Park rangers, whether at the state or federal level, are responsible for protecting designated state and federal lands and sites, such as:
- Historic sites
- Cultural sites
- Nature reserves
- National monuments
- Recreational areas
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Depending on their position, the park in which they work, and the current needs of the park or the people who visit there, park rangers may do everything from patrolling the park in a law enforcement capacity, to presenting guided tours and educational programs.
Although park ranger job requirements vary depending on the agency they work for and the capacity in which they are hired, the majority of individuals who want to become park rangers must meet the following requirements:
Although requirements vary from agency to agency, general requirements are often similar.
For example, in Pennsylvania, individuals applying for park ranger jobs must be a Pennsylvania resident; they must be at least 18 years old; and they must possess a valid driver’s license. Applicants in Pennsylvania pursuing park ranger jobs must also complete the civil service examination process before they attain eligibility to become a park ranger through the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Human Resources.
Applicants for park ranger jobs in Maine, on the other hand, must be at least 21 years old; they must have a Maine driver’s license; and they must be able to pass a physical fitness test. Individuals who possess an associate’s degree (or at least 60 credits) from an accredited college or university, however, may qualify at just 18 years old.
Many states, as well as the National Park Service, require applicants to possess some form of post-secondary education, particularly if they have no prior experience. For some states, this may include an associate’s degree from an accredited college or university.
The National Park Service, requires a bachelor’s degree or higher without suitable experience to substitute. Those with at least one year of experience at the GS-4 level only need two years of post-secondary study to meet the education requirements.
Even states that do not require post-secondary education or a formal college degree often view degrees and college coursework as highly desirable.
Further, applicants for park ranger jobs may be required to possess a degree or coursework related to the profession. For example, applicants for park ranger jobs in Colorado must possess a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university, which must include a major in one of the following:
- Zoology/Wildlife management
- Outdoor recreation/ Parks management
- Natural resource management
- Ecology/Environmental science
- Biology/Wildlife biology
Similarly, applicants for park ranger jobs with the NPS who qualify through education must not only possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, but they must also possess at least 24 semester credit hours in related areas of study. NPS rangers qualifying through a combination of education and experience must have a year of specialized experience and two years of college study consisting of at least 12 semester credit hours of relevant coursework.
Experience requirements for park ranger jobs vary from state to state, although many states recognize an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in lieu of related experience. Alaska for example, requires applicants to possess either a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university or at least two years of professional experience in a natural resources management position.
Likewise, Oklahoma requires park ranger applicants at Salary Band G (the entry-level band for park rangers) to possess either two years of related park/recreation/law enforcement experience or at least 60 semester credit hours of education from an accredited college or university, which must include at least 12 hours of study in one or more of the following areas:
- Outdoor recreation
- Park management
- Criminal justice
- Environmental science
Some states, such as Wisconsin, recognize experience through interning, volunteering or working in locations such as nature centers, national parks and forests, state parks and forests, and outdoor education centers.
Pre-Employment and Training Requirements
All states, as well as the National Park Service, have strict pre-employment processes in place, all of which are designed to ensure job candidates are highly qualified. Most state parks departments, as well as the NPS, have thorough background investigation requirements, as well as requirements for a medical examination, a psychological evaluation, and a polygraph examination.
Further, new park ranger recruits must always complete a course of training that is consistent with the scope of their job.
For example, in Utah, all new park ranger recruits are trained as law enforcement officers and must therefore complete training through the Utah POST Academy. Academy training includes study in wildland firefighting, patrol, arrest and restraint techniques, and hunting and fishing regulations, among others.
In Delaware, all new park ranger hires must complete Delaware’s Police Basic Training Course through an approved academy. These basic training programs include study in firearms, community relations, incident management, community relations, and physical training, among others.