A Park ranger is a person in lead of protecting and preserving parklands - national, state or provincial parks. A "forest ranger" (in the U.S.A., colloquial) is a person typically working on a ranger district on one the 164 national forests, where they are charged with the U.S. Forest Service's conservation mission of "Caring for the Land and Serving People". A "wilderness ranger" is a U.S. Forest Service employee on a ranger district of a national forest who works primarily in one of the many congressionally designated Wilderness areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Ranger is the favored term in the United States and Canada; some countries use the term park warden or game warden to describe this occupation. The profession has often been over-simply characterized as "protecting the people from the resource, and the resource from the people." The profession includes a number of disciplines and specializations, and park rangers in the United States and elsewhere are often required to be proficient in more than one.
The term "Ranger" was first applied to a reorganization of the Fire Warden force in the Adirondack Park
, after 1899 when fires burned 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
, and the U.S. Forest Service (ref Pinchot, Gifford, "Breaking New Ground", first pub 1947)
Duties, disciplines, and specializations
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. 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 divisions. For example, an interpretive ranger may perform a law enforcement role by explaining special park regulations to visitors and encouraging them to be proper stewards of natural and cultural history. Law enforcement rangers and other park employees may contribute to the mission of the interpretive ranger by providing information to park visitors about park resources and facilities. The spirit of teamwork in accomplishing the mission of protecting the parks and people is underscored by the fact that in many cases, the US National Park Rangers
in particular, park rangers share a common uniform regardless of work assignment.
- Dispatcher: 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 cctv cameras and fire alarms. Dispatch rangers are assigned to the Park Protection Division.
- Park Guards: Guards check to see that gates are locked, that closed roads are not in use, that unauthorized persons keep out of closed or sensitive areas, etc. Some parks have been identified as potential targets for terrorist attacks and in these areas, such as the Gateway Arch, Independence Hall and parts of Boston National Historic Park, guards may screen visitors using magnetometers and x-ray devices. Many people understand these functions as similar to the work performed by security guards, except that they are performed by employees in park ranger uniforms.
- Law enforcement: Law enforcement rangers have police powers and enforce national laws as well as park regulations. In some developing countries, the park rangers patrolling natural preserves may be heavily armed and function as paramilitary organizations against organized poachers or even guerillas. In many other developing countries however, park rangers have no law enforcement authority, they don't carry fire arms as they seek to achieve respect for nature by building good relationships with local communities and the visiting public. In units of the U.S. National Park System, law enforcement Rangers are the primary police agency; their services may be augmented by the US Park Police, particularly in the Washington, DC and San Francisco metropolitan areas. The U.S. National Park Service also have a section of "Special Agents" who conduct more complex criminal investigations. :According to Department of Justice Statistics National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers suffer the most number of felonious assaults, and the highest number of homicides of all federal law enforcement officers..
- Interpretation and education: 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. 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 and often designed to help educators meet specific national and/or local standards of instruction. 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.
- Emergency response: Rangers are often trained in wilderness first aid and participate in search and rescue to locate lost persons in the wilderness. Many National Parks require law enforcement rangers to maintain certification as Emergency Medical Technicians or Paramedics. Depending on the needs of the park where assigned, rangers may participate in high-angle rescue, swift-water rescue, may be certified scuba divers, and can become specially trained as helicopter pilots or crewmembers.
- 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.
- Maintenance: Some rangers perform routine maintenance on facilities or equipment—especially in preparing for winter closures and spring re-openings. Rangers are often the first to discover vandalism or weather-related damage to roads or facilities.
- Administration: In many cases administrative staff members are categorized officially as park rangers and may wear the distinct park ranger uniform while working "behind the scenes" to ensure the continued operation of the parks. These rangers may set policy for the parks, or handle park budgets, computers and technology, human resources, or other fields related to the administration of parks.
Vehicle and equipment
A typical ranger vehicle is a well-marked and specialized vehicle that is suited specifically for the unique tasks of the area where it is assigned. In some parks the patrol vehicle might be a full-size sedan equipped with a "police package" engine and suspension, easily recognizable as a law enforcement vehicle. In other areas the patrol vehicle might be a full-size, heavy-duty pickup truck or sport utility vehicle adapted for off-road use. Whatever the case may be, the ranger's patrol vehicle must be capable of holding all of the equipment they might need to be entirely self-sufficient while on patrol. For example, a primarily law enforcement vehicle may also have to carry emergency medical equipment, climbing ropes, helmets and harnesses, hand-tools and protective gear for fighting fires, etc. The variety of equipment carried gives some idea of the many roles of the park ranger.
- flashing emergency lights and siren, police traffic RADAR unit, mobile video recorder
- a reliable camera, traffic flares, and fingerprinting and evidence collecting equipment
- a portable breath tester and field narcotic test kits
- a reliable radio or mobile telephone, often with a backup device for emergencies
- an electronic locator unit such as a GPS, in remote areas supplemented by an EPIRB for signaling for help
- detailed maps of the area protected and guidebooks about local flora and fauna
- a clipboard and paperwork used to document activities, including a daily patrol report, citation book, incident reports and maintenance reports
- informational handouts and maps to be given to visitors
- a collection of keys that open gates, locks and buildings scattered across the park or preserve
- personal survival equipment for an extended stay in the wilderness, including a backpack, tent and sleeping bag as well as fire-starting equipment
- a comprehensive first aid kit including supplies for response to trauma and vehicle accidents
- kevlar bullet-resistant vest, Taser, high-power rechargeable flashlight, folding pocket knife, multi-tool, handcuffs, chemical defense spray, defensive baton, and other standard police equipment
- blankets, emergency food and water, and portable tarps or other shelters (for any persons rescued)
- hand tools including a shovel, axe, rake, Pulaski tool, crowbar, bolt cutter, and other miscellaneous tools
- a power winch for extricating stuck vehicles, with associated cables
- rope and life preserver for unassisted water rescue
- hand fire extinguishers, a backpack fire pump, a one inch (25 mm) diameter 50 foot (15 m) length of fire hose with a 50 to 150 US gallon (200 to 600 L) fire water tank and gasoline-powered reversible pump, fireproof turnout coat, and a self-rescue fire shelter
- metal or acyllic screen to separate the ranger from arrested persons who may be violent
- additional firearms, often including a high-powered rifle with optical sights and a pump-action shotgun for close-range defense
- additional supplies of fuel and water as appropriate
These supplies are often augmented according to the geographic area and the local hazards. A park ranger in urban areas may carry less survival gear and more law enforcement equipment; a park ranger in the desert will carry much more drinkable water; a park ranger in the Alaskan outback will carry additional shelter materials and stove fuel. In more remote areas, pre-positioned caches containing survival equipment will be scattered throughout the park.
Worldwide ranger deficit in developing countries
The Adopt A Ranger Foundation has calculated that worldwide about 140,000 rangers are needed for the protected areas in developing and transition countries. There are no data on how many rangers are employed at the moment, but probably less than half the protected areas in developing and transition countries have any rangers at all and those that have them are at least 50% short This means that there would be a worldwide ranger deficit of 105,000 rangers in the developing and transition countries.
One of the world's foremost conservationists, Dr. Kenton Miller, stated about the importance of rangers: "The future of our ecosystem services and our heritage depends upon park rangers. With the rapidity at which the challenges to protected areas are both changing and increasing, there has never been more of a need for well prepared human capacity to manage. Park rangers are the backbone of park management. They are on the ground. They work on the front line with scientists, visitors, and members of local communities."
Adopt A Ranger, fears that the ranger deficit is the greatest single limiting factor in effectively protecting nature in 75% of the world. Currently, no conservation organization or western country or international organization addresses this problem. Adopt A Ranger has been incorporated to draw worldwide public attention to the most urgent problem that conservation is facing in developing and transition countries: protected areas without field staff. Very specifically, it will contribute to solving the problem by fund raising to finance rangers in the field. It will also help governments in developing and transition countries to assess realistic staffing needs and staffing strategies.