Park rangers, also known as conservation scientists, are environmental specialists who work in conjunction with landowners to observe and maintain untouched natural landscapes. Another interchangeable job title for park rangers is forester, the term most often used to describe men and women who tirelessly monitor and protect the state-owned natural resources of Canada and the United States.
The landowners that conservation scientists work alongside include the local government entities of provinces or states, federal governments, and private landowners as well. State and provincial authorities may employ conservation scientists in order to combat the ever-present threat of wild fires, or municipal governments may employ conservation scientists to protect reserved parklands from erosion. Private landowners may similarly hire foresters on a contractual basis to provide detailed recommendations on a wide range of land conservation efforts.
Many different variations of the job description of park rangers exist, but primarily speaking, park rangers fall into one of two broad categories: soil and water conservationists and range managers. Soil and water conservationists provide specific advice to landowners on issues related to irrigation and overall water quality. Range managers, on the other hand, have a more broad range of responsibilities such as providing educational services to the visitors of national parks.
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The job duties of foresters may include protecting unspoiled natural resources from pollution, improving the conservation efforts of large forest areas, and managing the day-to-day operations of national parks. From the perspective of federally employed foresters, the most important job duty is maintaining the environmental integrity of natural resources. For example, foresters may ensure that the soil quality of alluvial river deposits remains within government standards, particularly when protected lands lie near an urban population.
Conservationists employed by ranchers and farmers often provide practical advice on how to improve the agricultural efficiency of a landscape by deploying objective scientific methods. These objective methods may include conducting a slew of tests in order to extrapolate the progression of land erosion. For ranchers in particular, water quality is a major concern since the survival of livestock and wildlife depends upon having a clean source of water nearby.
From an operational standpoint, park rangers may have to supervise the job responsibilities of forestry technicians and natural park workers. It is not uncommon for one senior conservation scientist to oversee the duties of a team of younger conservation scientists. Specifically, senior conservation scientists may defer the planning and execution of a controlled wildlife burn to subordinates, providing the final authorization to clear the land after a thorough inspection.
Preventing wildfires is arguably the most important job duty of park rangers. Every year thousands of square miles of open rangelands fall victim to the ravages of wildfires. Completely eliminating the risk of wildfires is an impossible feat, but park rangers can deploy a number of strategies to mitigate the risk to urban populations. These strategies may consist of clearing fire-prone areas with herbicides or bulldozers.
The job duties of foresters who work in conjunction with private landowners may include reviewing or negotiating the terms of contracts with forestry companies. Harvesting trees is a very common practice in the western regions of the United States and Canada. Foresters monitor the health of reserved forests by mitigating the risk of tree diseases or large insect infestations.
The top-ranked degree programs in the United States and Canada are from the University of British Columbia, the University of Washington, and Oregon State University. Not surprisingly, the best schools that feature degree programs in forestry and environmentally conservation lie very near large areas of protected forests.
Degree programs fit for a career as a park ranger may include bachelor's degree programs in forestry or natural science. The top schools listed above provide education in both areas of study. Graduate programs in forestry are appropriate for supervisory postilions in national parks or large private tree harvesting companies.
Other than a strong educational background, careers in conservation science require high analytical skills in addition to the ability to interpret a large amount of technical data. The ability to communicate effectively with government entities and park visitors is an indispensable skill of a successful conservation scientist. Lastly, careers in conservation science require individuals to have an unabashed love for nature itself.
Park rangers work primarily in forests. However, park rangers may monitor the land quality of marshlands or large riverbeds as well. As such, traveling deep into a wide variety of wilderness is not uncommon.
Park rangers may work in isolated research facilities that provide a base of operations within the largest parks of North America such as Yellowstone National Park. These remote facilities may contain fully functioning laboratories that allow conservation scientists to perform tests on-site. In other settings, park rangers may have to coordinate with researchers at a nearby major university in order to find solutions to regionally specific problems.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, conservation scientists in the United States can expect a median annual income of approximately $57,000. The statistics for Canadian park rangers fall within a similar range.
The top 10% of all park rangers earn as much as $90,000, but these high-paying positions require many years of experience as a conservation specialist. The scope of a park ranger's responsibilities relates directly to the compensation statistics as well.