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Can a Felon Become a Park Ranger?

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There are job resources available for felons after prison as many employers have found that felons make good employees. They may have to learn new skills or start a different career. Some felons may have an interest in working in a natural, outdoor environment like a National Park.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a park ranger.

  • What Is a Park Ranger?
  • What Education/Training Does a Park Ranger Need?
  • How Much Does a Park Ranger Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What Is a Park Ranger?

A park ranger is a professional whose work involves conservation and use of state or national park resources. A park ranger is employed by the National Park Service (NPS) in either a protection/law enforcement or cultural/interpretive capacity.

A park ranger is responsible for performing general park duties, which include:

  • Interpretive services
  • Visitor protection
  • Visitor services
  • Resource management
  • Operating procedures
  • Programs and activities

The National Park Service employs some park rangers as certified law enforcement officers. They also employ cultural/interpretive park rangers who are responsible for informing visitors about the park and ensuring that all visitors are safe and have an enjoyable park experience.

As peace or law-enforcement officers, park rangers are expected to:

  • Patrol park grounds
  • Enforce park regulations
  • Write reports
  • Make arrests for crimes
  • Conduct investigations
  • Perform search and rescue activities
  • Assist in wildfire suppression
  • Perform rescue missions for stranded mountain climbers or lost hikers
  • Provide emergency medical assistance
  • Perform traffic control

In an educational or interpretive capacity, park rangers are typically responsible for:

  • Understanding and enforcing the park’s rules and regulations
  • Giving private and group tours to visitors
  • Preparing and giving park lectures for schools and other community groups
  • Preparing exhibits and informational materials
  • Developing conservation programs
  • Leading nature tours
  • Studying wildlife behavior
  • Monitoring air and water quality

In order to be successful as a park ranger, someone must have many essential traits, including:

  • Willingness to help provide positive experiences to visitors
  • Interest in preserving nature
  • Critical-thinking skills to reach sound conclusions
  • Decision-making skills to use their experience for others’ safety
  • Management skills to work with forest and conservation workers
  • Physical stamina to walk long distances
  • Communication skills to interact with other park workers and the public

What Education/Training Does a Park Ranger Need?

The minimum qualifications to become a park ranger in a security/protective role include:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • The completion of a background/security investigation
  • A state-issued driver’s license
  • A pre-employment medical exam and drug test
  • A Physical Efficiency Battery (PEB)

The job description for a law enforcement ranger clearly outlines the job’s minimum qualifications, which include:

  • Being at least 21 years old
  • Currently holding (or having held) for at least three years a National Park Service Seasonal law-enforcement commission or the equivalent
  • Having successfully completed a Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program during the last three years
  • Possessing certification/licensure as an EMT, paramedic, AEMT, or park medic

Candidates for law enforcement ranger jobs are evaluated in the following areas:

  • Criminal law
  • Use of force and self-defense
  • Oral communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Writing

Minimum qualifications for park ranger jobs in cultural/interpretive work include:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • The completion of a background/security investigation
  • A state-issued driver’s license

Candidates for cultural park ranger jobs are evaluated in the following areas:

  • Oral communication
  • Written communication
  • Interpreter/visitor education
  • Informal visitor contacts/customer service
  • Facility operation

Someone wanting to become a park ranger must meet a minimum age requirement which is 18 in some states and 21 in others.

A successful applicant typically has at least a bachelor’s degree in a field such as:

  • Park and recreation management
  • Conservation
  • Botany
  • Geology
  • Wildlife management
  • Forestry

Law-enforcement degrees are common because a park ranger may serve as a commissioned law-enforcement officer.

School programs related to law enforcement include:

  • Criminal justice
  • Police science
  • Criminology
  • Criminal justice administration
  • Public safety

All states, as well as the National Park Service, have strict pre-employment processes in place which are designed to ensure job candidates are highly qualified. Most state parks departments, as well as the NPS, have thorough background investigation requirements, as well as requirements for a medical examination, a psychological evaluation, and a polygraph examination.

How Much Does a Park Ranger Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are approximately 3,800 park rangers in the United States. The median annual wage for park rangers was $58,700 in 2016. The median salary is the salary at which half of the rangers earned more than that amount and half earned less.

Annual earnings will depend on several factors, including:

  • Park agency (federal or state)
  • Size of the park and nature of the job
  • Park ranger position (cultural or protective park ranger)
  • Education and experience

This occupation is expected to show a 6% growth by 2026.

An Opportunity for Felons?

The minimum requirements to become a park ranger as it relates to felons include:

  • A good moral history
  • No convictions for serious crimes

If an applicant is considered, he or she will continue through additional steps in the application process, which include:

  • Interview
  • Background investigation
  • Drug test
  • Physical and psychological evaluation

While the requirements for felons to become a park ranger differ somewhat depending on the state, there are important regulations. These criteria will be considered as to whether a crime relates to the occupation of a ranger:

  • Nature and seriousness of the crime
  • Relationship of the crime to the duties of a park ranger
  • Extent and nature of past criminal activity
  • Age when the felony was committed
  • Conduct and work history before and after the conviction
  • Evidence of rehabilitation
  • Other evidence of fitness, including letters of recommendation

It is important to be honest when applying for a job as a park ranger. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check, this constitutes fraud and is punishable. It is a crime to falsify an application which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful as a park ranger it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already viewed with negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a park ranger. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It is a significant challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon that wants to become a park ranger. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs, rehabilitation, or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding as a park ranger.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a park ranger with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become a Park Ranger?”

  1. Can you become a park ranger if you’ve been convicted for a felony possession and intent to distribute narcotics charges

  2. My grandson received a DUI five years ago but has shown an interest in becoming a park/forest ranger. Can he become such with a DUI showing on his record ?

  3. If a soldier gets an Article 15, but is allowed to stay in the Military to serve his 3 years, does this mean he will not be accepted as an applicant as a Forest Ranger?


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