You are here

Too Many Retirements Impacting National Park Service Law Enforcement Ranks


Too many retirements and not enough new hires are behind the drop in law enforcement rangers for the National Park Service.

According to Park Service officials in Washington, D.C., the agency hopes to boost law-enforcement personnel numbers through existing recruiting efforts. However, in the meantime parks are expected to assist each other when short-term staffing issues arise, said Park Service spokeswoman Linda Fryer.

"The recruiting efforts will address, at least in part, the decline in law enforcement rangers at the National Park Service,” she said via email on Monday.

Officials at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility raised the issue of declining L.E. ranger ranks late last month, pointing out that Park Service figures showed that during the decade spanning 2005 through 2014 the number of permanent law enforcement rangers in the National Park System dropped by nearly 14 percent (from 1,548 to 1,322) despite both an increase in the number of park units and a substantial hike in annual visitors, campers and hikers.

The drop in seasonal L.E. rangers was even steeper, PEER reported. From 2006 (the first year full statistics were available) to 2014 there were nearly 27 percent (671 to 492) fewer seasonal rangers while “Peak seasonals” covering the peak month of August fell 7 percent (385 to 356) over that period.

On Monday, Ms. Friar said there were 1,329 permanent law enforcement rangers, and 425 seasonals, at the end of July. Not included in those tallies were U.S. Park Police numbers.

President Obama, in his fiscal 2016 budget request, asks that $2 million be appropriated specifically so the Park Service could hire additional law enforcement seasonal rangers for next year. If approved by Congress, this would come on top of $2.2 million that was approved this past year for seasonal law enforcement rangers.

Budget officers say 200 additional law enforcement rangers could be hired for FY16 compared to FY14 levels if Congress approves the president's request. However, the agency also would need an increase in funding to cover costs tied to health insurance for those seasonal rangers. Otherwise, the Park Service would have to find a way to absorb those costs within existing appropriations, something that could negatively impact the number of seasonals the agency hires.


The NPS implies that there is an increasing number of retirements causing this situation. This would not be correct. There is no such demographic crisis in NPS law enforcement. The situation is caused by the NPS failing to follow its own policy of "no net loss" of law enforcement personnel. It's also important to note that the DOI once recommended eliminating seasonal law enforcement due to multiple high risks. The NPS talked them out of it, but the risks remain. The NPS is doing what WalMart does -- looking for cheap labor without benefits instead of paying for full-time employees.

In my park, there are not enough protection rangers -- the ones that do law enforcement but also emergency medicine, search and rescue, fire management, etc. These are multi-skilled professionals but they are not simply "law enforcement" rangers.

That said, and I have fought hard for funding and support (to no avail) from our regional office for additional resources for more of them, the no net loss "policy" was absurd from the beginning. Are protection rangers always MORE important than biologists? Always more important than skilled maintenance workers? Always more important than the people who manage the park's budget or web site? These folks are also essential to the parks. The logical end to a no net loss policy for commissioned rangers is a fully staffed protection division and virtually no one to do anything else in the park. How does that further "conserv[ing] unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations?"

We need to stop eating our own children. It should not be LE vs all other programs. We need adequate staffing to do the entire job, not just one part of it. And while I believe superintendents need some discretion, we also need to be transparent and accountable for our decisions. In these tight budget times, I have no problem opening my books as well as my decision making process for why I prioritize one vacant position over another when I don't have the funds to fill both.

James Longstreet
A National Park Superintendent

This isn't limited to the NPS. My own (former) agency has been experiencing the same thing since about 2005, as have many others. Those of us who were hired in the 'boom years' of the late 70s/early 80s are now reaching retirement age and getting the hell out of Dodge and we are not being replaced. Deteriorating salaries and working conditions make the US Govt an unfavorable work place these days. It used to be that people congratulated you when you got a Federal job as it meant good pay and good working conditions. Now they tell young people to just 'stick around for a couple of years for your resume, then move on to better pay'.

In my personal experience and opinion, this is a problem not restricted to LE or even to NPS. It is a universal concern. Succession planning is an ongoing vision of the future which involves management investing time and expense into the process. In the all too common 'brush fire' management mode -- go put out this brush fire over here, then go put out that bush fire over there, then go home for the day and tomorrow start looking for the next brush fire -- training, apprenticing, equipping, and all that is involved in proper succession planning just seems too much like a luxury. In fact, it is how the organization will best survive.

As one with experience here on the inside at GCNP for the last 3 years, I can attest that you are sadly, dead on.  .   .      .

Yes having the right amount of people available to respond to crime, fight your fires, and provide emergency medical care will always be more important than the park's website. Sorry 

While there are a lot of Rangers retiring, this is but one element of a crisis caused mostly by both poor management and inadequate attention by Congress.  The NPS always seems to have higher priorities than its LE field personnel, or to its committments such as "No Net Loss".  This includes maintaining a top-heavy organizational structure in which many managers seem to have little to do except critique the employees below them, and report to their own supervisors.  Meanwhile, as noted above, a shrinking number of multi-discipline LE field rangers give their all to maintain Park resources and keep visitors reasonably safe.  If I was starting my career today, it would not be with the Natonal Park Service, an agency with an urgent need for a complete overhaul.  This contention is supported by objective employee surveys, including "The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government", which give the NPS very poor and declining ratings.

Thank you Mr. James Longstreet. I agree, "no net loss" is a bad policy, you lay it out nicely. I retired after 37 years as a NPS Ranger, LE/Fire. Still occasionally get employed as an emergency hire for fire operations. In Yosemite National Park, I worked for 10 superintendents, all were ethical and qualified for their positions., I was closer to some than others, but that is human.  There was never enough money in my 37 year tenure to staff all functions to optimal levels, through some years were better than others. My own experience was that much went into budget requests, great consideration was given and sometimes tough decisions made. Thank you for your efforts Mr. Longstreet, I think you are right on. 

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide