An American who oversees a National Park Service site at the northern tip of Wisconsin remembers listening to a colleague from Congo speaking in matter-of-fact tones and a slight French accent about protecting wildlife and wild lands in a war-torn swath of Africa.
"It just put everything into perspective for me. My problems are very small in comparison," Bob Krumenaker, superintendent of Wisconsin's Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, said of an encounter more than a decade ago that remains vivid in his mind. "And there are people like that all over the world."
For a week beginning Saturday, hundreds of such people are gathering near Rocky Mountain National Park for the first World Ranger Congress to be held in the United States. Krumenaker is chairing the conference, with a lineup of speeches, field trips and workshops on climate change, poaching and other issues. More than 300 rangers from nearly 70 countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, were expected.
Americans are hosting the international meeting at Estes Park as they celebrate the centennial of their National Park Service. U.S. National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis is scheduled to address the conference Wednesday.
The International Ranger Federation, a nonprofit organization that supports park rangers and their conservation work, has held World Ranger Congresses every three years since the first in 1995 in Poland. Krumenaker met the Congolese ranger at the 2003 conference in Australia.
The International Ranger Federation's charitable arm along with Colorado State University, the World Wildlife Fund and others donated funds to enable rangers from developing countries to attend. Among about 20 rangers sponsored by WWF is Anety Milimo, a wildlife policewoman from Zambia who helps carry out undercover illegal poaching investigations.
"These people are risking their lives every day," Krumenaker said of rangers like Milimo, adding that 1,000 rangers were killed around the world over the last decade.
At the 2000 conference in South Africa, U.S. ranger Einar Olsen helped start a project to get surplus and slightly used equipment from parks in wealthy countries to places like Congo and Zambia. Olsen will be handing out donated uniforms, raincoats, flashlights and other gear at Estes Park to some of the visiting rangers.
"We're in solidarity with them," said Olsen, a manager at the U.S. park service's regional office in Washington, D.C. "We want them to know we are all in this together."