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Working with visitors and map in a Visitor Center.

National Park Service Rangers are among the uniformed employees charged with protecting and preserving areas set aside in the National Park System by the United States Congress and/or the President of the United States. While all employees of the agency contribute to the National Park Service mission of preserving unimpaired the natural and cultural resources set aside by the American people for future generations, the term Park Ranger is traditionally used to describe all NPS employees who wear the uniform. Broadly speaking, all National Park Service rangers promote stewardship of the resources in their care - either voluntary stewardship via resource interpretation, or compliance with statute or regulation through law enforcement. These comprise the two main disciplines of the ranger profession in the National Park Service.



The term "Ranger" was first applied to a reorganization of the Fire Warden force in the Adirondack Park, after 1899 when fires burned 80,000 acres (320 km2) in the park. The name was taken from Rogers' Rangers, a small force famous for their woodcraft that fought in the area during the French and Indian War in 1755. The term was then adopted by the National Park Service[1]

The first Director of the National Park Service, Stephen T. Mather, summed up the early park rangers as follows:

They are a fine, earnest, intelligent, and public-spirited body of men, these rangers. Though small in number, their influence is large. Many and long are the duties heaped upon their shoulders. If a trail is to be blazed, it is "send a ranger." If an animal is floundering in the snow, a ranger is sent to pull him out; if a bear is in the hotel, if a fire threatens a forest, if someone is to be saved, it is "send a ranger." If a Dude wants to know the why, if a Sagebrusher is puzzled about a road, it is "ask the ranger." Everything the ranger knows, he will tell you, ex-cept about himself.[2]

Duties, disciplines, and Specializations

Park Ranger, 1956

The duties of the modern park ranger are as varied and diverse as the parks where they serve, and in recent years have become more highly specialized - though they often intertwine. Regardless of the regular duties of any one discipline, the goal of all rangers remains to protect the park resources for future generations and to protect park visitors. This goal is accomplished by the professionalism and sometimes overlapping of the different functions and specialties. For example, an interpretive ranger may be trained in and perform fire suppression, emergency medicine, or search & rescue. Law enforcement rangers and other park employees may contribute to the mission of the interpretive ranger by helping park visitors make a personal connection to park resources, and/or appropriately utilize facilities. The spirit of teamwork in accomplishing the mission of stewardship is underscored by the fact that in many cases, the U.S. National Park Service in particular, park rangers share a common uniform regardless of work assignment.

The oldest source of information on Park Ranger Careers was the 1956 Park Ranger by C.B. Colby. At that time, park rangers fulfilled all the demands of park operations from administrative duties to technical rescue. By 1995, Exploring Careers in the National Parks by Bob Gartner reflected the specialization of duties and the expansion of titles covering the same work as was being done in 1956. In the 21st century Living the Adventure showed the park ranger profession was only becoming more complex.

The federal Office of Personnel Management sums up the diversity of the official "Park Ranger Series" of professional white collar occupational groups as follows:

"This series covers positions the duties of which are to supervise, manage, and/or perform work in the conservation and use of Federal park resources. This involves functions such as park conservation; natural, historical, and cultural resource management; and the development and operation of interpretive and recreational programs for the benefit of the visiting public. Duties characteristically include assignments such as: forest and structural fire control; protection of property from natural or visitor related depredation; dissemination to visitors of general, historical, or scientific information; folk-art and craft demonstration; control of traffic and visitor use of facilities; enforcement of laws and regulations; investigation of violations, complaints, trespass/encroachment, and accidents; search and rescue missions; and management activities related to resources such as wildlife, lakeshores, seashores, forests, historic buildings, battlefields, archeological properties, and recreation areas."[3]


Interpretation Rangers

  • Interpretation: Park Rangers provide a wide range of informational services to visitors. Some Rangers provide practical information—such as driving directions, train timetables, weather forecasts, trip planning resources, and beyond. Rangers may provide interpretive programs to visitors intended to foster stewardship of the resources by the visitor. Interpretation in this sense includes (but is not limited to): guided tours about the park's history, ecology or both; slideshows, talks, demonstrations; informal contacts, and historical re-enactments. All uniformed rangers, regardless of their primary duties, are often expected to be experts on the resources in their care, whether they are natural or cultural.
  • Education: Rangers may also engage in leading more formalized curriculum-based educational programs, meant to support and complement instruction received by visiting students in traditional academic settings. Rangers often develop education programs to help educators meet specific national and/or local standards of instruction. Cultural resource education may include access to artifacts or replicas, and natural resource education may include the taking of samples, all under the supervision of a ranger to insure proper protection of the resources. Unlike interpretation, education programs will include the opportunity to assess learning.

Law Enforcement Rangers

NPS Rangers transfer an injured patient during a rescue.

By the 1970s the National Park Service recognized that in order to protect visitors and park resources effectively the service need professional rangers dedicated primarily to law enforcement, emergency medical services, firefighting, and search and rescue. Although some modern NPS Rangers in this specialty ("protection rangers") may be primarily engaged in law enforcement duties, the many varied environments they work in may require these employees to be competent in a variety of public safety skills. Rangers who have received a law enforcement commission wear the standard NPS uniform with the Department of the Interior law enforcement badge. In larger park units search and rescue, emergency medicine, and other functions may be a branch of the "visitor services" or "protection" offices and do not require a commission. The following list describes the typical duties of a typical protection ranger:

  • Dispatch: Some rangers work as park dispatchers, answering emergency calls and dispatching law enforcement rangers, wildland fire fighters or Park EMS crews by radio to emergency calls. Dispatcher Rangers typically perform other duties such as taking lost and found reports, monitoring closed-circuit television cameras and fire alarms.
  • Law enforcement: Protection rangers are federallaw enforcement officers with broad authority to enforce federal and state laws within National Park Service sites. In units of the National Park System, law enforcement Rangers are the primary police agency; their services may be augmented by the United States Park Police, particularly in the Washington, New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas. The U.S. National Park Service also employs "special agents" who conduct more complex criminal investigations. Rangers, Agents and Park Police Officers receive extensive police training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and annual in-service and regular firearms training. According to Department of Justice statistics NPS Law Enforcement Rangers suffer the most number of felonious assaults, and the highest number of homicides of all federal law enforcement officers.[4].

Emergency services

  • Emergency Medical Response: Rangers are often certified as Wilderness First Responders, Emergency Medical Technicians or Paramedics. Rangers operate ambulances and respond to medical incidents ranging from bumps and bruises to bee stings to heart attacks.
  • Firefighting: Rangers are often the first to spot forest fires and are often trained to engage in wild land firefighting and in some cases structural fire fighting. Rangers also enforce laws and regulations regarding campfires and other fires on park lands. In the face of a fire outside their control, rangers will call for help and evacuate persons from the area pending the arrival of additional firefighters.
  • Search and Rescue: The wilderness aspect of many areas of the National Park System offers unique natural hazards for visitors. Search and Rescue trained rangers help visitors with injuries or illnesses suffered in remote wilderness areas or who become stranded in technical environments like swift water and high angle rock. These rangers are often expert climbers, boaters, or managers of the Incident Command System. Searches can range from children who wander away from Visitor Centers to expert climbers who suffer major accident while climbing.

See also


  1. ^ Angus, Christopher, The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8156-0741-5.
  2. ^ Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor, Illustrated by Ruth Taylor White. "OH, RANGER!" A Book about the National Parks. Introduction. Stanford University Press. Stanford University, California. 1929
  3. ^ U.S. Office of Personnel Management. HANDBOOK OF OCCUPATIONAL GROUPS AND FAMILIES. Washingtn, D.C. January 2008. Page 19.[1] Accessed January 2, 2009.
  4. ^ "U.S. Rangers, Park Police Sustain Record Levels of Violence." Environmental News Service. 2004.

External links


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