Forest rangers are employees and volunteers of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture charged with managing the country's 193 million acres of national forest and grassland. The title is broad and somewhat antiquated, but forest rangers, in general, are those actively carrying out the agency's mandate on the ground and in the office.
The position of "forest ranger" was born in 1898, associated with the Department of the Interior's General Land Office, which administered the nation's public lands. At that time, this included what were termed "forest reserves." In 1905, the Forest Service was created within the Department of Agriculture, giving forest rangers a new home, and two years later, forest reserves were re-classified as national forests.
Some rangers provide law enforcement duties, responding to illegal activity and enforcing the federal regulations associated with national forests and grasslands. In addition, they coordinate with other law enforcement agencies on federal, state, and local levels where necessary.
Many Forest Service workers are science technicians, researching various aspects of national forest/grassland natural resources, from water to timber to wildlife.
Rangers also work in managing wildland fire, a crucial component of forest health in most parts of the country. Positions include fire dispatchers, wildland firefighters, and fire lookouts.
A district ranger administers each of the 600-some ranger districts, the smallest major management unit in the Forest Service system.