Friday, January 31, 2014

Plant Theft In Our National Parks

Although I have been absent from this blog for some time due to my work as Managing Director at the Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden in Lexington, Virginia, I have been maintaining my attentiveness to what is happening in our Parks.

I was a bit concerned or perhaps even miffed when I discovered that the History Channel was introducing a new program entitled “Appalachian Outlaws.”  This series focuses on the lives of ginseng hunters working in the Southern Appalachians.  I could not help but think that this might increase the interest in “cash crops” and glorify those that pilfer these plants that grow wild on our protected lands.  I noted in the first episode of this series that one of the featured characters led the camera crew onto US Forest Service land to hunt ginseng illegally.  In one scene a Forest Service employee shows up and they have to run to escape.  That certainly added to the excitement and mystique of the show.

Ginseng has become hard to find in many areas.  On the show one of the characters states that this is the fault of the government putting so much land into protection as parks and forests.  During interviews with illegal ginseng hunters that were apprehended during my career we learned that they were moving to Virginia because you could not find ginseng in their states any more.  When asked why, their theory was that it was all hunted out in their home areas.  That is the impact on natural resources that these activities going unchecked can produce.

There are areas where hunting and collecting of ginseng is permitted and regulated in some instances by permits and seasons.  This legal activity is acceptable and approved by scientists and agencies.  The temptation of the money that could be made during our hard economic times fans the flames and intent of those willing to cross the line of legality and those forced by desperation to seek some profit.

I am not saying that what appears below is related to the new History Channel series, but does reflect what is happening in our parks.  This is an example of what is occurring and was taken from the National Park Service Morning Report dated January 31, 2014.

Cumberland Gap NHP
Six Ginseng Poachers Successfully Prosecuted
The fall ginseng season was busy at Cumberland Gap and rangers employed special shifts and focused patrols to combat poaching within the park. The government shutdown caused reduced staffing levels during the peak of the season, but rangers were able to apprehend six people and recover a total of 414 roots and one rattlesnake prior to the shutdown:  
  • August 19 – Rangers contacted two men on the Chadwell Gap Trail as they were about to be picked up at the trailhead. They were found with 18 and 78 ginseng roots respectively. Ranger Brad Cope was case agent.
  • September 15 – A man was observed capturing a rattlesnake on the Highway 58 road shoulder and being picked up by a vehicle.  Rangers stopped the vehicle, contacted the man, and discovered 11 ginseng roots in his pocket and the rattlesnake in the trunk. The vehicle’s occupants said that they had dropped him off at the Kentucky visitor center earlier in the day and that he had called them to pick him up in the Virginia section of the park.  Ranger Mike Ausmus was case agent.
  • September 23 – Rangers received information regarding possible digging in the Muddy Gut area of the park. They contacted two men who were found in possession of 39 and 37 ginseng roots respectively. Several of these roots in their possession were found to be marked with a dye and micro tags identifying them as coming from within the park. This was the first case since the park began its marking program in which marked ginseng was found on a suspect, positively identifying roots as taken from the park.  Ranger Ben Byrnes was case agent.
  • September 26 – Rangers received information regarding possible digging in the Old Baileytown Road area of the park. They contacted two men who were found in possession of 115 and 116 ginseng roots respectively. Ranger Greg Johnston was case agent.
 All six suspects pleaded guilty in federal court and were ordered to pay criminal fines totaling $1,295 and civil restitution to the park totaling $6,045.  All recovered ginseng roots were inventoried and replanted in the park by resource management personnel and will be monitored.   

[Greg A. Johnston, Park Ranger]

Monday, July 1, 2013

Recognition Of The Work Of A Park Ranger

I recently received an email from a reader asking about who they could write to in order to recognize the good work done by a park ranger they met while on a trip to Alaska.  Here is my response;

I greatly appreciate your wanting to recognize the good work done by one of the Park Rangers you met in Alaska.  This does not happen enough and when it does, it can make a significantly positive impact on an individual's morale and sometimes career.

I would recommend sending your comments to two high ranking individuals;

Alaska Region
Sue Masica, Regional Director
National Park Service
240 West 5th Avenue, Suite 114
Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 644-3510


Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service
National Park Service
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240

(202) 208-3818

These folks need to hear positive feedback about what their Rangers are doing in the field and will be sure to pass their appreciation back down the chain to the individual park ranger and their supervisors.

Thank you very much for your interest and support of our National Parks and the people who work to preserve them.

Bruce W. Bytnar
NPS Retired
Author of "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks"

So if you have visited a National Park and been impressed by the service, care, kindness, or knowledge shared by a park ranger,  why not take a few minutes to express your appreciation in a letter or email.  Just a few moments of returned kindness or compassion can make a park ranger's day.

19 Firefighters Die In Arizona Wildfire

Tragedy has stuck the wildfire community with the deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona.  Not a whole lot of details are known yet, but this is reported to be the worst loss of firefighter lives since 1933.

The deaths occurred on the Yarnell Hill Fire and the crew involved was the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew.  The fast moving fire also caused the evacuation of an entire community and the loss of approximately 200 structures including homes.

For what is know so far go to the LA Times at:

Firefighters Killed In Arizona

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kenya To Hire 500 New Park Rangers

Due to the increases in poaching pressure on wildlife in Kenya, that country is going to add 500 more park rangers to their parks.  According to the below linked article, "Poachers killed 360 elephants and 19 rhinos in 2012," within Kenya's National Parks.

As world economies suffer, we will see a continuing increased presence of wildlife and other resources theft with parks world wide.  Meanwhile, in the United States we will be seeing fewer park rangers in our National Parks this summer due to budget constraints.  That leaves us with fewer protectors of our nation's wildlife during a time when illegal taking of resources for financial gain will most likely increase.

Kenya Hiring Park Rangers

More Information From Investigation Into Shooting of Unarmed US Park Ranger

New information may indicate that US Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger D.P. Wright may have been shot by accident when a woman took her own life.

For more details go to;

Local Police Look Into Possibility That Shooting Of Park Ranger Was Accidental

Friday, June 28, 2013

Unarmed US Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Shot

On Thursday June 27 an unarmed US Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger was shot while conducting his normal daily duties of closing and area for the night.  From the article you can visit below it sounds like he merely walked up to a vehicle to inform the occupant that they needed to leave for the evening so he could close a gate.  The person he walked up to shot him in the abdomen.

How many times a day do park rangers and other land managers conduct "sweeps" of areas so that they can close gates at dusk.  I know during my career I did this hundreds if not thousands of times.

The lesson, if there is one here, that we can all draw from this incident is that there is no such thing as routine whether you are an armed law enforcement trained park ranger, a fee collector, interpreter, biologist, or maintenance worker.  If you are working with the most unpredictable creature on earth, the human, you can never know what to expect.  Adding the wearing of any type of official looking uniform or vehicle and you can easily become someone's target.

Just last week I wrote about a study indicating a sharp increase in assaults and threats made against park rangers.  You can read about that in the post dated June 16.

Never be complacent, in to much of a hurry, or let your guard down.  Always remain alert and listen to your instincts when dealing with the public.  Do not harbor the expectations that everyone out there is going to react to your presence or contact the way you would.

I doubt this Park Ranger did anything wrong.  He just walked into a no win situation which looks to me to have involved a person ready to take their own life and not adverse to taking others with them.  I of course do not have all the facts and am making several suppositions based on very little factual information, but can see this scenario quite clearly being possible.

To all my land management agency brothers and sisters, be careful out there and let us remember this injured fellow ranger in our thoughts and prayers.  We all hope for him to have a speedy and successful recovery.

US Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Shot

Monday, June 17, 2013

Violence Against Park Rangers and Fellow Land Management Agency Employees Increases

Updated Reports reveal that assaults and threats against Park Rangers and workers in sister land management agencies increased in 2012 by 38% over 2011.

The US Park Police saw an increase of 43% against their officers.

Check out this article by the AP to learn more;

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Good News For Popular National Park Concession Operation

The National Park Service has selected a new company to take over the contract for running the Peaks of Otter Concession operations on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Bedford, Virginia.

The Peaks of Otter Lodge, Restaurant, Service Station, Camp Store, and Bus Tours have been closed since the contract for the last operator of this well know stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway chose not to renew their relationship with the National Park Service.

With budget constraints resulting in a number of National Park Service operated facilities not scheduled to open this coming summer, it is good news to hear that this popular visitor destination will be reopened to the public once again.

Details should be forthcoming in the next few days as to who received the contract and what form the approved services to be provided will entail.

The Peaks of Otter Lodge on Abbott Lake at mile post 93 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
One of the many days I spent working as a Park Ranger at the Peaks of Otter.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Park Ranger Questions From a College Student

I was asked a series of questions by a college student for a class project.  You may find some of these answers of interest.

Where did you work during the majority of your time as a Park Ranger?   

I spent the most of my 32+-year career on the Blue Ridge Parkway in both NC and VA having worked in three different districts from 1981 to 2008.  I started in 1975 at Fort McHenry in Baltimore and then transferred to Fredericksburg, Va in 1977.  Being part of the National Park Service I worked on details as long as four months all across the country fighting fires, helping with complex investigations, hurricane recoveries, training, etc.

 What did you like about being a Park Ranger?

Being part of an organization with an important mission to preserve and protect some of the most important sites and resources in our Country.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live the career I dreamed of since being a child.

 Was there anything you disliked about it?

Dealing with administrative and bureaucratic minutia such as forms, forms, forms, and insufficient budgets to do the job affectively, efficiently, and safely.  Toward the end of my career as a supervisor and manager I felt I spent way to much time making excuses for why we could not accomplish the job or work on initiatives proposed by employees and the public.

 Could you describe a typical day at a park you worked at?

No, there was no such thing as a typical day.  I could wake up in the morning and form a list in my head of what I needed to accomplish that day and by the time I got to work all those plans would be thrown out the window.  We spent much of our time responding to whatever was happening at the time.  That could range from emergencies, investigations, or new administrative demands.  This lack of routine was one of the aspects of the job that I enjoyed most of the time, although over the long stretch it can drain you physically and emotionally.

 How did you get started in the Ranger world?

I started as most Park Rangers do as a seasonal employee.  My first such job was at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.  I made the contact to get this job as the instructor for one of my classes in college was the Chief Ranger at the park. 
You can learn a lot more detail about how to get started with the National Park Service on by blog;  Go to the search window to the right and type in “jobs.”  That will take you to several articles I have written on this topic you might find of assistance

What would you say is the best way to enter the field/occupation?

Starting as a seasonal park ranger (see above) or volunteering at a National Park is where most people get their foot in the door.  You can learn more about this at the blog.

 What sort of demands are there to do the job?

Depending on what type of position you apply for there are certain requirements.  The general requirement for full time positions is a four-year college degree.  You can work as a volunteer or seasonal without a degree.  Many people do this during summer breaks from college.

If applying for what is referred to as a protection ranger position (these are the Rangers who do law enforcement, fire, Search and Rescue, etc. type of work) there are specific physical and medical requirements.  You can learn more about this at:

Generally speaking a good park ranger needs to be flexible, patient, always willing to learn (I spent my entire career learning new skills and knowledge), knowledgeable about the resources they are protecting (and that will be different for each park), and truly dedicated to protecting park visitors and the resources with which you are entrusted.

 With government cutbacks, how do you see the future for Park Rangers?

With current cut backs in budgets, there will be a slow down in hiring.  Right now there is a freeze on hiring new full time employees due to the Sequester.  Many parks may also be hiring less seasonal employees this summer.  During my career I witnessed numerous such situations and there was eventually some loosening of funds for filling critical positions.

Another factor is that many Park Rangers of my generation are continuing to retire.  It was predicted one year ago that more that one third of the Park Rangers working then would be retiring within three years.  This could and should spell opportunity for those interested in getting into this field.  Remember I mentioned patience in one of the answers above.

 Do you have any advice for someone looking to enter the same line of work?

Get as much experience as you can working with the public, learning about resources of parks, visit parks and get to know someone on the staff, get training and certifications in first aid, emergency management, fire fighting, outdoor skills, etc.  These opportunities can be found if not in parks then with local volunteer fire departments and rescue squads.

Most importantly, stay in school and complete a four-year degree looking for chances to work in parks during the summer months.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"A Park Ranger's Life" Makes Its Publisher's Great Expectations Author Program

I received a letter and certificate from my publisher, Wheatmark, informing me that my book, "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks", has sold enough copies to qualify me for their Great Expectations Author program.  This means that I met my personal goals for the book and it can only improve.

 Thank you to everyone who  has read my book.  I greatly appreciate your support in making what has been a dream of mine, writing and publishing a book, come true.

I am continuing to work on a second book to follow up on "A Park Ranger's Life" and a work of fiction based on a murder investigation in which I was involved during my career.  Who knows what the future may hold.