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Know the West

Goodbye, ranger; hello, cop

  Jim Stiles’ article about the state park ranger who shot a tourist over a camping fee hit a nerve (HCN, 10/17/05: Blood spills over a $14 camping fee). You see, I’ve been reading and re-reading the new National Park Service’s management policies draft.

In the past, as Stiles said, rangers used to range. To get to know a piece of land was the greatest reward of rangering and led to a kind of dedication to place that I believe is the reason park rangers were not ordinarily perceived as cops. Rangers cared enough about their place to pick up cigarette butts, even on their time off.

The new draft management policies, among several other grievous errors, are poised to remove rangering from the park ranger and leave him as nothing more than a traffic cop, fee collector, and paramedic. Before the new draft, the NPS explicitly required its law enforcement officers to participate in a variety of duties to fulfill the direction of Congress that "park law enforcement should be viewed as one function of a broad program of visitor and resource protection." The new draft policy no longer suggests (let alone requires) that law enforcement rangers ever get out of their patrol cars except to arrest people.

These men and women will no longer feel they’ve been "paid in sunsets" or that rangering is the highest calling of the park ranger or that their park is a special place deserving the dedication of their hearts and souls. Goodbye, park ranger; hello, cop.

This is but one of many pernicious changes in the new draft that will fundamentally change the character of the National Park Service. The new draft policies are open to public comment until mid-February at http://parkplanning.nps.gov under "Washington Office."

Name and location withheld