What Does a National Park Ranger Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A Day in the Life of a National Park Ranger

The Balance / Tim Liedtke

What do Mount McKinley, the Grand Canyon, the Florida Everglades, and Old Faithful have in common? Besides being national treasures, they all sit within national parks.

The people on the front lines protecting these and other national treasures are national park rangers. They assist visitors, conduct educational activities, perform emergency medical services, and protect the land from those who abuse it. For those with a yearning to work outdoors and a call to public service, a career as a national park ranger might be a fitting option.

National Park Ranger Duties & Responsibilities

A national park ranger may perform the following duties:

  • Communicate with the public on special recreation permit policy requirements and review permit applications.
  • Distribute and collect permits and fees at established fee sites.
  • Maintain the park's visitor use databases.
  • Monitor commercial and public river use and conduct river patrols to monitor and clean campsites.
  • Assist recreation staff in planning and implementing recreation enhancement, resource protection, environmental education, and volunteer stewardship projects.
  • Patrol park grounds and perform traffic control.
  • Enforce park regulations, issue citations, and make arrests.
  • Perform medical emergency assistance.
  • Participate in search and rescue missions.
  • Assist in wildfire control activities.

Duties and responsibilities of park rangers may vary. For example, they may need to perform search and rescue missions using snowmobiles or skis, or riding on horseback in remote areas with no vehicle access. They may even be part of a scuba diving team. In these cases, they are prepared to provide life-saving medical assistance for sprains or broken bones, possible drownings, poisonous bites, or heart attacks.

A national park ranger's job is also to protect the animals and the environment in which they live. This means educating and monitoring visitors to ensure they comply with all rules and regulations such as acquiring the appropriate permits, using fire safety procedures, and disposing of garbage properly. Violations of these rules mean issuing citations and making arrests.

Park rangers also provide information about the animals, the environment, and the park's history to the public. They may give public or private tours to visitors about the wildlife and its environment and may visit schools to give lectures. They may study wildlife behavior, create and give exhibits, and design lectures.

National park rangers support and carry out the National Park Service's mission of preserving natural and cultural resources found in the country's national parks. Educating park-goers and helping them to enjoy parks safely while respecting and preserving the environment for future generations is a park ranger's primary goal.

National Park Ranger Salary

National park ranger jobs are posted at GS-5 positions in the federal salary scale. Additional experience or education may be required. Law enforcement rangers and individuals who have completed a master's degree in a relevant subject apply to enter as high as a GS-7 pay grade.

As of May 2019, the salary range for a GS-5 employee, which varies geographically, is $27,705 to $36,021. The national salary range for the GS-7 pay grade is $34,319 to $44,615.

For areas where the cost of living is higher than the national average, the federal government often offers locality pay in order to equalize employees’ buying power across geographic locations, which may result in higher pay than the above-mentioned ranges.

Park ranger jobs don’t pay a lot, but you can’t beat the office. Some rangers work in extreme temperatures, and all work in inclement weather from time to time, but fresh air and natural light are rare commodities for other federal employees. And the employee benefits are hard to beat when you compare them to nonprofits and the private sector.

Source: ParkRangerEDU.org, 2019

Payscale also provides salary information for park rangers:

  • Median Annual Salary: $39,883 ($19.17/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $61,000 ($29.33/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $26,000 ($12.50/hour)

Source: Payscale.com, 2019

Education, Training, & Certification

The national park ranger position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:

  • Education: A four-year degree is preferred, as well as a master's degree in a relevant subject.
  • Experience: The ranger job is a GS-7 pay level, which requires one year of specialized experience or education that meets the requirements for the GS-5 grade level. The specialized experience must result in demonstrating a general knowledge of recreation planning in a historical, cultural, or natural resource environment, where established procedures are followed. Alternatively, applicants can substitute one year of academic experience, or a combination of both, as long as the two percentages equate to 100%, or one year's combined experience and education.

National Park Ranger Skills & Competencies

In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:

  • Interpersonal skills: A park ranger needs to be able to communicate well with colleagues, visitors, and others impacted by their work.
  • Physical stamina: A park ranger may walk long distances often in wooded and steep areas, and work in extreme heat and cold weather.
  • Analytical skills: A park ranger must be able to analyze situations to resolve problems such as those involving visitors in distress.
  • Critical thinking: A ranger must use sound judgment and reasoning in decision-making.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't follow the growth of the national park ranger job specifically. However, it does follow the job growth outlook for conservation scientists and foresters. The growth in jobs is expected to be 6% for the period between 2016 and 2026. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.

Work Environment

A park ranger spends a good amount of time outdoors, working in isolated areas, at high altitudes, or in extreme heat or cold. They may need to travel over hazardous terrain, which may require overnight camping when working in remote areas of the park.

Work Schedule

The job requires a full-time work schedule. Park rangers may be required to work on-call, evenings, weekends, holidays, overtime, and shift work. They may also be required to travel overnight away from home up to two nights per month.

How to Get the Job

PREPARE

Brush up your resume to highlight relevant skills and previous experience. Research the job listings on USAJOBS.gov to find out if you meet all of the job's requirements. If you have bilingual abilities, this can be valuable for certain park locations.

PRACTICE

Sharpen your interviewing skills by role-playing with a family member or friend. The job requires a panel interview, and practicing ahead can help you to not feel overwhelmed.

National park rangers are selected through the normal government hiring process; however, hiring managers often involve other people in the process. In cities, other department heads or parks and recreation commission members may sit in on panel interviews. Using panel interviews helps the director gather other people’s perspectives on the interviewed finalists. Hiring decisions are too important to make in a vacuum, so prudent managers gather outside perspectives during the process.

APPLY

Navigate to the job search resource USAJOBS.gov and search for available positions, then start the application process.

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