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The Impacts of Ranger Layoffs

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Jan 12, 2012 02:55 PM |

In the week between Christmas and New Year's, 83 Washington State Parks rangers were handed pink slips in the first wave of layoffs spurred by agency revenue shortfalls. Maintaining and patrolling State Parks in the absence of full-time rangers will be a major challenge in the coming year.

In the week between Christmas and New Year's, 83 Washington State Parks rangers were handed pink slips in the first wave of layoffs spurred by agency revenue shortfalls. The ranger force, before layoffs, numbered 189. That's a dramatic cut, and one that is going to significantly impact the lives of many of our State's most dedicated land management staff. At WTA, we work with line staff on state and federal lands daily. Their commitment to service and love of the landscape shines through everything they do.

But beyond the personal hardship caused by these layoffs lies another challenge:  maintaining and patrolling State Parks in the absence of full-time rangers.

Many of the rangers laid off were offered their jobs back at very significant pay cuts, or offered the option to work seasonally, defined as five months per year. The season of work will be in spring and summer months, meaning that many parks will be entirely unstaffed during the winter.

Alexander Moularas, a ranger at Larrabee State Park, was one of those who received a layoff notice. He told me that "rangers have traditionally used the off-season fall and winter months to focus on upkeep, preparing for next round of heavy visitation. The term 'off-season' is a bit misleading as people continue to use the resource at this time of year, and incidents still occur with regularity." Moularas continued, "Sadly, after restructuring is complete, many parks and their visitors will be left to fend for themselves for half the year."

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of Washington State Parks. Each day, rangers preserve this century-old legacy through their care and commitment. The state needs to find a way to keep this legion of rangers on the ground year-round to sustain and maintain these parks.

Proponents of SB 5977 (like WTA) hope that adding two-vehicle transferability to the Discover Pass will raise more money via increased sales. But that's a roll of the dice and is not a near-term fix. Despite the state's budget woes, the legislature will need to provide adequate general fund revenue to staff State Parks year round over the next several budget cycles. Without this commitment, we may see more layoffs or even park closures occurring simultaneously with the agency's centennial celebrations.

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