National Parks face growing crowds, dwindling number of rangers

A recent PEER report highlights the contrast between record-breaking crowds visiting National Parks and the dwindling numbers of rangers defending them.
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A recent PEER report highlights the contrast between record-breaking crowds visiting National Parks and the dwindling numbers of rangers defending them.
number of rangers dwindling

Law enforcement rangers, like the one behind the wheel of this patrol car in Yosemite National Park, have been declining in number over the past decade despite swelling crowds.

In 2014, turnstiles and ticket booths funneled in the greatest crowds the National Park Service had ever seen—but in the same year, the population of law enforcement rangers hit the low of the last decade with nearly 2000 fewer permanent staff than in 2005.

In 2013, park rangers made a plan to address what they saw as a situation of deteriorating safety for both rangers and park visitors. They resolved to meet minimum recommended staffing levels and provide better training for new officers. In 2015, NPS publicly lauded the record-breaking crowds parks had drawn in the year prior. Was spiking visitation met with increased law enforcement personnel? A recent study by Public Employees for environmental Responsibility (PEER) answers with a resounding “No.”

numbers of rangers dwindle

Numbers of law enforcement rangers in national parks have dropped significantly in the past decade, despite growing visitor counts.

Yet, though rangers mentioned personal safety and visitor-on-ranger assault as one of their concerns in 2013, the number of reported incidents in 2014 was less than half of the attacks and threats rangers self-reported in 2013. PEER calls this a “curious drop,” pointing out that visitor deaths and search and rescue operations have both increased.

“Before it pops the cork on its centennial, Park Service leadership should double check that it has sufficient rangers to handle the celebration’s fallout," says Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director.