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An Environmental Career as a Park Ranger

written by: •edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 2/26/2009

Park rangers manage city, rural and recreation lands. As far as environmental careers go, park ranger jobs rank among the most gratifying in terms of sustaining natural and cultural resources. If you like working with the public and enjoy working outdoors, read about how to become a park ranger.

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    A ranger is employed in all manner of parks: national parks, state parks and municipal parks, including reserve and wilderness areas along with historical sites. As with most environmental careers, work takes place outdoors in forests, campgrounds, and along bodies of water. Rain or shine, the park ranger performs tasks related to conservation and habitat restoration that range from monitoring wildlife populations to sampling water quality. Other duties include vehicle registration, safety inspection and property maintenance. Another important aspect of park ranger jobs involves educating the public. This is largely accomplished through the preparation of recreational activities and interpretive materials, leading nature walks or organizing volunteers.

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    Park Ranger Qualifications: How to Become a Park Ranger

    According to NPS job descriptions, park ranger qualifications include experience, education or some combination thereof. An applicant with a background in law enforcement or fire and forestry management may qualify based on experience. In municipal and special parks, it is still possible to move up toward a park ranger position from an unskilled labor position. Permanent federal park ranger jobs require a bachelor’s degree in keeping with management or environmental careers: natural science, museum science, social science, parks and recreation management or business management. An applicant may substitute programs of study that involve management of natural resources. It should also be noted that a master’s degree is helpful if career advancement is desired.

    The NPS uses a point system to evaluate candidates. The application process requires submission of an Occupational Questionnaire, a resume and transcript. The applicant’s responses to the questionnaire are matched against the resume, and points are assigned accordingly. County, municipality and special districts use a similar system, but these parks do not always require written test as part of the hiring process.

    A park ranger usually receives some form of orientation upon hire. For instance, NPS employees attend training courses in order to demonstrate core competencies in communication, problem-solving and environmental stewardship. Depending on the assignment and the competitive nature of the field, a ranger frequently seeks supplemental training to remain highly qualified. For example, a ranger may be cross-trained in fire and aviation management, medical emergency response, historic preservation or risk management.

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    Park Ranger Jobs

    To get a foot in the door, start planning early. Participate in volunteer programs or find seasonal jobs in national or municipal parks. Most entry-level work entails maintenance or fee collection, but it looks good on a resume. Contact the National Park Service for information about park ranger jobs and other environmental careers. Check the Federal Occupational Personnel Management website to see the qualification standards. Talk to ranger to find out what it is really like working in the park system. The more you learn about the position, the more likely you are to make well-informed decisions that will help land the job.