Monday, January 31, 2011

A Question About Seasonal Employee Rehire Authority

I received the following question from a reader:

I emailed you a while back about becoming a park ranger.  I had another question that I have been thinking about for a while.  Do temporary park rangers normally get rehired at the same park the following year during the peak season, or when your 6 months or so is up is that the end of the line for that job?  Thanks for your time in helping me in my pursuit to become a park ranger!

In most instances a temporary seasonal employee that worked the previous season in a National Park will be offered the same position the next year under rehire authority.  There is no guarantee or requirement for a supervisor to rehire a returning employee. But if there were no problems with employee's performance the previous year, the money is in the budget for the upcoming season, and the position still exists there is a very good chance a person would be offered the opportunity to come back.

As I said there is a good chance of getting the same position again.  Rehire can not be used to hire someone for a different position, location within a park, or pay grade.  So if you aspire to another seasonal job within the same park you would need to apply and compete for it.  An example that is fairly common is when a person works their first season in a park as a campground or entrance station fee collector.  During the winter they go to a seasonal law enforcement academy and want to go back to the park as a commissioned seasonal ranger.  The individual would have to apply and compete for the commissioned position or could be rehired again without competition as a fee collector.

The main negative to this way of life is the sense of the unknown of budgets and whims of supervisors.  Rehire Status only gives you the ability to be considered for the same job without competition.  It is not a rehire right to a job.  It leaves you uncertain of your future at the end of a season.

In most every case if a seasonal does a good job it is to the advantage of the supervisor to hire them back.  It saves on training and orienting a person to a job.  It also gives the supervisor a known entity to start their visitor season off on a positive foot.

I highly recommend that prior seasonal employees keep in touch with the supervisor or human resources office of the park where they worked the previous year so that they can be kept up to date on the chance of work for the coming season.  As a supervisor I would recommend to seasonal employees who worked for me that would have rehire status for the next year  apply through the regular competitive process for jobs just to make sure all bases are covered.  It is never a good idea to put all your hopes in one bucket.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Park Rangers and Stake Outs Part I

Waking up on these cold winter mornings reminds me of the fact that no matter what you are told it is not natural to be awake to see the sunrise.  I agree that a sunrise can be a beautiful sight with the first false dawn light followed by a brightening of the horizon and then the first glimpse of the sun revealing the start of a new day.  A good sunrise can be the source of inspiration for poetry and renewing of the soul.  I guess this all has been spoiled for me by the times I had to witness sunrises after sitting up all night on stake outs while attempting to remain unseen in the hopes of catching humans involved in illegal activities.

A stake out operation is utilized when law enforcement officers have identified a location where crimes are occurring and they want to catch the culprit in the act of that crime.  It is can be a very labor and time intensive and times an expensive endeavor that can continue over long periods of time.  Movies and television depict stake outs as being conducted from hotel rooms or apartments with the officers using sophisticated recording and viewing equipment exchanging quick repartee and eating pizza.  In the real world of a park ranger if you are lucky you will be in a support vehicle some distance away from the actual stake out site while the less fortunate ranger lies in wait in the woods either during the winter freezing or in the summer covered in sweat and insects for hours.  Physical activity can be very restricted since any movement in a woodland environment will give away your location and either blow the operation or place you in danger.

As a National Park Ranger charged with protecting park resources and visitors we often had to resort to stake outs in attempts to catch criminals in their natural habitat committing their nefarious acts.  Crimes that called for stake outs ranged from wildlife and plant poachers, drug dealers, marijuana growers, auto burglars (or car clouters as they are known to rangers), sexual predators, relic hunters, drag racers, and vandals.  Organizing and conducting stake outs took time and were not always productive.  I would say that 80% or more of such operations did not result in catching anyone the first time.  

More later:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow Results In Postponement of Appearance

Due to falling heavy snow in the Lexington, Virginia area, the talk I was scheduled to give at Washington and Lee University has been postponed.   The University is going into a rare shutdown this afternoon due to the weather.  A new date will be set for the Spring or Fall.

Walmart Decides Not To Build On The Wilderness Battlefield

In a bit of surprise the Walmart Corporation has decided to cancel plans to build a new Supercenter on part of the Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County Virginia.  The property presently owned by Walmart is part of the ground where the Civil War battle occurred in May of 1864 and is not currently under protection of the National Park Service.  This area does adjoin the Wilderness Battlefield area of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and the development of the store would have destroyed the historic scene and resulted in vast increases in traffic and related light, sound, and air pollution to the immediate area.

Although Walmart was able to obtain all necessary legal approval for the project, several groups were still challenging the construction in court.  Today Walmart announced the decision to take the moral high ground of public interest over corporate profit and cancel their plans for this project.

Congratulation to Walmart for taking this stand to help preserve the history of our Nation.

I first brought this to readers attention with a post I wrote in 2009:

For more information on today's move by Walmart go to:

Great New Source of Valuable Information for Park Rangers

Do you work as a park ranger in a non-law enforcement capacity?

Do you work for a land management agency where you do not have law enforcement authority but are still expected to enforce minor violations by visitors?

Do you aspire to be a park ranger or perhaps are looking to work your fist season in a park this summer?

Writing as Ranger J a State Park Ranger with 35 years of law enforcement experience including criminal justice education is now working as a non-law enforcement authorized field ranger.  He has started a blog with the purpose of passing on tips based on his experience that are not normally included in non-law enforcement training of employees.  His writings are quick, efficient, and pass on valuable information that could help keep park employees of any discipline safe out there.

I highly recommend you check it out at:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rate Of Law Enforcement Officers Killed Up In 2011

Authorities are concerned about the number of law enforcement officers that have been killed in just 25 days of 2011.  Eleven officers have already given their lives in the line of duty since January 1st.  There is concern from some that the number of killings is not a coincidence.

Take a look at this article from Fox News on line for more details.

Comments From A Reader

A recent reader of A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks had this to say on Facebook;

This book has really opened my eyes to the duties of a park ranger and has given me so much motivation to pursue the career of my dreams. Thank you very much for sharing your life lessons and experiences with the world.

You can get a copy of the book from the sources listed in the right hand column of this page.

"A Park Ranger's Life" at Washington and Lee University

I will be at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia on Wednesday January 26 to talk to the Outing Club about National Parks and a career as a park ranger.  The event will begin at 7pm in the Elrods Commons.  The event is open to the public.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Interagency Responses to Emergencies

A reader recently shared their experience working as a park ranger responding to a multi-agency search for a drowning victim.  Although this story may sound outrageous to some, it is often seen in areas where numerous agencies share jurisdiction, are understaffed, and strong personalities are involved.

Well, I must say, I witnessed some interesting stuff this evening. Got off at 5 and headed down to the ………….park to assist in a search for a drowning victim. Yeah, it wasn't pretty. I like to think we work together as a team, but from what a friend of mine experienced before I got there was total opposite. Let's just say they had it covered we'll let you know what we find when we find it. State official saying this to a federal ranger. I just controlled the crowd and assisted the victims family.

Thanks for sharing your experience. During my career there were times where a conflict between agencies when responding to emergencies would arise. Nothing was worse than a dispute about authority or responsibility on the scene when a life may be on the line.

The focus should always be on the well being and fate of the victim. At times it is better to back down to others and get the mission accomplished and later work out conflicts and protocols.

I have found that such situations often result in ineffective and wasted efforts by responders at times impeding the accomplishment of the mission and increasing the stress and cost placed on individual agencies.  If there were hard feelings and questions as to the efficiency of the operation, agency leaders should take steps to prevent such conflicts in the future. 

Several tools can be used to prevent such situations.

Advance planning

Application and participation in the Incident Command System

Joint training

Offering assistance to other agencies with their emergencies

Offering  or planning to make use of these tools following a debriefing on an incident will go a long way toward establishing interagency cooperation and your own individual and agency credibility.

Responsibility for an emergency is something that cannot be passed on to other agencies if you have jurisdiction where it is occurring.  If an on scene agency is making a muck of the operations, you need to be able to diplomatically if not forcefully interject yourself to keep the mission on track.

In the incident above I do commend the writer for not getting his nose out of joint and stepping in to control the crowd and deal with the victim’s family.  These are two important jobs that often get overlooked in the heat of the moment during many emergencies.

In conclusion I recommend the following:

Training and certification in the Incident Command System

Formal Interagency Agreements to adhere to the Incident Command System including what is termed “Unified Command” between agencies.

For those unfamiliar with the Incident Command System, There are many websites that explain the concepts and structure.  Just Google ICS for more information. 

A group of exhausted searchers after a successful all night operation on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Recent Articles In “National Parks Magazine”

The winter 2011 issue of National Parks Magazine as always has several articles of interest to fans of National Parks.  Two articles are on topics which I have written about previously on this blog.

“The Spice of Life” tells the tale of the ginseng plant and the threats to its existence in our National Parks.

A second article entitled “In Good Conscience” relays the not often told story of the role played by Conscientious Objectors in our National Parks during World War II.

Check out previous blog posts on these topics at:

Plant Theft In Our National Parks   Sept. 3, 2009

Rangers Catch More Plant Thieves   Sept. 23, 2009

Or use the search window to the right and type in “ginseng” for additional information

For a blog post on Conscientious Objectors check out:

Overlooked Story of The Blue Ridge Parkway  June 7, 2010

Friday, January 7, 2011

Park Rangers And Land Protection

Many National Park Service units are surrounded by encroaching development.  As urban sprawl spreads homes, shopping centers, and timbering operations encroach right up to park boundaries, park rangers need to be alert to detect threats to protected areas.  When I go back to visit Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP where I worked in the late 1970s I do not recognize many of the areas I protected that were once surrounded by woods and farms replaced with shopping centers and subdivisions.  Many park boundaries are remote and with ever decreasing numbers of staff available to patrol boundaries it has become common for adjacent land owners to inadvertently and in some cases purposely impinge on park lands.  In some instances homes have been built with part of the foundation on National Park Service lands.  People expand their back yards, build parking lots, build more conveniently located driveways, and dump trash and lawn debris on adjacent Park Service lands.

In scenic areas home owners cut trees to open the views from their property.  At the Wintergreen Resort in Virginia trees on National Park Service property have been cut down or the tops cut out to open views for vacation homes.  This has been done illegally by individual home owners in the past and much of the work has been obviously done by professional trees workers.  As of this date the Park Service has not been able to gather enough information and evidence to convince the US Attorney’s Office to file charges.  In a similar more visible case on the C&O Canal a number of years ago trees were cleared on Park land to open the view for an expensive home.  The owner was charged for the damage and not only had to pay the cost of replacing the trees but was assessed the value of increased value to his property by the view being improved.  The reaction of most adjacent property owners when confronted about these violations is “who cares.”  I heard this response several times during my career.

It takes time and personnel to properly patrol, post, and review boundaries in our National Parks.  As Park Rangers are overloaded with other duties, boundaries and other lands protection issues are being displaced.

More on issues of access roads and crossing of park lands later.

Setting For A Park Ranger Ghost Story

In the book A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks the chapter entitled “The World of the Supernatural” tells the story of a ghostly experience I had early in my career at Hampton House National Historic Site.  The story centers on a two week period that I had to spend in what is believed by many to be a haunted house. 

Besides ghosts Hampton House has a long and interesting history.  It enjoys a uniqueness in that the Ridgley family who built what was then the largest home in North America in the 1790s lived there until it was sold to the National Park Service in the 1947s.  Hampton started as a working plantation and iron works and later became a farm for racing horses.

The National Park Service has recently made available a virtual museum of Hampton House.  You can go to this site to learn more about an interesting part of our American History and view where I spent one unexplainable and nerve racking night.

Hampton House National Historic Site  (photo courtesy of the NPS)