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Working for the National Park Service (Part 2)

 Park Rangers and Forestry Technicians 

In part one we talked about the history of the National Park Service (NPS), some of the operating divisions in each park, and the difference between urban parks and western national parks. We featured information management jobs, which included information technology (GS-2210), biologist (GS-401), physical Scientist (GS-1301), cartographer (GS-1370), and technical information specialist (GS-1412). Today our focus will be on the jobs of the park ranger (GS-025) and forestry technician (GS-462).

Park Rangers (GS-025)


Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park


The term park ranger can be misinterpreted. All the employees who wear the NPS uniform are considered “park rangers.” However, there is a specific job series titled park ranger. Park rangers can be generalist, law enforcement rangers, interpretation rangers, and resource management rangers. Several park ranger occupations are featured in this article.

Park Ranger (Backcountry)

This park ranger is responsible for patrols via horseback and by foot. They will patrol backcountry on, off trail areas, and in some cases in remote wilderness areas. The work includes trail maintenance, fence monitoring, and its repair, checking of backcountry permits and educating the public about park facilities and available resources. The ranger will have to hike or ride over steep, rocky and slippery terrain, at elevations above 3,000 feet above seal level. Occasionally, will have to perform canoe patrols on flat-water surfaces, and may include overnight stays in the backcountry.

The work is physical and will involve extensive periods of standing, walking, and can include the carrying of backpacks, tools and various forms of rescue equipment. Additionally, you maybe exposed to extremes in temperature, confined spaces and other weather conditions.

You must be a US citizen to apply and possess a valid driver’s license. The education requirements are either undergraduate or graduate in studies such as natural resource management, natural sciences, earth sciences, history, anthropology, park and recreations management and other related courses.

Most of the jobs are seasonal, full time temporary, and cannot exceed 1039 hours in a 12-month period, with a pay of $31,944 per year at a GS-5 level. You will have to have 1 year of experience at the GS-4 level.

Park Ranger (Protection)

This park ranger serves as a Law Enforcement Commissioned Ranger. They are responsible for law enforcement duties that include detection, investigation, apprehension, prosecution to ensure protection and safe use of National Park resources. The primary duty of this park ranger is the enforcement of the criminal laws of the United States.

They work independently in patrolling roads, and trails within park boundaries. Assist in the preliminary investigation of felonies and other violations of park rules and other laws. Will participate in emergencies as required, provides guidance to seasonal, and volunteers working on various projects.

A bachelor’s degree is required with major studies in natural sciences, earth sciences, history, archeology, anthropology, park and recreation management, criminal justice and other relevant subjects.

There is a minimum and maximum entry age. Since this position is covered under law enforcement provisions, you must be at least 21 and no older than 37. The mandatory retirement age is 57.

For a full time permanent position at GS-07 level, the pay is $53,090.00 to $67,138.00 per year. You will need to have at least 1 year of experience at the GS-05 level. You must be a U.S. citizen to apply and have a valid driver’s license.

Caitlin Worth is a GS-9 park ranger at the Sugarland’s Visitor Center at Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NP) and states, “when I had the opportunity to apply for an internship, at Great Smoky Mountain NP, it seemed like a fun way to spend a summer, and I had always thought I might be a good fit for this type of work. It ended up being a life changing experience, and after that, I made it my mission to find work in parks and make it my career. I cannot describe what it is like to hear the audible gasps or excited giggles that can come out of full-grown adults when you lead them to an amazing vista or let them photograph a bear in the wild from a safe distance.” Worth remarks, “I can’t imagine my life without my current career. It can be incredibly rewarding and the office is like no other. However, I only recommend it to those that feel they can be dedicated enough to the park service.”

Worth concludes that, “careers in the National Park Service can be difficult to build with many years of seasonal work and moving to far away places. Flexibility and patience are necessary, but given the right time and effort, an amazing opportunity to protect America’s most special places awaits you. Finally, start as young as you possibly can. Find ways to be exposed to as many types of park rangers as possible. Volunteer, attend special events, and participate in community workdays at your local parks. Start small. Internships are almost a requirement before competing well for seasonal work. Organizations like the American Conservation Experience (ACE), Student Conservation Association (SCA), and internships provided through each park are wonderful opportunities to get your foot in the door, learn about what you love and make lasting connections for the future.”

Another park ranger, Christine Hoyer, located at Great Smoky Mountain NP is a park ranger – backcountry management specialist – GS-11. Hoyer states, “I was an avid National Park visitor/adventurer from an early age. I hoped to find a way to channel my passion for the outdoors into a productive career with the National Park Service. I wanted to serve the special places and the visitors that enjoy them – as well as the mission of the National Park Service.” She goes on to say, “There are many different kinds of Park Ranger positions. My specialty is backcountry and wilderness management and with such a dynamic resource with such high visitation, no two days are alike! I am fortunate enough to be responsible for managing the backcountry at GRSM, which requires that I spend a good portion of my time immersed in the resource and planning of backcountry projects. The miles that I get to spend on trails in the backcountry are certainly a benefit of my position.”

Ms. Hoyer remarks, “It is fulfilling to work to protect amazing resources and do something that has far-reaching implications, namely the experience of future generations. As a park ranger you become part of the park family and the greater network of the National Park Service”. Finally, Hoyer says, “that anyone who wants to become a park ranger should explore the different types of ranger positions, be willing to gain relevant experience both inside and outside the National Park Service, and be persistent. Park ranger positions in the NPS can be highly competitive and valuable experience can be gained as a volunteer, intern or seasonal worker.”

Forestry Technician (GS-0462)

A forestry technician has responsibilities that can include serving as a crew member who conducts fieldwork in surveying and monitoring exotic plant populations, controlling weed infestations using a variety of chemical, biological, or other types of treatments. You may also take part in tree hazard surveys and corrective actions of tree and debris removal.

Some of the specialized experience required is based upon grade level and can include, engineering, range or soil conversation, farming or ranch work and basic understanding of land use, herbicides application in weed eradication, safe use of chainsaws and hazard tree identification and removal.

While outdoors, you must be able to perform manual labor and weather conditions can be unpredictable. The lifting and packing of moderately heavy items over rough terrain is required. There is foot travel both on and off trail, over mountains, dense brush, forest, and rocky slopes. You may also encounter grizzly bears and other wildlife that is often dangerous.

Education varies upon grade level, at a GS-04 you will need 2 years of study, to include 12 semester hours in a combination of courses in forestry, agriculture, crop or plant science, range management, wildlife management, soil science, civil and/or forest engineering, and wildland fire science. GS-05 level requires a bachelors degree with a major in forestry, range management, agriculture, and 24 semester hours that is similar to the GS-04 level. The GS-06 grade requires either a graduate degree or an internship that meets the specialized experience at the GS-05 grade.

You must be a U.S. citizen to apply and have a valid driver’s license. The GS-04 starting salary is $28,553 per year, GS-05 is $31,944 per year, and GS-06 is $35,944 per year. These jobs are seasonal and full time temporary and cannot exceed 1039 hours during a 12-month period.

Jason E. Watson is a GS-07 forestry technician who is located at Great Smoky Mountain NP. Watson states, “My love of the outdoors and forestry background led me straight to the forestry technician position. Each new day brings something different. Nature is so dynamic that the same trail has something new to reveal on a daily basis. There is also a nice balance of meeting new people. It is a real pleasure to meet folks on vacation who have a sincere interest in how we are managing our resources.

Watson states further, “If you like adventure and don’t mind the occasional unforeseen rainstorm, this is the place for you. You will meet some passionate people and find yourself in some of the most beautiful places in our great country. When applying for these positions it is very easy to think, you will never land a job. Persistence pays off. Volunteer and try to learn as much as you can to make yourself a better candidate. It is worth the wait!”

Kenneth Culbertson is a GS-06 forestry technician located at Great Smoky Mountain NP Culbertson states, “I have a belief that we as a human population need to preserve portions of our world fauna and flora which the National Park Service attempts to do while trying to meet the needs of all those that visit our National Parks”. Culbertson remarks,” Simply going into the woods, in the backcountry where somebody may not have been to in long time and seeing old growth forests. He recommends, “being a forestry technician, especially if you like the outdoors, challenging work, and good company. Have a good background in forestry and botany, learn GIS, camping techniques in challenging weather, and be fit.”

In the third and final installment, we will discuss wildlife management (GS-0482) and fire fighters (GS-0455/0462) and their roles in serving in the NPS.

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About The Author

A Pennsylvania native, Betty Boyd moved to the Tennessee Valley in 1994. She retired in early 2012 after 30 years of Government service. Boyd was an Acquisition Manager/IT Manager/ Project Manager during her 30-year career. Boyd also served as a supervisor and team leader during her career. In 2012 Boyd founded a consulting firm, Boyd Consulting Services, which offers writing services to clients and companies. For more information about these writing services see the following website: http://www.BettyBoydWriting.com/. Betty attended Athens State University, Athens, AL and received a B.B.A. in Management of Technology in 2000. She received her Masters of Science degree from Syracuse University with a concentration in Information Management in 2007. Boyd is a certified Level III contracting professional and she received a Masters level certificate in Project Management from the National Defense University in 2008.