Region III Quarterly

Volume 2 - No. 4

October, 1940


By Hugh M. Miller,
Southwestern National Monuments.

A lot of boys want to grow up to be rangers. The juvenile conception seems to include the Lone Ranger, Texas Rangers, Nelson Eddy, and forest rangers engaged exclusively in riding and fishing, and fighting forest fires. The Park Service ranger isn't so definite a part of it, but the word ranger connotes romance in an context. There is still a faint in the adult public's mind, between park rangers and forest rangers, though millions of persons meet par rangers every year. Most of us who wear the National Park Service uniform have tried courteously to explain the difference when park visitors identify us with the Forest Service. It is not at all sure that we suceeed. Perhaps if our uniforms were not green, but sky blue or scarlet, the visual aid would help our friends to file their ideas correctly. Forest rangers are such uniformly fine follows that our feelings are not hurt badly, yet our pride in our own organization is such that we would like to be identified with it. Thus it is pertinent to set forth the difference.

First of all, the park ranger and the forest ranger work for different departments of the government. The park ranger does his daily tasks for the Department of the Interior; the forest ranger, for the Department of Agriculture. The forest ranger is primarily concerned with the conservation and wise commercial use of his district; the park ranger, with the preservation intact of the area's primitive valties and noncommercial public use for purposes of recreation and inspiration. The obligation to protect the values entrusted to his charge is basic in the duties of each. Thus many of the actual functions area similar - both take precautions to prevent and detect forest fires; each is a key nnan in the organization which figths forest fires and combats insect infestations. At other points there may be similarity. Recreational use of the national forests is encouraged and there still is grazing in certain federal park areas. Supervision and control is exercised by the ranger in each ease. In both services the ranger force is the protection force. The essential difference lies in the different types of use for which the areas are intended. The park ranger has no timber sales, no cutting permits; grazing permits, only rarely. The forest ranger has them all, but he has only incidental, instead of highly developed, concern with the traveling public.

park rangers

Many National Park Service areas are either almost treeless or have nothing that could be described as a forest. Yet these areas do require protection and they have park rangers to effect it. And so the park ranger is not necessarily a forester at all. He may be protecting an important archeological area, or a fine stand of desert vegetation, or a superb geological exhibit, or an historic building and the lands which surround it. He may need no horse and saddle, may make no lonely patrols. The distinction is important in the southwest, where rangers selected from the eligible lists maintained by the Civil Service Commission frequently are assigned to archeological areas which lack enough shade to shield a languid hen from the rays of the noonday sun.

The editor asks, for the benefit of aspirants, "What qualifications are necessary to obtain appointment as a Park Service Ranger?"

The last civil service examination to establish a list of persons eligible for appointment to positions as park ranger was given in 1937. In its announcement of the examination, the commission stated that;

Applicants must possess the following qualifications?

1. They must be citizens of the United States.

2. Education and experience.--They must show that they have had at least 30 months of responsible field experience of a progressive and technical character in park or forest work, involving such activities as fire and insect control, protection of wildlife and of scenic or historic features, which experience must have included at least 6 months of actual employment as foreman or employment in a similar position involving the supervision of at least three or four men; provided, that the successful completion of each year of study in a college or university of recognized standing in work prerequisite for a degree in forestry, biology, archeology, geology, history, landscape architecture or engineering, will be accepted in lieu of 12 months of the prescribed experience up to a total of 24 months, and that applicants who substitute 2 years of study in the above majors for the prescribed experience will not be required to show experience as foreman; and, provided further, that in any event at least 6 months of the required experience must be shown.

At least 1 year of the required experience or education must have been acquired within 5 years next preceding the date of the close of receipt of applications.

Seasonal Experience.--Applicants who show that they served at least two seasons of at least 2-1/2 months each as ranger or guard in a national park, national monument, or national forest as described above, will not be required to show the 6 months' experience as foreman.

Nonqualifying Experience.--No credit will be given for (a) experience acquired before the applicant reaches the age of 18 years; (b) forestry experience such as lumbering, cruising, scaling, etc., or other types of forestry work not directly related to park activities; (c) routine woods or ordinary farm or plantation work; (d) rodman, chainman, laborer, etc., on survey work.

3. Age.--They must have reached their twenty-first but not their fortieth birthday on the date of the close of receipt of applications. These age limits do not apply to persons granted preference because of military or naval service, except that such applicants must not have reached the retirement age.

4. Physical Ability.--Applicants must be in sound physical condition and good health, able-bodied, and capable of enduring hardships and performing severe labor under trying conditions. The commission will reject the applications of persons whose height and weight are grossly disproportionate, other measurements being considered; also the applications of persons who have flat foot, hernia, organic heart disease, or other serious physical defects which, in the opinion of the commission, would render them unfit to perform the duties of the position. Vision, without glasses, must be at least 20/40, both eyes combined, with at least 20/50 in the weaker eye.

Height and Weight.--Applicants must measure at least 5 feet 7 inches in height without boots or shoes, and weigh at least 145 pounds in ordinary clothing without overcoat or hat. The height and weight requirements will be waived for persons entitled to military preference.

Invalids and consumptives seeking light out-of-doors employment are not qualified for the work and should not apply.

(Web Edition Note: This article is merely reprinted for historical purposes. These requirements do not apply to applicants seeking employment with the National Park Service today)

While these specifications may be modified for future examinations, they offer the most dependable answer which can be given to the editor's question.

The duties of a park ranger were described in the same announcement, in the following language:

Duties.--Under general supervision, to be in responsible charge of a ranger district in a national park or monument, or of specific units of work in a ranger district, or to act as assistant to a park ranger in responsible charge. Such duties involve protection of the forests from fire; fire prevention and insect control; protection and study of scenic features, flora, and wild animal life of the park or monument; planting of fish; giving of reliable and authentic information to, and the protection of, the public visiting the park or monument; preservation of law and order; prevention of accidents; registration of visitors and issuance of automobile permits. The duties require men of strong physique, who must fight fires in summer and patrol the parks through heavy snow in winter.

Emphasis is placed on forest protection, but in practice eligibles are drawn from the park ranger list for filling vacancies in positions as custodians of national monuments. These positions have been established at the same grade and salary; that is, field grade 8, at $1860 per annum. This is done on the theory that the requirements of protection are paramount in many of the national monuments, though the duties of a custodian of a national monument involve the assumption of a larger proportion of administrative responsibility than is usual under strictly ranger assignments. In the southwstern group of national monuments alone there are twenty permanent positions which are normally filled from the park ranger register, though in only three cases is forest protection a highly important problem. Considering a certificate of eligibles now in process, a total of ten selections will have been made for the Southwestern National Monuments during a period of twelve months. This is higher than average, as the result of the establishment of new positions, but the record indicates that a given eligible's chances of appointment are enhanced by the existence of positions in which forest protection is not a primary consideration.

This phase of ranger employment is recognized in that part of the announcement quoted above which accepts college or university training in archeology, geology, history, landscape architecture, or engineering in lieu of practical experience up to twenty-four months; and experience as a seasonal park ranger for the remaining six months' experience requirement.

While the announcement sets up no minimum educational requirement, and admission to the examination might have been on practical experience alone, education approximately equivalent to high school graduation would have been necessary to enable the applicant to pass the written tests. The word equivalent is used advisedly, for actual high school graduation was not a stated requirement. In fact, most of the eligibles who have been certified from the 1937 register have been college graduates or men who have had some college or university training, and of these a large proportion had been forestry students. The author has scanned each new certificate, eagerly looking for the budding archeologist who took the park ranger examinations but the nearest was a competent young forester who had collected arrow heads when he was a boy. Those arrow heads landed him at the ruin of a prehistoric cliff dwelling - but he says he likes it.

On the job the park ranger is a man of many trades. In many, perhaps most, park areas he is a practical forester who fights fires, packs animals, builds and maintains trails and telephone lines, plants fish, protects wildlife, enforces the law, and fixes anything that needs fixing, from a broken ski harness to a dirty carburetor. He may often be isolated, but if he doesn't like people he shouldn't be a park ranger, because park visitors perennially bloom in his door-yard and they are his chief reason to be. If he cannot welcome them with an honest glad-to-see-you smile, he isn't in the tradition of his Service. He is the diplomat, the guide, and friend. He must answer the same question a thousand times, each time with courtesy and interest in the person who asks it. At the checking station, on the trail, at the campground, wherever you find him, his name might be Sam because he is the wise uncle to everybody. He's the backbone of the Service, whether he's called a ranger or a custodian. "And the rangers," most park or monument visitors will tell you, "are so nice to you!"

It is almost impossible to list all of the things a ranger may do in a day's work. He rescues people from all sorts of predicaments, ranging from funny to tragic. In Chaco Canyon National Monument, New Mexico, the custodian buries the bodies of Indians who die in the vicinity - a real service, though extra-curricular, because the Navahos fear the evil spirit which lurks in a dead body.

At Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, Custodian William Supernaugh, who came off the park ranger register less than a year ago, has charge of 330,000 acres of outstanding desert country. There is no one to help him. Cattle are still grazed on the monument, and there are a number of mining claims. He must exclude hunting and wood-cutting. He is supposed to be looking after some of the few desert big-horn sheep left in the United States; he may collide at any time with smuggling across the Mexican border; he has been helping to locate an important road; he built the little checking station with his own hands; he has been chief assistant to a well-driller; and has spent a good deal of time checking the title to private lands within the boundaries. Almost any ranger or custodian has equally diverse, though different, duties. It's no job for a one-track mind! That's about all you can say with any degree of positive definition, except that the basic idea of protection is always present.

A word may be said about the temporary or seasonal ranger positions. Temporary rangers are employed each summer at the national parks and at many national monuments to help out during the months of the greatest number of visitors. The seasonal positions usually are from three to four months' duration, cannot extend beyond six months. Seasonal ranger positions are not subject to civil service rules and regulations. Selections are made by the Secretary of the Interior from applications submitted to him. Many fine young men are attracted to these summer positions, which are open to qualified students, teachers, and others who are free during the summer months. Applicants must be at least 21 years old. No tests or physical examinations are ordinarily given, though good educational background and sound physique are requisites. The duties may be any of the duties of permanent park rangers, but the seasonal rangers usually work under the immediate supervision of experienced regular employes. The training is excellent for any young man who wishes eventually to enter the permanent ranger service. Many positions on the permanent ranger staff have been filled with eligibles who first came to the Park Service as "temporaries." Most park superintendents prefer eligibles who have had several seasons' experience as temporary rangers. It should be clearly understood, however, that seasonal experience does not in itself establish eligibility, which can be gained only through competitive civil service examination.

The park ranger is a relatively new thing under the literary sun, and he is less fabled in song and story than other rangers in different settings. But his "public" numbers fifteen million or so, and it likes him.

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Date: 17-Nov-2005