If you had to guess which federal agents in the U.S. face the greater danger, who would you put your money on: the officers who wage the endless War on Drugs, or the rangers who patrol the green acres of the national parks? Well, it’s the rangers. According to a 2001 study by the Bureau of Justice, nature’s security guards are twice as likely to be assaulted on the job as agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Being a ranger entails more risk than you might imagine. Routine maintenance and rescues can require skiing in avalanche-prone terrain, maneuvering specially equipped aircraft, or paddling class-IV whitewater. In some parks, border disputes and drug trafficking up the ante. And in the case of injury — including animal or even human attack — the nearest help may be miles away.
From the late 1970s until 2000, Jordan Fisher Smith faced these dangers for a chance to protect the nation’s inheritance. He patrolled a series of public lands, including Grand Teton and Sequoia national parks, until the lingering effects of Lyme disease forced him to retire. Smith’s expe... Read more