You would not believe how much work goes on in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These beautiful mountains encircle the (not so beautiful) capital city of Kingston, Jamaica – my home. Sometimes wrapped in shawls of cloud, sometimes blurry with rain, sometimes bright and clean – depending on the weather and the level of air pollution – the mountains are always a reassuring sight, to me. The view changes, every minute. I love to be near the mountains. They are a part of our daily life.
I learned that today (July 31) is World Ranger Day – you can learn more about their work worldwide here and at the wonderful International Ranger Federation website. Sadly, there is an “In Memoriam” section. In many parts of the world, being a Ranger is an occupation fraught with danger. Quoting from the website:
The IRF defines a Ranger as the person involved in the practical protection and preservation of all aspects of wild areas, historical and cultural sites. Rangers provide recreational opportunities and interpretation of sites while providing links between local communities, protected areas and area administration.https://www.internationalrangers.org/
I wanted to find out more about what our very own Park Rangers do up there, all day – and how they feel about being Rangers. At the same time, a newsletter from the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), the non-governmental organization that manages the National Park, dropped into my inbox on the same theme:
As the backbone of global efforts of biodiversity and environmental protection, we stand with our Rangers in the work they do to continue to protect, conserve, and heal the land we call home through close community engagement and care. Thank you to our Blue Mountains Rangers!Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust, World Ranger Day Newsletter
The first National Park Rangers were commissioned into service in 1993 following the designation of the area as National Park on February 26 of that same year.
There are ways to support the JCDT and its Rangers, in their incredibly valuable work. You will read below how the lack of resources is the greatest single challenge they face at this time. So please contact them here:
Anyway, I got in touch with National Park Manager David Walters, who suggested I have a chat with one of the Rangers, Anthony King. I fired some questions at him. Below is our conversation (via email and WhatsApp, mainly!)
Here is what Anthony had to say about being a Park Ranger. He sounds so dedicated, quietly passionate about his work in the mountains. David Walters (who is mostly stuck at his desk!) also shared his thoughts…
In their own words…
Emma: July 31 is World Ranger Day. What message would you have for fellow Rangers around the world?
Anthony: Keep fighting the good fight. It’s vested in us to protect various aspects of our home, here on Earth. Please take a moment in the day to remember and reflect on the lives of Rangers who have lost their lives, and those who were injured, too.
David: Rangers are the eyes and ears of our environment and stewards of our natural spaces. We are all indebted to them for their important work. I’d say “thank you.”
Emma: How did you become a Ranger, and what inspired you to become one?
Anthony: I’ve always loved the mountains. I used to do cycling and hiking, but then JCDT had a tour guide training, which I joined, and met members of the Ranger Corps. I worked among them for a day or two but within that time, I remember experiencing the wealth of knowledge they had. They could name all the birds, the trees. I was really impressed by that. I had a realization, I was like,”This is what I want to do.” Two years later the opportunity [to become a Ranger] presented itself and it worked out – amazing.
David: I graduated from the University of the West Indies (UWI) with a first degree in Geography, but veered off into the work world, doing related tasks in an IT department (GIS and data analysis). Over the years I grew as an IT professional, but longed to get back to my field. I went back to school to complete an Msc. in Natural Resource Management, then interned with the JCDT for a summer. I saw where I could apply myself at the intersection of nature and technology to make a difference in environmental protection and conservation. I applied for the National Park Manager role and was successful.
Emma: What is “A Day in the Life of a JCDT Ranger” like?
Anthony: A day in the life… I meet up with Ryan or another Ranger. By 8:30 we start on reforestation management. We ride for about 30 kilometers normally, to Exhibition Hill. We do a hike of about 3 kilometers – a steep hike! – checking different areas of new reforestation plots, taking notes, GPS coordinates, taking photos of growth and changes to the plants. And we also record all the birds we see within the environment. We have lunch at 12, and after that we do a patrol. On the way back we collect seedlings, which we transplant at our nursery in Hagley’s Gap, about 25 minutes away.
David: Rangers do many activities that span our program areas. A typical day might be monitoring forest restoration activities, checking on plant health and making notes. Or it may be patrolling along the park boundary to put up signs and check for signs of encroachment. Some days it’s being stationed at the main recreational areas like Holywell, to ensure that everything is okay with visitors.
I’m in the office a lot, dealing with a lot of project and program management activities. I do get out sometimes to check on the progress in the field or to test out a new strategy.What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Emma: What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Anthony: It would have to be the environment, there is nothing that’s going to top that!
David: For me, being outside. Also being able to be creative and problem solve. This line of work comes with many challenges. I’m in a position to try to come up with innovative solutions.
Emma: So, what are the challenges in your work? The replies were very similar…
Anthony: I would highlight resources being the major one. Resources for all the Rangers, for us to carry out our duties effectively. We do our best, we make do with what we have. We are still pushing on. I think in due time we should be able to function fully – but yes, that’s the major challenge for us.
David: Lots of challenges. Mainly resource constraints. We are not fully staffed in all areas due to funding challenges. That means everyone is stretched above and beyond to make it work. Some of the challenges are more macro scale requiring interagency cooperation and participation. That can be difficult sometimes.
Emma: Tell me about the BIOPAMA Project.
David: The Improving Management Effectiveness Project sponsored by BIOPAMA is very important to us. We were always committed to protecting the Blue Mountains, but we realized that there are some gaps; and we weren’t doing as well as we would like to. We did a review and identified the main things that concerned us. That’s what went into the BIOPAMA project design.
It’s helping us to do what we’ve always been doing but… better. It’s helped us to get gears for Rangers as well as new vehicles for patrolling. It’s helped us to mark the Park Boundary better and restore more sections of forest. It has also helped us to try some new approaches. These include offline data collection via phone app and drone monitoring. We also want to engage the communities more. Not only to conduct the workshops but also to try to monitor the impacts of these programs, and guide communities into alternative livelihoods on a consistent long term basis. Not just one workshop here and there. We’re still figuring it all out.
Emma: What is your very favorite part of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, and why?
Anthony: My favorite part is still the Peak. There is a feeling of accomplishment getting there. It takes a bit of willpower sometimes. But it always makes me happy when I get there.
David: Hard to say as (counterintuitively) I have not been to many places in the Blue Mountains. I have been on many patrols and trails but sometimes we lose sight of how vast the area really is. Maybe the Blue Mountain Peak would be my favourite place. I’ve been there many times but you never get over the wonder of the space. It’s like a new hike every time.
Emma: Name a favorite tree, bird, plant, animal…And why is it your favorite?
Anthony: Tree? The Juniper Cedar. Perhaps because of the spiral shape as it grows. It always gets my attention, and it’s always good to photograph, too.
Bird? The Jamaican Spindalis, a very colorful bird.
Plant? Orchids. I love orchids. There is a great variety in the mountains.
Animals? A lizard! The Jamaican Anole (Anolis grahami). I didn’t know much about them until about two years ago, when I actually held one in my hand. I always keep an eye open for them. They are endemic to Jamaica.
David: I’ll be honest. I understand the importance of all the plants and animals, but I haven’t had great personal connection with them. However, since starting the reforestation activities here at JCDT, it is quite exciting to track tree growth, the Blue Mahoe in particular. They have these big floppy heart shaped leaves. It’s pretty exciting going back to some trees that you planted to see how they’ve doubled in size and how big and healthy the leaves are.
Emma: Finally – what does conservation mean to you? Why should it be important to the average Jamaican?
David: Conservation is super important to me. Our environment is everything and it’s in our best interest to protect it. I do believe in the existence value of the natural environment but the easy and relevant answer is that conservation benefits us as people. I wish people could see the connections. Conserving the environment means better water quality and quantity for us. Conserving the environment means we have a better chance of standing up to natural disasters. Those are things all Jamaicans can relate to.