The wild, complex world of wilderness rangers

When Drew Peterson tells people he works as a U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger, they may assume his job is defined by solitude. But that is not always the case: On a busy summer day, a wilderness ranger may stop to talk with as many as 300 people, such as on a recent day patrolling the popular Green Lakes Trail off the Cascade Lakes Highway.

“It can take up to six hours to hike up the trail,” Peterson said. The trail runs about 4½ miles from trailhead to Green Lakes.

Describing what a wilderness ranger is and what exactly he does quickly becomes complex. Peterson, 32, who now primarily patrols wilderness in the Ochoco National Forest but occasionally helps in the Deschutes National Forest, said the work combines about a dozen jobs, including customer service, trail maintenance and rule enforcement. Peterson’s job is to make sure people are doing the right thing.

The current form of the program, in which wilderness rangers go to wilderness areas around the Deschutes National Forest, started in 2010, said Jason Fisher, who supervises the five rangers in the national forest.

Though the title may bring up notions of adventure and exploration, often the work focuses on educating people about what they should and should not be doing. “It’s not what a lot of people expect,” he said.

Passing through wilderness requires adhering to federal rules and regulations, which Peterson and other wilderness rangers enforce.

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