If you want to become a forest ranger, you will need the right formal education. It will be necessary to go through the proper steps if this is the career path you desire.
Before choosing to go down this path, make sure you understand what a forest ranger does. Let’s look at the job duties of this career and the steps needed to become a forest ranger.
Job Duties of a Forest Ranger
One of the most common things a forest ranger does is respond to a manmade or natural threat in the forest or rangeland. For example, they perform rescue missions, search missions, and combat forest fires with firefighters. It’s also common for forest rangers to patrol forest areas in vehicles or on foot.
Along with these common job duties, a forest ranger may also help ensure individuals are in compliance with state law when it comes to camping, hunting, and fishing. Rangers help to educate the public when it comes to enjoying the forest without harming it. They might speak at schools or to scouting groups.
Some of the other duties of a forest ranger include:
- Planting and monitoring seedlings
- Spraying pesticides on shrubs and trees
- Counting trees during a forest examination
- Loading cut trees into trucks
- Driving specific vehicles, including snowmobiles, trucks, skidders, and ATVs
- Improving hiking trails
- Collecting GPS data
If you want to become a forest ranger, you can expect these are some of the job duties. However, there are several more you may also need to perform, depending on your location.
How to Become a Forest Ranger in 6 Steps
Step #1 – Complete High School
Before you can apply to become a forest ranger, you must complete high school. This is necessary so that you can get into a college and get your degree. Without a high school diploma or a GED, you will not be able to become a forest ranger.
During high school, it can be helpful to work at a local park, campground, or in another job out in nature. This can help you discern if this is the right career path for you and start gaining experience.
Make sure you do well in high school and on the SAT or ACT. With high scores, you can get into a better college. In addition, a study program for the SAT or ACT can help you score higher on the test.
Step #2 – Get Your Bachelor’s Degree
While a bachelor’s degree isn’t always required, nearly all forest rangers get one. Some will only get an associate degree, while a small percentage will get a master’s degree.
Your bachelor’s degree should be in natural resource management or forestry. The right degree can go a long way to ensuring you can land a job as a forest ranger.
If you want to go to one of the best colleges or universities for this career field, consider the following options:
- Purdue University
- Southern New Hampshire University
- Liberty University
- Oregon State University
- University of Washington
- Louisiana State University
These schools all offer excellent programs for those planning to become forest rangers. In addition, Penn Foster also offers a Career Diploma in Wildlife/Forestry Conservation. This can be rather helpful if you want to fast-track your path to becoming a forest ranger.
Step #3 – Complete an Internship
During college, you will likely have the opportunity to take on an internship. In addition, the U.S. Forest Service offers some online training programs, and they may also offer internship opportunities.
Choosing the right internship can help lead you to the career you desire. Make sure you take the time to consider the options. Working as a part-time intern or as a seasonal intern can give you the experience you need.
Step #4 – Pass All the Common Requirements
You must be a U.S. citizen to work for the National Park Service and most State Parks. It’s also likely you will go through a drug test. Forest rangers will likely need to complete a pre-employment physical, too.
A test of your fitness will be performed if you want to work as a forest ranger. Commonly, you will have to pass a fitness test once or twice a year.
Step #5 – Complete Forest Ranger Training
Most forest ranger positions will require you to complete the right training. This may include gaining skills, such as:
- Survival Skills – You will need to learn traditional survival skills out in the wilderness. This may include foraging, evading dangerous wildlife, building a shelter, and starting a fire.
- Firearm Skills – Forest rangers are much like law enforcement officers. You will need to know how to handle firearms and use them safely.
- Horseback Riding – In some cases, you will also need to train to ride a horse properly.
There are many other skills you may need to develop. Forest rangers should be able to work on their own and should be very physically fit.
Step #6 – Work as a Forest Technician
Most forest rangers will start as forest technicians. This type of position includes working with plants, maintaining facilities, enforcing regulations, repairing trails, and suppressing fires. You will also be able to administer permits for special uses, college dates about the environment, and deliver community education.
Forest Ranger vs. Park Ranger
You might consider becoming a forest ranger or a park ranger. While these two jobs seem interchangeable, they really aren’t. They do have some similarities, however.
Both will work to keep park guests safe and preserve the natural areas. Park rangers may be law enforcement officers in some areas. Commonly, forest rangers are law enforcement officials.
Park rangers are more likely to work as guides. In addition, they commonly handle educational services for park guests. While a forest ranger may also handle these duties, it’s less common.
Forest rangers may work for National Parks, State Parks or perform conservation duties in remote places. Park rangers will almost always work for an actual park. Sometimes, forest rangers work for private agencies or even for private companies.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Forest Ranger
How much does a forest ranger make, on average?
The average salary for a forest ranger is about $37K per year. It’s a bit higher for those working in a specialty. Your location and the actual job will likely determine your annual salary.
Where do forest rangers work?
State and national parks will employ most forest rangers. It’s common to work in the larger national forests throughout the country. It’s also possible for rangers to work in larger county parks, but less common.
It’s also common for forest rangers to work for local government agencies. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture employs forest rangers, also.
Most forest rangers will work outside during many different types of weather. As a result, they may be isolated away from others during their job duties.
What type of hours do forest rangers work?
Most forest rangers work full-time, regular business hours. However, some positions are seasonal or may require extended hours. For example, fire response forest rangers may work nights and weekends. It’s also common to work overtime during busier times of the year.
Is the career of a forest ranger growing?
Yes. Forest rangers are expected to grow by about 3% over the next few years. So while it’s a growing career field, it’s growing slower than the average of all occupations.
While forest rangers may not be growing very fast, the job title of forest fire inspector and prevention specialists is growing rather fast. This type of job falls into the same class as forest rangers, and you might qualify for it with the same type of college degree.
What type of person makes a good forest ranger?
Before you decide to become a forest ranger, it’s good to have a great love for the outdoors. You should also be very physically fit and have a cool head under pressure. Forest rangers often enjoy working with animals and know how to shoot a gun.
It’s common for this type of position to be best suited for critical thinkers with a calm personalities. However, if you also have good leadership and management skills, you’re well-suited for this career.
Do I need a degree to become a forest ranger?
No, but it’s very helpful to earn at least an associate degree. About 40% of forest rangers have a bachelor’s degree, with a small percentage getting a master’s degree. Some have an associate degree, and more forest rangers have a degree of some sort than no degree at all.
Getting a bachelor’s degree is best if you want to land the best forest ranger jobs.
Related Learning Opportunities
How To Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator
Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator doesn't require a degree, but having a bachelor's degree in biology or ecology is preferred by most jobs.
What does an Environmental Scientist do?
Most environmental scientists will work to assess the environmental stability and health of a specific area.
How To Become a Storm Chaser
A stormchaser can advance their career with a bachelor's degree in meteorology or atmospheric science, and hands-on experience.
How To Become a Game Warden
A game warden needs to finish high school, earn a college degree in a related field, and complete all necessary training before starting a career.
Outdoor Careers: Enjoy a Job Working Outside
Maybe you're not the type to sit in an office all day. There are many outdoor careers you can choose from. What would you do to stay outside?
How To Become a Mechanic
Do you enjoy working on engines? With the right training, you can become a mechanic and make a decent yearly salary.