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Park Ranger Job Description, Career as a Park Ranger, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Bachelor's degree

Salary: Median—$30,000 per year

Employment Outlook: Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Park rangers teach people to respect the delicate natural balance of our national and state parks and forests. They are employed by the National Park Service, which is an agency of the U.S. federal government, and by state agencies. Rangers work throughout the country preserving the natural environment for future generations. They protect these areas by enforcing park rules and regulations, preventing forest fires, helping to maintain an ecological balance, and seeing that visitors plan campsites wisely. Park rangers are skilled campers with a great deal of knowledge about botany and wildlife. Perhaps the greatest danger to our parks is the danger of overuse: rangers watch and regulate the number of visitors to parks. They also provide information regarding park use and points of interest, issue fire permits, and collect fees.

In addition to protecting natural resources, park rangers protect people. They may rescue a rock climber who has fallen or chase away a bear that is threatening campers. In addition, rangers act as educators by teaching campers how to use camping equipment, taking visitors on nature walks, setting up exhibits, and lecturing on historic topics. Park rangers also help to train new rangers.

Some rangers specialize in a certain type of patrol. There are backcountry rangers, who load up their mules with supplies and spend weeks at a time in isolated, undeveloped areas checking on hikers and watching for trails that need repairing. Snow rangers patrol their area on skis and are skilled in first aid, which includes applying splints to injured skiers. Some rangers make their rounds by boat or canoe. Many rangers are assisted by park aides.

Law enforcement is among the many duties of a park ranger. Some national park rangers carry guns. Park rangers sometimes recover stolen cars or quiet rowdy visitors. They are also in charge of investigating any suspected illegal activity committed in national parks.

Education and Training Requirements

Park rangers are usually required to have a bachelor's degree; however, high school graduates are sometimes eligible for ranger jobs after three years of progressively responsible experience in conservation work or park operations. Interested individuals should study botany, zoology, geology, and ecology in college. Other useful subjects include park management, forestry, and the social sciences. Candidates with master's degrees in these fields often have an advantage over other applicants who are seeking jobs as park rangers.

One way that park rangers protect and preserve national parks and forests is by regulating the number of visitors to parks. (© Macduff Everton/Corbis.)

Other requirements for park rangers include physical strength, good health, and good eyesight. Rangers should enjoy the outdoors and working with people. They should also be creative, resourceful, responsible, and energetic.

Getting the Job

Most jobs for park rangers fall under civil service regulations, so applicants need to take the civil service exam. Candidates who have experience as a park aide or volunteer often apply for ranger jobs.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Park rangers can advance into positions of increased responsibility within their field after acquiring the necessary experience and education. For example, some rangers become park superintendents, who manage employees in their parks. Some transfer to larger parks that pay their rangers higher salaries. Others advance by becoming specialists in interpretation, resource management, or park planning.

The number of jobs for park rangers is expected to decrease through 2014. According to an April 17, 2006 article on WashingtonPost.com, the National Park Service is expected to increase its call for volunteers and decrease its ranger staff in 2007. These anticipated cuts were announced after President George W. Bush ordered parks to slash 20 percent of their 2006 operating budgets for 2007. Due to the rising cost of utilities and staff pay raises, the National Park Service will be forced to decrease its ranger staff.

Working Conditions

Most rangers work outdoors in all kinds of weather, and their work is physically strenuous. They generally work long hours during the summer and somewhat shorter hours during the winter. Rangers in the National Park Service may have to spend time alone in isolated areas. They can expect to be assigned to several different parts of the country during their careers and receive no assurance that they will remain in a particular area. Despite these obstacles, most park rangers derive a great deal of satisfaction from their work.

Where to Go for More Information

American Forests
P.O. Box 2000
Washington, DC 20013
(202) 955-4500

Association of National Park Rangers
P.O. Box 108
Larned, KS 67550-0108
(620) 285-2107

National Park Service
1849 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20240
(202) 208-6843

National Recreation and Park Association
22377 Belmont Ridge Rd.
Ashburn, VA 20148
(703) 858-0784

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries for full-time rangers in the National Park Service depend on education and experience. The median salary for all park rangers is $30,000. Experienced rangers typically earn $47,000 to $50,000 per year. Rangers at state parks usually earn less than those at national parks. Park rangers receive paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and other benefits given to federal or state employees. Many parks provide housing for their rangers.

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