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Park Ranger

Overview  

Nature calls

Forest rangers are the human face of America's national parks and wildlife. Their work demands that they spend long hours alone, but they must also be skilled communicators with superior interpersonal skills. While rangers are generally thought of primarily as nature lovers, the life of a park ranger entails more than preventing forest fires and guiding tours. Rangers are trained law enforcement officers, first-aid administrators, and ecologists.

From law to education

Park rangers are a diverse group of professionals. Some specialize in law enforcement and search and rescue, others in maintenance, administration, concessions management, resources management, and interpretation. Interpreters are in charge of the primary public contact responsibilities. They staff visitor centers, lead guided hikes, present talks, give evening programs, conduct environmental education in and out of schools, distribute literature, and organize exhibits.

Full-time positions as rangers are difficult to come by, and only those with the right combination of experience and education (including college courses in environmental science, biology, and forestry) are likely to get them. Many park rangers break into entry-level positions after high school, starting out as seasonal rangers. Seasonal workers go from park to park, working at one in the winter and another in the summer. In these positions, they usually perform maintenance duties: cleaning up campsites, maintaining trails, and working as information personnel and guides. Seasonal rangers receive few or no benefits outside of worker's compensation insurance and a minimal amount of sick leave every two weeks. On top of that, rangers might have to endure very hot or bitter cold conditions for extended periods. Rangers who live in park housing still pay rent (although it is often non-taxable).

Permanent ranger positions are coveted, as rangers usually get to live in the most beautiful natural settings in the country. The pay is relatively low - it can start at $9 an hour - but most park rangers feel sufficiently compensated knowing that they work for something in which they believe, with co-workers who are dedicated to the job. And after a few years, a park ranger can live comfortably on a salary of about $30,000. Permanent government jobs, usually offered by the Department of the Interior, also come with a comprehensive benefits package.

Career Path  

Although a college degree is not required, when combined with some park experience, college courses in life and environmental sciences can help someone with less practical experience get hired into an entry-level position. Experience in management and communications can also give someone an edge in the field. Another option is seasonal work in a state or national park, which can equip a potential park ranger with skills such as law enforcement, fire prevention and control, and basic knowledge of the park's trails and campsites. A person might have to work as seasonal personnel for a few years before landing a position. Once someone becomes a full-fledged park ranger, however, the job is stable, and most park rangers stay at the same park for many years.

Uppers  

Free uniform;Getting to live in nationalparks

Downers  

No benefits for seasonal employees;Poor housing options

Personality Match  

Resourceful;Socially conscious;Tree-hugging

Personality Miss  

Ambitious;Impatient;Agoraphobic

Hours  

Averages about 45 per week

Salary  

Average entry-level salary with a BS: $19,500-$24,200;Average starting salary with an MS: $24,200-$29,600;Average government salary: $42,100

Skills  

Bachelor's degree, or high school diploma and minimum three years'experience in park services

Our Survey Says  

There is "dirty work" involved in being a park ranger, such as park maintenance. Other annoying aspects of the job, as reported by one ranger, include "putting up with stupid questions and irate campers, drunk college students, drunk teenagers, and let's not forget my personal favorite, drunk senior citizens." There are also some "cocky, know-it-all co-workers," and an "out of balance chain of command." And if that isn't enough, starting pay is low. All respondents agreed that it is difficult to land a job, but a successful ranger advises aspiring rangers to "size up the competition and try to stand out." The pay is "not as high as one might earn in the private sector," but there are things "in your pay envelope besides dollars," such as "the number of times a week someone says, 'How do I get a job like yours?'" Overall, the perks seem to outweigh the drawbacks. One ranger enjoys benefits such as "a healthy life, the ability to do things for pay that others pay to do, and going to bed at night without begrudging the fact that you have to get up in the morning to go to work."

The mission of the National Park Service is "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." On the whole, park rangers believe in that dual mission of preservation and public enjoyment, and feel that those who do not share the same commitment should not enter the field. Rangers who work in roles involving contact with the public are required to wear the National Park Service uniform of green pants, gray shirt, and flat hat. Most "feel honored to wear it." They receive a small uniform allowance, but usually end up spending some of their own money to embellish the outfit. And because of shrinking budgets and staff, rangers often put in a great deal of overtime for which they are not compensated.

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