Park and Forest Ranger Job Description: What You’ll Do

Here’s What You’ll Do in a Career in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

Park and forest rangers typically pursue degrees in criminal justice or environmental science, concentrating in areas such as conservation, biology, ecology, or forestry. The education requirements to work as a park ranger may vary by state or position. Students should research their local parks and recreation departments to determine which degree fits with their career goals. Read on for an overview of the park and forest ranger job description, degree requirements, and breakdown of common skills and traits in park ranger professionals.

What Are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Park and Forest Ranger?

The primary role of a park and forest ranger is conservation of local and state parks and ensuring visitors adhere to guidelines and policies. Common park and forest ranger job duties include conserving, maintaining and managing public lands. Primary tasks may involve clearing overgrown brush or damaged trees to prevent forest fires. Rangers also maintain park structures, ensuring they are safe and sanitary for park visitors. The position may require other tasks, as well, depending on the agency and the ranger level.

Park and forest rangers aim to maintain public lands and mitigate illegal behavior to ensure everyone may continue enjoying local, state, and national parks.

Other park and forest ranger responsibilities may include performing search and rescue operations, providing information about parks to state officials and tourists, and investigating violations of park policies. Some rangers may cultivate cultural experiences or host nature walks to give visitors unique park experiences. Overall, park and forest rangers aim to maintain public lands and mitigate illegal behavior to ensure everyone may continue enjoying local, state, and national parks.

Park and Forest Ranger Education Requirements

The education requirements for park and forest ranger positions vary. Entry-level positions, typically known as GS-02 to GS-04, require only a high school diploma and some college credit in a related field of study. Higher-level positions, starting at GS-05 and beyond, require a bachelor's degree or at least one year working at the GS-04 level, plus two years of post-secondary education.

Forest rangers make sure visitors to local, state, and national parks follow the policies in place to minimize damage to public lands and wild animals. For this reason, forest rangers may benefit from degrees in criminal justice or law enforcement. Criminal justice degrees focus on law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Law enforcement degrees focus on skills in investigation and suspect apprehension.

Forest rangers make sure visitors to local, state, and national parks follow the policies in place to minimize damage to public lands and wild animals.

Students interested in pursuing careers as park and forest rangers should research their community's parks and recreation department to determine its specific education or work requirements. They may also consider volunteering or interning with a local agency to make valuable connections with potential employers and gain an inside look at what it takes to be a ranger.

The National Park Service offers unique opportunities to college students working seasonally at parks while completing their education. This gives students a chance to gain relevant job experience and a competitive advantage over other candidates.

Associate Degrees

An associate degree in criminal justice prepares students for a variety of entry-level positions in law enforcement. Common jobs include park and forest ranger, security officer, police officer, correctional officer, and deputy sheriff. Students with at least 30 college credits in criminology, sociology, the natural or earth sciences, and natural resource management may qualify for entry-level positions. Common titles for these positions include GS-02, GS-03, or GS-04.

Some states may waive educational requirements if applicants possess industry-related work experience.

The average associate degree takes two years to complete. Program costs vary widely and may fluctuate depending on residency requirements. Many programs cost less than $10,000 per term, but some cost as much as $30,000 per year. The core curriculum typically covers basic principles, including an introduction to criminal justice, the judicial process, and an overview of correctional systems. Students should visit criminaljustice.com for more information on the benefits of earning an associate degree in criminal justice online.

Bachelor's Degrees

Park ranger positions GS-05 and higher require candidates to hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field. Even for lower-level positions, a bachelor's may increase candidates' competitive advantage and earning potential. The curriculum in a bachelor's program covers advanced topics such as the American legal system, criminal justice administration and leadership, criminal justice ethics, and criminal behavior.

Common jobs available to graduates with a bachelor's in criminal justice include park manager, park activities coordinator, program manager, and environmental education specialist.

The average bachelor's program takes four years to complete. Costs vary widely by school and state, depending on residency requirements. In-state tuition at a public university costs $10,000 to $15,000, on average. In-state tuition at a private university may exceed $35,000. Out-of-state students pay an average of $10,000 more per year than their in-state counterparts, but many online programs offer flat tuition rates, so applicants should research costs carefully.

For more information on the benefits of earning a bachelor's degree, students should visit criminaljustice.com.

Other Requirements for Park and Forest Rangers

Park and forest ranger positions require academic and non-academic qualities. Typical non-academic requirements may include physical fitness testing, medical examinations, psychological evaluations, and industry-related work or volunteer experience. Professionals typically undergo on-the-job training once hired, which may include practice exercises in wildland firefighting, plus patrol, arrest, and restraint techniques. Job candidates may also undergo firearms safety training.

Park and forest rangers must be armed on the job, due to the possibility of dangerous encounters in isolated areas with animals or criminals.

Park and forest ranger candidates must be at least 18 years old, possess a valid driver's license, and hold U.S. citizenship. Candidates must also pass a background check and drug test. The specific requirements to work as a ranger vary by state and federal agency. Students should carefully research their state's requirements to ensure they qualify before applying.

Qualities That Make a Great Park and Forest Ranger

In addition to earning a degree, successful park and forest rangers possess a range of qualities and skills. Some qualities include self-motivation and independence, as rangers may work long hours on their own. They must possess strong survival, observational, and critical-thinking skills to handle difficult situations under a variety of conditions. They should also be physically fit and possess strong communication skills.

Finally, they must demonstrate a passion for preservation, nature, and animals. See below a complete list of the top 10 qualities park rangers need.

  • Passion for the outdoors
  • Physical fitness
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills
  • Survival skills
  • Self-motivated and independent
  • Firearms skills
  • Time management skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Service-oriented

Salary Opportunities for Park and Forest Rangers

Pay by Experience Level for Park and Forest Rangers
Experience Average Total Compensation
0-12 Months $34,000
1-4 Years $35,000
5-9 Years $44,000
10-19 Years $57,000
Source: PayScale

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Park and Forest Ranger Salary Information Careers in Criminal Justice Online Bachelor's Degree in Law Enforcement