Back in the 1960s, kids of all ages were introduced to a man named Ranger Smith, a stern yet lovable park ranger at Jellystone National Park. He may just be a cartoon character disapproving of Yogi Bear’s picnic basket pilfering, but he was a ranger all the same and helped form the aspirations of many a youngster. Of course, park rangers these days do more than keep bears away from food. They’re responsible for protecting and preserving the nation’s parklands.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics often groups park rangers in with other conservation scientists. In 2012, they earned an average of $30.57 an hour, or $63,590 a year. The top 10 percent of earners made more than $43.69 an hour, or $90,870 a year, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $18.44 an hour, or $38,350 a year. But none of these figures accounts for pay grade, nor do they account for experience.
GS, or general schedule, is a pay system for federal employees. At the GS-4 level, park rangers earned a starting salary of $11.75 an hour, or $24,440 a year, as of 2012, reports the Office of Personnel Management. With one year of experience, pay increases to $12.14 an hour, or $25,251 a year. After two years, pay jumps again, coming in at $12.53 an hour, or $26,062 a year. With four years of experience, park rangers are eligible for a pay increase to $12.92 an hour at the GS-4 level.
One of the advantages of working under the general schedule classification is overtime. Overtime pay kicks in when an employee works more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a workweek. At the GS-4 level, overtime pay was $17.63 an hour for entry-level positions in 2012. With one year of experience, OT was $18.21 an hour, while those with two years of experience had an OT of $18.80 an hour.
After one year of service, GS employees are eligible for promotion to a higher pay grade. Moving up a pay grade is more lucrative than moving up within a pay grade. If a park ranger were to move to a GS-5 level, wages bump up to $13.14 an hour -- a dollar more an hour than a move within GS-4.
The BLS expects employment for conservation scientists as a whole to grow by as much as 5 percent through 2020, much slower than the national average for all U.S. occupations, an estimated 14 percent. The majority of jobs will be with the federal government, because it owns most public forest lands. The BLS expects the best prospects in the southwestern United States.
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