Park Ranger Training Program
Linton Daily Citizen Article
Dear Beth Clark:
In December of 2003, I graduated from Indiana State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology. After finishing my degree, I moved from Linton in late December to attend the Park Ranger Training Program at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. As a prerequisite to the Park Ranger Training Program, I completed an 80-hour Wilderness First Responder course to have some emergency medical service training.
The Park Ranger Training Program, directed by Kathy Dodd, Assistant Law Enforcement Specialist with the National Park Service, is a National Park Service approved seasonal law enforcement academy. The standards for this academy are set by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) out of Glynco, GA. There are approximately seven programs of this nature in the country, and most of the programs only accept a maximum of 25 students a semester.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I entered into the program. The first day of class, January 12, 2004, was really intimidating. There were students from all over the nation there to attend the program. All 23 students in the program wore the same uniform and were expected to live up to the standards that our director made very clear on the first day.
I can only think of a few explanations as to why I chose the program in Arizona. I guess the director of the program had me sold after a few e-mails back and forth. He advised me, although no guarantees, his program had nearly a 100% job placement rate. I had always wanted to be a state conservation officer in Indiana, but with the budget crunch in practically all states, I decided to broaden my marketability and look into the Federal Government for employment.
The certification for the park ranger program would allow me to serve as a Level II law enforcement commissioned park ranger with either of the following agencies: National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, or the Bureau of Land Management. A Level II law enforcement commission allows park rangers to carry firearms, make arrests, conduct investigations of misdemeanor crimes, and serve search warrants under the supervision of a Level I law enforcement commissioned ranger. Level II commissioned rangers are pretty much the same thing as a full-time Level I park ranger, except they are not required to attend the Federal Law Enforcement Academy and they generally only work seasonally. Also, most federal land management agencies require some work experience with the federal government before they consider hiring a person for a full-time permanent position in law enforcement.
I’ll never forget on the first day of class the director came in and said, “This program will prepare you to go to work.” The program lasted from January 12 through April 16, 2004. We were trained on everything from defensive tactics, firearms, vehicle driving, and practical scenarios to report writing, interviewing and interrogating, DUI/drugs, and even ethics. We had class Monday through Friday from 1p.m.-5p.m. and almost every weekend from 8a.m.-5p.m. It was a lot of material to soak in, but being fresh out of college, I managed.
Every day I would come home from class and apply for jobs. At one point in time I had 66 applications floating around the United States. Several parks called me in late February, early March to see if I was still available. In early March, I received a call from Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. They were really impressed with my experience and education. I interviewed for a short time with one of the hiring officials. A few days later I received a job offer. I was the second person out of my class to receive a job. It felt like so much weight had been lifted off of my shoulders at that point.
So in early May, leaving a lot of friends and good memories, I moved to St. Mary, Montana, where we received 15 inches of snow on my first nights stay. I was sort of bummed out about the weather at first, especially when I would call home and have to hear that it was in the 70-80 degree range. It has since warmed up here now to about the mid 70’s. The temperature and weather fluctuate quite a bit from day to day, but I guess you just get used to it.
Glacier National Park is one of the largest National Parks in the United States. It consists of approximately 1.2 million acres with the Canadian border in the north and the continental divide splitting the park into an east and west district. I patrol about 20 miles of road with a couple of campgrounds on the east side of the park. There are several hundred miles of trails and seven or eight backcountry campgrounds in my sub-district that I will be partially responsible for patrolling. When it warms up a bit, I will also conduct boat patrols on the nine mile long, St. Mary Lake. There is a tremendous variety of wildlife to be found in the park as well. I have seen grizzly and black bears, elk, mule and whitetail deer, moose, bald eagles, coyotes, marmots, and columbian ground squirrels just to name a few.
As part of my duties as a Ranger, I will be responsible for wildlife management. Mainly managing people, and educating them about bears and the importance of food storage in the campgrounds. When people from places like Indiana come to visit the park, most of them are not familiar with bears. As a Park Ranger, I will patrol the campground and seize anything that is left unattended that could be a potential food reward for a bear. Park Rangers take this kind of action to prevent the habituation and conditioning of bears. We also haze bears along the roadsides. When people spot bears along the roads and stop to take pictures, the bear is being habituated to the presence of humans and vehicles. To prevent the bear from getting hit by a vehicle or attacking a human in the future, Park Rangers arrive and explain their actions to the public and then proceed to shoot the bears with beanbags, rubber bullets, and cracker rounds out of their 12 gauge shotguns. This sort of action doesn’t hurt the bear, but rather educates the bear that that they need to seek cover when in the presence of vehicles and humans. It also makes bears more aware of people that are hiking on the trails, and prevents surprise encounters. Since Glacier National Park was created in 1910, there have only been 10 fatalities as a result of a bear attack. This is pretty amazing considering the fact that Glacier averages 2 million visitors a year. Rangers have had to kill several bears during this time because they have been habituated and conditioned to the point that the bear was a highly potential threat to human safety. Therefore, through our education, enforcement, and management, we hope to allow the visitors to enjoy the park in a safe environment for them and the wildlife.
Last year there were several wildland fires on the west side of the park. This has triggered a tremendous population of morel mushrooms to grow in the burned areas. Mushroom picking is prohibited within the National Park, and enforcement efforts are being made to prevent mushroom poaching. On my days off, I have participated in mushroom patrols, operating a raft down the North Fork of the Flathead River. Mushroom picking on the bordering National Forest is permitted, but the resources there get removed rather quickly.
Since I started work on May 16th, I have received numerous amounts of training. Just when I thought my training was over, I now realize that it has just begun. My first week of employment, I was crossed deputized with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. I also received training on different methods of patrolling the backcountry. The first few days of June, I attended the annual law enforcement refresher training, where I had the opportunity to meet all of the law enforcement staff throughout the park. There are only about 30 law enforcement officers to cover the large park, and about half of them are seasonal staff. The second week of June, I attended the Motorboat Operators Certification Course boat training at Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area in Fort Smith, MT. This week I am attending Bear Management Level I & II training held here at Glacier. Finally, my training for this summer will be pretty well wrapped up by the third week of June with Field Training and Radar training.
I take a lot of pride in my job, not only for the fact that I worked hard to get here, but because I enjoy what I do. Not everybody gets the opportunity to work in a place that some people save up their whole lives to come and visit for one week. As a law enforcement park ranger, I do more than just law enforcement. I am pretty much the eyes and ears of every department within the park. The visiting public expects us to be well educated about many different aspects of the park rather than just law enforcement. The law enforcement rangers are essentially the go-to people of the park for other than just security issues. We do emergency medical services, wildland firefighting, search and rescue, assist visitors, and sometimes even collect campground fees. I started my first day of road patrol the other day, and I can definitely tell that the law enforcement is one of the most highly respected jobs in the park. Every time I turned around, someone was calling me on the radio for assistance. This job definitely has variety. In addition to my duties here at Glacier National Park, I could potentially get sent on a Homeland Security detail or a wildland fire this summer. I am extremely proud to say that I am employed in one of the most highly respected professions in the Federal Government.
I would like to take this time to thank my family, who has supported me throughout my life. It’s extremely important for a person in my career field to be close to the people that matter the most. Also, I would like to thank everyone at the Linton Police Department for giving me the opportunity to gain valuable experience during my time there. It’s hard to say what opportunities lay ahead. I have a few permanent job applications in different parts of the country for law enforcement with the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service. I’m not really set on a particular place that I would like to end up for a longer period of time. For now, I will probably just go with what is offered. Well, I hope everyone stays safe this summer and don’t forget to go visit a National Park.
Thanks, Blaine Gillan, U.S. Park Ranger, National Park Service
United States Park Ranger Blaine Gillan poses next to his patrol car on Golden Stairs Curve in front of Red Eagle Mountain and Little Chief Mountain at Glacier National Park in Montana.
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