiring access to restricted
locations or proposing activities with sensitive resources, such as
endangered species or cultural sites, usually require extensive review
and can require 90 days or longer for a permitting decision. Simple
applications can often be approved more quickly.
How and where to apply?
An individual may obtain application materials via the Internet (find "Research Permit and Reporting System" at http://science.nature.nps.gov/research
or through www.nps.gov) or by contacting the park in which the work
will be conducted. Addresses for NPS areas are listed on the NPS
Internet web site (www.nps.gov) or may be obtained by contacting the
NPS Public Affairs Office via telephone number 202-208-4747. All
application materials must be submitted to the NPS area in which you
plan to work. You may submit this information via Internet or
traditional postal service.
Applications for Research and Collecting Permits must include a
research proposal. Proposals must include, as appropriate, all elements
outlined in the separate document Guidelines to Researchers for Study Proposals.
Review of proposals
Each proposal will be reviewed for compliance with National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and other laws,
regulations, and policies. The superintendent may also require internal
and/or external scientific review, depending on the complexity and
sensitivity of the work being proposed and other factors. You can
expedite review of your proposal by providing photocopies of existing
peer reviews, or by providing names, mailing addresses, and email
addresses of persons that you wish to recommend to review your
proposal. Specific details about the review process may be included
with the application materials provided by that park.
Facilitating a favorable decision The superintendent
makes a decision to approve a research and collecting permit based on
an evaluation of favorable and unfavorable factors (see examples,
below), and on an assessment of perceived risks and benefits. While
park managers will work with applicants to arrive at a mutually
acceptable research design, there may be activities where no acceptable
mitigating measures are possible and the application may be denied.
The time and effort required to review the permit application and
accompanying study proposal will be proportional to the type and
magnitude of the proposed research. For example, a single visit for a
non-manipulative research project will often require a relatively
simple proposal and the permitting decision should be relatively fast.
A highly manipulative or intrusive investigation, however, with the
potential to affect non-renewable, rare, or delicate resources, needing
detailed planning or logistics, would receive more extensive review.
Some of the predisposing factors that influence permitting decisions
are outlined below.
The proposed research:
The proposed research:
involves activities that adversely affect the experiences of park visitors;
shows potential for adverse impact on the park's natural, cultural, or
scenic resources, and particularly to non-renewable resources such as
archeological and fossil sites or special-status species (the entire
range of adverse impacts that will be considered also includes
construction and support activities, trash disposal, trail conditions,
and mechanized equipment use in sensitive areas);
shows potential for creating high risk of hazard to the researchers, other park visitors, or environments adjacent to the park;
involves extensive collecting of natural materials or unnecessary
replication of existing voucher collections; requires substantial
logistical, administrative, curatorial, or project monitoring support
by park staff; or provides insufficient lead time to allow necessary
review and consultation;
is to be conducted by a principal investigator lacking scientific
institutional affiliation and/or recognized experience conducting
scientific research; and
lacks adequate scientific detail and justification to support the study objectives and methods.
The principal investigator should receive notice of the approval or
rejection of the application by written correspondence via mail,
electronic mail, or facsimile. If modifications or changes in a study
proposal initially deemed unacceptable would make the proposal
acceptable, the park may suggest them at this time. If the application
is rejected, the applicant may consult with the appropriate NPS
Regional Science Advisor to clarify issues and assess the potential for
reconsideration by the park.
If your permit request is approved by the park, you will receive a copy
of the permit that you must sign and return to the park via mail or
fax. Once the park receives a copy of the permit that you have signed,
appropriate NPS officials will validate it and return an approved copy
to you. You must carry a copy of the approved permit at all times while
performing your research or collecting in the park.
General Conditions (requirements and restrictions) will be
attached to all Research and Collecting Permits issued. These
conditions must be adhered to by permit recipients. Additional
Park-specific Conditions may also be included that address unique park
resources or activities. An NPS permit is valid only for the activities
authorized in the permit. The principal investigator must notify the
NPS in writing of any proposed changes. Requests for significant
changes may necessitate re-evaluation of the permit conditions or
development of a revised proposal.
Access permit requirements
Some NPS areas require access permits for off-road travel, camping, and
other activities. Access to many areas is limited and popular
destinations can be booked several months in advance. Please contact
the park's Research and Collecting Permit Office to obtain information
on any needed access permits.
Research products and deliverables
Researchers working in NPS areas are required to complete an NPS
Investigator's Annual Report form for each year of the permit,
including the final year. The NPS maintains a system enabling
researchers to use the Internet to complete and submit the
Investigator's Annual Report. NPS staff will contact permit holders
near the beginning of each calendar year to request the prior year's
report and explain how to access and use the system. Investigator's
Annual Reports are used to consistently document accomplishments of
research conducted in parks. Principal investigators are responsible
for the content of their reports. NPS staff will not modify reports
received unless requested to do so by the principal investigator
responsible for the report.
Park research coordinators may request copies of field notes, data,
reports, publications and/or other materials resulting from studies
conducted in NPS areas. Additional deliverables may be required of
studies involving NPS funding or participation.
Privacy Act and Paperwork Reduction Act
NPS regulations (36 CFR 2.1) prohibit possessing, destroying, injuring,
defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing from their natural state in
any form animals, plants, paleontological, or mineral resources. NPS
regulations (36 CFR 2.5) require researchers wishing to conduct
research involving acts prohibited by other regulations, such as CFR
2.1, to obtain a specimen collection permit. The National Parks Omnibus
Management Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-391) encourages use of parks for
science, encourages publication of the results of research conducted in
parks, and requires that research conducted in parks be consistent with
park laws and management policies. This law also requires that research
be conducted in a manner that poses no threat to park resources or
public enjoyment. National Park Service Management Policies state that
research activities that might disturb resources or visitors, that
require the waiver of any regulation, or that involve the collection of
specimens may be allowed only pursuant to terms and conditions of an
The information you submit in your Application for a Scientific
Research and Collecting Permit will be used by park managers to
determine whether or not to issue you a Scientific Research and
Collecting Permit. The information you submit in your Investigator's
Annual Report will be used by park managers to inform resource
management decision-makers, park visitors, the public, and other
researchers about the objectives and progress results of your research.
Parks and park records are public assets. The information you submit in
your Application and in your Investigator's Annual Report is not
confidential and will be in the public record and available to the
public. If you want to receive and maintain a Scientific Research and
Collecting Permit, you must respond to both the Application and
Investigator's Annual Report collections of information. If you do not
respond to the request for information in the Application, you will not
be considered for a Scientific Research and Collecting Permit. If you
have received a Scientific Research and Collecting Permit and do not
respond to the request for information in the Investigator's Annual
Report, your permit may be revoked and you may be denied future permits.
The Application for a Scientific Research and Collecting Permit and the
Investigator's Annual Report are two parts of one complete process
dealing with conducting scientific research and collecting in a unit of
the National Park System. The total public reporting burden involved in
electronically completing the collection of information process for a
single scientific research and collecting activity in a unit of the
National Park System includes the burden of reading the informational
documents associated with these two information collection forms plus
completing and submitting one Application form (approximately 45
minutes), plus the burden of signing and mailing an issued permit back
to the park (approximately 15 minutes), plus the burden of completing
one associated Investigator's Annual Report form (approximately 15
minutes). Some applicants will experience an additional burden of
photocopying and mailing attachments (approximately 15 minutes). Other
applicants will experience an additional burden of coordinating with a
specimen repository (approximately 30 minutes). The total public
reporting burden experienced by a successful permittee for
electronically completing this process for a single scientific research
and collecting activity in a unit of the National Park System thus is
estimated to range between 1.25 and 2.0 hours per year. The total
public reporting burden experienced by an unsuccessful applicant for
electronically completing this process is estimated to be about 45
minutes per year because the unsuccessful applicant will not be
required to complete the Investigator's Annual Report, mail a signed
permit, or respond to other portions of the process. The few applicants
who complete these forms manually are expected to experience a somewhat
larger annual reporting burden. Direct any comments you may have
regarding this burden estimate or any other aspect of this information
collection process or of its two forms to the Office of Information and
Regulatory Affairs of OMB, Attention Desk Officer for the Interior
Department, Office of Management and Budget, Washington, DC 20503; and
to the Information Collection Clearance Officer, WASO Administrative
Program Center, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington,
GUIDELINES TO RESEARCHERS FOR STUDY PROPOSALS
United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Your proposal should include each of the required information items
listed below, in enough detail that an educated non-specialist can
understand exactly what you plan to do. If you have already prepared a
relevant proposal for a funding application, work plan, formal
agreement, or similar document, then your original proposal likely will
satisfy National Park Service (NPS) proposal requirements. The primary
area where new information may be necessary concerns the ability of the
park to assess what, if any, impacts your research may have on park
resources. You should compare your original proposal to these
guidelines to be certain that you have provided all the required
information. If additional information is required, you can provide it
in a cover letter or supplement to your proposal, as appropriate. If a
required topic does not apply to your proposed study, simply list the
topic and write "not applicable."
The length of your proposal depends primarily on the complexity of the
work planned. In some cases, a proposal may consist of a couple of
pages for a study expected to have no significant impact on park
resources or visitor experiences. However, proposals for lengthy or
complex research problems, for extensive collecting, and for work with
special status species or sensitive cultural resources are typically
longer, more detailed, and well-organized. Incomplete, disorganized, or
illegible proposals may be returned for revision.
B. Date of proposal
C. Investigators -
Provide the name, title, address, telephone number, FAX number, email
address, and institutional affiliation of the principal investigator
and the name and affiliation of all additional investigators listed in
D. Table of contents - Recommended for long or complicated proposals.
E. Abstract -
Provide a brief summary description of the proposed project. Include up
to five keywords that can be used by the NPS to quickly identify the
proposal subject (for example, microbiology, geology, ecology).
- Summarize the proposed project by describing in general the problem
or issue being investigated as well as any previous pertinent research.
A. Statement of issue
- Describe the issue to be investigated and its importance and
relevance to science and to the park. Provide relevant background
information that clarifies the need for the project and why it is
valuable for the research and/or collecting to be conducted in the park.
B. Literature summary - Summarize the relevant literature regarding the issue, problem, or questions that will be investigated.
C. Scope of study - Describe the overall geographic and scientific scope of the project.
D. Intended use of results - Describe how the products will be used, including any anticipated commercial use.
III. OBJECTIVES/HYPOTHESES TO BE TESTED
- Describe the specific objectives of the proposed project. Where
appropriate, the objectives should be stated as specific hypotheses to
IV. METHODS - Describe how the proposed
methods and analytical techniques will achieve the study objectives or
test the stated hypothesis/question. Provide pertinent literature
A. Description of study area â€“ Clearly describe the
study area in terms of park name(s), geographic location(s), and place
names. Provide maps, park names, or geographic coordinates as
appropriate. Indicate whether your work will take place in an area
designated or managed as "wilderness" by the NPS.
B. Procedures - Describe the proposed study design that
addresses the stated objectives and hypotheses. Explain the methods and
protocols to be employed in the field and laboratory.
C. Collections - Describe the type, size, and quantity
of specimens or materials to be collected, sampled, or captured, and
your plans to remove them from the collecting site. If you are aware
specimens of the proposed types already exist in a repository, explain
why additional collecting is necessary. Provide scientific nomenclature
where possible. Provide information on all other applicable federal or
state permits where required.
D. Analysis - Explain how
the data from the study will be analyzed to meet the stated objectives
or test the hypotheses. Include any statistical techniques or
mathematical models necessary to the understanding of the analysis.
- Provide a schedule that includes start of project, approximate dates
or seasons of fieldwork, analysis, reporting, and completion dates.
F. Budget -
Briefly outline the expenses associated with this project and identify
your expected funding source(s). Include the anticipated costs
pertaining to the cataloging of collected and permanently retained
specimens or materials.
A. Publications and reports - Describe the expected publications or reports that will be generated as part of this study.
â€“ Describe the proposed disposition of collected specimens or
materials. If you propose that the NPS lend the specimens or samples to
a non-NPS institution for long-term storage, identify that institution
and give a brief justification for this proposal.
C. Data and other materials
- Describe any other products to be generated as part of the project,
such as, photographs, maps, models, handouts, exhibits, software
presentations, raw data, GIS coverages, or videos, and the proposed
disposition of these materials. If data are to be collected from the
public as part of this study, provide a copy of the data collection
instrument (survey, questionnaire, interview protocol, etc.).
VI. LITERATURE CITED - Include full bibliographic citations for all reports and publications referenced in the proposal.
VII. QUALIFICATIONS - Provide
a background summary or curriculum vitae for the principal investigator
and other investigators listed in the proposal. Identify their training
and qualifications relevant to the proposed project and their ability
to conduct field activities in the environment of the proposed study
area. Describe previous research and collecting in NPS areas, including
study and permit numbers if available.
VIII. SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION AND SPECIAL CONCERNS
- Provide information on the following topics where applicable. Attach
copies of any supporting documentation that will facilitate processing
of your application, such as other required federal and state permits,
copies of peer reviews, letters of support and funding commitments, and
certifications. Collection of information from the public when federal
funds are used may require approval from the Office of Management and
Budget (OMB). Upon your request, the NPS Social Science Program will
advise you on steps needed to obtain this OMB approval.
- Describe any known potentially hazardous activities, such as
electrofishing, rock climbing, scuba diving, whitewater boating,
aircraft use, wilderness travel, wildlife capture, handling or
immobilization, use of explosives, etc.
B. Access to study sites
- Describe the proposed method and frequency of travel to and within
the study site(s). Explain any need to enter restricted areas. Describe
duration, location, and number of participants for planned backcountry
C. Use of mechanized and other equipment -
Describe any field equipment, markers, or supply caches by type,
number, and location. You should explain how long they are to be left
in the field. Explain the need to use these materials in restricted
areas and the alternatives that were considered.
D. Chemical use
- Identify any chemicals and hazardous material that you propose using
within the park. Indicate the purpose, method of application, and
amount to be used. Describe plans for storage, transfer, and disposal
of these materials and describe steps to remediate accidental releases
into the environment. Attach copies of Material Safety Data Sheets.
Ground disturbance - Describe the type, location, area, depth,
number, and distribution of expected ground-disturbing activities, such
as soil pits, cores, stakes, or latrines. Describe plans for site
restoration of significantly affected areas.
Proposals that entail ground disturbance may require an archeological
survey and special clearance prior to approval of the study. You can
help reduce the extra time that may be required to process such a
proposal by including identification of each ground disturbance area on
a USGS 7.5-minute topographic map.
Animal welfare - For vertebrate species that require review by
your Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) according to
the Animal Welfare Act, please include a photocopy of the study
protocol, and IACUC review form and approval.
For vertebrate species not requiring IACUC review, describe
your protocol for any capture, holding, marking, tagging, tissue
sampling, or other handling of these animals (including the training
and qualifications of personnel relevant to animal handling and care).
Please discuss alternative techniques considered and outline any
procedures to alleviate pain or distress. Include contingency plans to
be implemented in the event of accidental injury to or death of the
G. NPS assistance - Describe any NPS field
assistance you would like to receive to complete the proposed study,
such as use of equipment or facilities or assistance from staff.
H. Wilderness "minimum requirement" protocols
- If some or all of your activities will be conducted within a location
administered by the NPS as a designated, proposed, or potential
wilderness area, your proposal should describe how the project adheres
to wilderness "minimum requirement" and "minimum tool" concepts. Refer
to the park's wilderness management plan for further information.
- contributes information useful to an increased understanding
of park resources, and thereby contributes to effective management
and/or interpretation of park resources; provides for scheduled sharing
of information with park staff, including any manuscripts,
publications, maps, databases, etc., which the researcher is willing to
- addresses problems or questions of importance to
science or society and shows promise of making an important
contribution to humankind's knowledge of the subject matter;
a principal investigator and support team with a record of
accomplishments in the proposed field of investigation and with a
demonstrated ability to work cooperatively and safely, and to
accomplish the desired tasks within a reasonable time frame;
- provides for the investigator(s) to prepare occasional summaries of findings for public use, such as seminars and brochures;
- minimizes disruption to the park's natural and cultural resources, to park operations, and to visitors;
- discusses plans for the cataloging and care of collected specimens;
- clearly anticipates logistical needs and provides detail about provisions for meeting those needs; and
supported academically and financially, making it highly likely that
all fieldwork, analyses, and reporting will be completed within a
reasonable time frame.
4. The National Park Service is about to publish its Benefits Sharing
policy. This policy was evaluated over the past eight years by way of
an Environmental Impact Statement process (under the National
Environmental Policy Act). According to Bert Frost, National Park
Service Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and
Science, the EIS and policy had been completed as of May 2009 and were
awaiting approval for printing and publication. You may be asked to
sign a benefits-sharing agreement as a condition of obtaining a permit,
particularly if your research involves scientific collecting of natural
materials. More information about the NPS Benefits Sharing policy will
be provided here as soon as these documents are published by the
National Park Service.
5. In 1998, the Congress directed the National Park Service to make the Parks available for scientific research:
Sec. 201. PURPOSES.
The purposes of this title are—
(4) to encourage others to use the National Park System for study to the
benefit of park management as well as broader scientific value, where such
study is consistent with the Act of August 25, 1916 (commonly known as the
National Park Service Organic Act, 16 U.S.C. 1 et seq.); and
National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (P.L. 105- 391)
In response, the National Park Service developed the Natural Resource Challenge
committing to make the parks available for scientific study:
Parks for Science: The long-term preservation of park natural resources
makes parks reservoirs of information of great value to humanity. Thus,
in addition to the use of science as a means to improve park
management, parks can and should be centers for broad scientific
research and inquiry. Research should be facilitated in parks where it
can be done without impairing other park values. Grants, logistical
support, cooperative studies, and other means of facilitating this
wider role should be instituted within, or near, a network of parks
broadly representative of regional systems. These programs should be
developed and operated in collaboration with universities and other
More specific National Park Service policies pertaining to permit
issuance can be found in the information provided below with regard to
appeal of denial of permit requests.