Although the core mission of all National Park Rangers is to protect park resources and visitors, the tools utilized to do the job may vary between parks. I break down the factors that impact the types of duties performed by protection rangers in to several categories; Location, Size, Sensitivity of Resources, Staffing, and Visitation.
Location and Surrounding Environment
National Park areas that are located in or near centers of population require park rangers to concentrate their efforts on people more than resources. National Parks in many ways are reflections of the communities that border them. If you are working at Independence NHP in Philly you will be dealing with typical urban problems and threats including crowd control, large scale special events, possible terrorist attack, etc. If you are working along the Mexican Border such as Organ Pipe Cactus NM you will be confronted by all the challenges and issues that accompany illegal aliens entering the country for a variety of reasons.
The types and frequency of crimes in the communities surrounding the parks also directly affect what happens within National Parks. It was my experience that the crimes committed within the park were often an extension of the local area. When dealing with violators within the park it was very common to find that these individuals also had past dealings with other local agencies.
Smaller historic sites in rural settings tend to be deceptively quiet and unthreatening. The challenge for protection rangers in these areas may be to keep their skills sharp for those perhaps infrequent times when a serious incident can occur. In very large areas such as in Alaska park rangers may not make as frequent or numerous contacts with visitors, but they are often alone without many options for back up.
Sensitivity and Value of Resources
The intensity and importance of the resource to be protected can offset the expected intensity of the job. A park ranger may be working in a small urban park but be responsible for the protection of some of our most important National Symbols such as the Liberty Bell or the Statue of Liberty. Both of these sites are among those managed by the National Park Service that appears on the lists of potential terrorist targets. Working in a park area that includes a nationally or internationally endangered species also raises the bar when looking at where a park ranger will concentrate their efforts and skills.
A park with a small protection staff will be limiting in the variety of law enforcement activities that a ranger can safely get involved in. Time for conducting more complex or long term investigations will be hampered in areas with inadequate staffing. This condition exists in most National Park areas.
A park that receives high levels of visitation normally pulls park rangers to dealing with more human related protection activities. An example would be the Blue Ridge Parkway that receives the highest number of visitors per year. Most of these visitors are concentrated on the main motor road that flows for 469 miles through the Southern Appalachians. Park rangers there are often spending their time on traffic enforcement, drunk drivers, drug violations, and other people generated crime. These at times life threatening situations make it difficult for park rangers to spend time in backcountry areas protecting natural and cultural resources. A more remote area with lower visitation may allow for park rangers to concentrate more time on resource violations such as poachers, pot and relic hunters.
What duties and tools a park ranger will use to accomplish the job of protecting resources and visitors are much more complex than this simplification. The conclusion is that the specific techniques and duties that park rangers perform can be diverse from park to park.