How to Become a Forest Ranger

How to Become a Forest Ranger

According to the U.S. National Park Service, there are approximately 275 million visitors to national parks in the United States. Combine that number with the number of people going to state parks or other wilderness areas, and you can see the need for a position such as forest ranger. There are 84 million acres of nationally protected land and another 4.5 million acres of oceans, lakes and reservoirs that are set aside as “protected” by the National Park Service and state agencies.

These massive areas of protected wilderness require constant maintenance and protection that is mostly done by forest rangers. As of 2010, the National Park Service employed over 4,000 rangers, and the number of state employed rangers is probably double that. The requirements for becoming a forest ranger aren’t particularly strenuous, although the work itself is very physically taxing and requires a certain skill set.

There’s something uniquely romantic about the idea of a forest ranger. We think of a guy in full hiking gear, wearing a cool hat and a badge, maybe dividing his time between rescuing wayward hikers and protecting the native animal species from harm. While the real work of a forest ranger may not be quite as romantic as our ideas, people with a love for the great outdoors will find work as a forest ranger enjoyable and fulfilling.

Think of forest rangers as the police officers of the forest and other wilderness areas — they are charged with protecting the forests, the forest wildlife, and the people who visit these areas. A forest ranger is also supposed to be a highly trained professional whose duties include protecting and managing large areas of forest and woodlands. Rangers do this by patrolling the forests every day, in order to ensure that the areas they are protecting are safe. Forest rangers are first responders, responding to emergencies inside their work area. Forest rangers often have special training in emergency response, such as fire safety and basic life saving and first aid skills. Wildfires are a particular danger that forest rangers must deal with, meaning that any training as an EMT or firefighter is a good thing for a potential forest ranger.

What are the basic requirements for becoming a forest ranger?

How to Become a Forest RangerThe biggest hurdle in becoming a forest ranger is making sure you have all the requirements for work as a ranger in the state where you live. Earning a Bachelor’s degree is recommended, but not required in most circumstances. Here are some typical requirements for forest ranger jobs. Remember that most forest rangers are hired by either a state or federal government agency.

  • Only United States citizens are considered for employment by the National Park Service and most states for a position as a forest ranger.
  • There will be a drug test for just about every job as a ranger. As a ranger, you will be subject to random drug testing.
  • To be considered for employment as a forest ranger, you will have to pass a rigorous pre-employment physical. Your weight will be taken, and according to the National Park Service, no one labelled “obese” will be considered. A test of your general fitness must be passed. These tests will be repeated on an annual or biannual basis. Your training as a forest ranger will include firearm training and horseback riding, so this is a very physical job requiring a certain amount of physical prowess.
  • Holding a ranger-related degree will increase your chances of being selected for a job, but it is not required. A degree in environmental science, forestry, biology or an animal related field is really helpful and looks good on your application. A new development in forest ranger work is fluency in another language, usually Spanish.

What do forest rangers do?

Forest rangers perform a variety of duties in their parks and forests, including work in the outdoors for long periods of time in all kinds of weather. The ideal candidate for a job as a forest ranger has the following characteristics:

  • A love of the outdoors
  • Physical fitness
  • Management skills and experience
  • Experience working with animals
  • A cool head under pressure
  • Critical thinking and calmness in a crisis situation
  • Licensure with firearms — most forest rangers carry firearms on the job

How do I find a job as a forest ranger?

Once you have completed any education you plan to pursue (such as a degree in environmental science or biology), and after any specialized training you do to make your application stronger (weapons training, foreign language classes), it is time to start looking for work as a ranger. At the federal level, forest rangers usually work for the U.S. Forestry Service or the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. At the state level, the entity that hires forest rangers changes by state and by job.

Unfortunately, working as a forest ranger will never make you wealthy. Average starting salaries hover around $30,000, with most rangers earning anywhere from $25,000 – $40,000 dollars a year. However, since these positions are usually filled by a government agency, you can expect full health and retirement benefits.

If you enjoy life outdoors, love working around animals and people alike, and don’t mind that you’ll never be wealthy, you should consider a career as a forest ranger. The above tips pretty much cover the basics of becoming a forest ranger, though any training and experience in a similar field will go far to prepare you for work as a ranger.

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