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National parks see decline in ranger force, even as the number of rescues increases

The pandemic has disrupted visitation patterns to national parks throughout the western United States, and rangers are beginning to feel the impact.

The number of park rangers has declined in recent years, but search and rescue operations are up.

The National Park Service recorded more than 3,000 rescues in 2021, more than triple the number reported six years earlier.

Although the agency plans to address its aging infrastructure, it has no plan for the staff shortages.

“Well overall Park Service staffing has been going down for the last 20 years, even as visitation has been going up, there are new parks, and new acreage, and things like that," said Jeff Ruch of the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "And law enforcement’s been going down even further.”

He said that parks have received budget increases during the Biden administration.

The new funds could help address the depleted ranger force, depending on how parks choose to spend the money.

Ron Dungan has lived in Arizona for more than 35 years. He has worked as a reporter, construction worker, copy editor, designer and freelance writer. He's a graduate of the University of Iowa, where he was a member of the undergraduate Writers’ Workshop, and has a master’s in history from Arizona State University.Dungan was an outdoors reporter and member of the storyteller team at the Arizona Republic, where he won several awards, and was a contributor on a border project that won the 2018 Pulitzer for explanatory reporting.When not working, Dungan enjoys books, gardening, hanging out with his German shorthaired pointer, backpacking and fly-fishing. He's a fan of the Arizona Cardinals and Iowa Hawkeyes.