Saturday, November 14, 2009

Park Ranger Resource Knowledge

Dating back to the founders of the conservation and national park movements of the late 19th century, it was recognized that to be affective protectors of natural and cultural resources those charged with that responsibility needed to be well versed and knowledgeable about those resources. This need is essential even in today's world for national park rangers to accomplish their mission of protecting and preserving irreplaceable resources for future generations. Merely having a knowledge of policies, procedures, and abilities in specific skills are only part of the story. At times I see examples where the National Park Service is producing highly skilled specialists in fields such as law enforcement, administration, and maintenance that have very little base knowledge about the resources they are charged to protect.
As an example; if a park is experiencing problems with taking of plants such as ginseng, a park ranger needs to be able to identify the plant and root both in the ground and in a violators pocket. To better provide protection for the plants a ranger needs to be knowledgeable about the plant's habitat to be able to identify the areas of the park to check for criminals or monitor declining populations.
In a historic or cultural site park rangers need to know where valuable resources are located within the park and take steps to monitor and protect those high value areas. I was assigned to review operations at a significant historic area managed by the National Park Service. While riding on patrol with rangers I noted an area in the center of the park that had a low split rail fence around it and signs that said "Area Closed Keep Out." I asked each ranger what was in this wooded grove and none could specifically tell me nor had any of them walked the perimeter or entered beyond the fence. I then asked how they could tell if anyone else was going in the area and how they would be able to tell if it had been disturbed. None could really answer. In this case we were seeing a lack of knowledge of the resources by these rangers due to direction from supervisors for them to stay out of the area. What was behind this fence was the most significant archaeological site in the park, but no one seemed to know much about it.
Criminals interested in cashing in on park resources go to the locations where they will be most successful. Whether it is where the wildlife feeds, specific plants grow, or where historic military troops specifically tread. These types of criminals know their subjects and do research and monitoring of their own. Park Ranger's need to be educated and be able to predict locations where such activities will occur. They must also be able to identify the sometimes subtle damage to resources from any source, including criminals. This education must continue throughout a ranger's career. No matter what type of National Park Service area they work in, rangers must continuously educate themselves about resources in their charge.
This education does not always need to be formal training. Spending time with the resource, seeking out past research papers, reading books, and in many cases the best education can come from spending time with other rangers, partners, and neighbors familiar with the park and surrounding area.
Ask Questions, Listen, and Learn Something New Every Day -

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