The Protection Ranger
by Tim Mauch, Supervisory Park Ranger
To me, no picture of the National Parks is complete unless it includes the Ranger, the Dudes, the Sagebrushers, and the savages.--Stephen Mather, Director of NPS, 1917-1929
Since the early days of 1880 when Harry Yount served as the first national park ranger in Yellowstone protecting game, rangers have always had a multitude of tasks and responsibilities which ensure that park resources and the public are safe and protected. These duties range from protecting the buffalo in Yellowstone, to preserving the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, to protecting Civil War battlefields.
Here at Richmond National Battlefield Park and Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, various duties are performed by protection rangers. Vehicle and foot patrols are conducted daily at the many park units to ensure both the protection of the resource and the public. A protection ranger who checks a park unit for possible illegal artifact digging may later in the day be involved in the testing of both intrusion and fire alarm systems at their assigned park buildings. Rangers operate radar on park owned and maintained roads to ensure the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and adjacent landowners. Traffic accidents on these roads are investigated by rangers. Stranded motorists are often assisted by rangers on park and surrounding roads. All park resources, including structures, monuments and plaques, are constantly checked for any signs of theft or vandalism. Detection, investigation, and prosecution of refuse dumping, off-road use by ATV's or dirt bikes, wildlife poaching and pollution by air and water are also some of the responsibilities of the rangers. Rangers prepare and present any resulting cases in federal, state and city court systems. Rangers are actively involved in investigating encroachments to park property and in performing access studies to determine what accessibility park neighbors have to park property. Deed reseach is completed on the land unit, then the information is issued to the U.S. Solicitor in Philadelphia for a ruling.
Protection rangers assist other park divisions in the planning and implementation of various land management strategies. These range from vegetative screening at the Cold Harbor unit, to the clearing of a wooded area at Gaines' Mill for historic scene restoration. Natural resource inventories are often conducted and sometimes prescribed burns occur in various park units as a cost-effective, environmental alternative for clearing brush in order to keep to the park's enabling legislation of restoring the area to its historical scene. Wildfires are also fought and investigated by rangers.
Protection rangers receive training to assist them in all their duties. Rangers must satisfactorily complete a basic law enforcement class conducted at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, GA. This is the same facility that trains other federal law enforcement agents such as those with the DEA, ATF, U.S. Customs and U.S. Marshals. Each year thereafter, rangers are required to pass a 40-hour law enforcement training "refresher" class. Protection rangers also participate in safety management courses conducted both in and outside the park. Rangers are trained in wildland fire fighting and participate in yearly arduous "pack tests", carrying a 45-pound pack for three miles in 45 minutes or less, to qualify for their certification. Rangers also participate in a variety of other training courses that relate to their field, such as first aid and CPR. Rangers have college backgrounds ranging from criminal justice, to natural resources management, to business management.
Unfortunately, protection ranger positions are few and far between. The competition is normally stiff for any vacancies that do arise and only the best qualified are hired. Most protection rangers begin their careers working seasonally and then obtain career or career-conditional status with the federal government, sometimes after many years.
Rapidly changing external influences including population growth, urban sprawl, encroachment,and technology advancements, require long-term strategic planning and organization by parks in order to manage and carry out the NPS mission. Richmond National Battlefield Park and Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site are no exceptions. The vital link that the protection ranger fills at the park helps accomplish the park mission today and in the future.