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ECOs forced to cut back enforcement

July 19, 2019 01:00 pm Updated: July 19, 2019 01:39 pm

In last week’s column entitled, “The Thin Green Line,” I extolled the value of our dedicated NYS Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs), to the residents of New York. 

I explained that “…highly trained Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs)… are fervently patrolling every corner of the state 24/7, 365 days per year.” Well, apparently DEC Commissioner, Basil Seggos, doesn’t think that should continue to be the case.   

As of the end of June 2019, ECOs are NOT allowed to patrol a huge swath of the state. Almost all of the state lands of NYS are off limits to ECOs to combat poaching and protect your natural resources on those lands!  That’s not a misprint, or mischaracterization. 

Under these new restrictions, ECOs can only proactively patrol private land, and a few campgrounds in Lake George in Region 5.  Why you ask? These are the campgrounds NYS Forest Rangers do not want to be responsible to keep the peace there during peak camping weekends. Forest Rangers want to be solely responsible for fish & game, and all other enforcement on all other public lands, and the Commissioner is making it happen. 

This stops ECOs from enforcement on public lands they routinely patrolled in the past. None of the reasons for the drastic change are very good. 

For those who are unfamiliar, the majority of Region 5, which runs from Clifton Park to the Canadian Border, consists of state lands, the majority of which are in the Adirondack Park. That includes Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) where hunting is a primary use and where pheasants are stocked. It also includes forest preserve, and wilderness areas.

A similar situation exists in the Catskills and elsewhere throughout the state, where state land can make-up the majority of ECO sectors. What are the ECOs to do if they cannot proactively patrol these millions of acres for poaching and environmental quality violations? 

In many cases, an ECO’s entire patrol sector is comprised almost exclusively of state land. ECOs used to routinely run roads on state lands, arresting deer poachers, road hunters, dumpers, and much more. Your sporting license dollars, to the tune of around $30 million annually, pay for some of these ECO’s salaries, which are meant to fund, support, and protect legal hunting, fishing and trapping in NYS. What are you getting for all that money? 

So, with this ridiculous restriction, the public, including all sportsmen and women, are losing protection of our precious resources on public lands across the entire state. All because favorites are being picked and civil service rulings either ignored or circumvented. 

NYS Forest Rangers are experts in Search & Rescue, Wildland Fire Management and Suppression, and the Incident Command System (ICS). They are the preeminent experts in these areas. We are lucky to have Rangers highly trained in aviation-hoist operations, swift water rescue, rope rescue, flat ice rescue and much more. 

This is especially true when it comes to overland searches for lost persons, and dangerous technical rescues. Forest Rangers spend most of their training time dedicated to these noble pursuits, and little, if any, on combatting poaching, pollution and the myriad duties ECOs spend a career learning, honing, and aptly delivering to the people of the State of NY. 

I can speak from experience, that after more than six months at a police training academy covering topics ranging from fishing and hunting enforcement tactics to illegal radioactive waste detection, it takes at least five years to become a fully functioning, effective ECO. 

I will take the educated guess the same is true for Forest Rangers in their areas of expertise. So why would Commissioner Seggos want Forest Rangers to do work they have not been trained to do, and stop ECOs from doing the work they are uniquely qualified to do? 

Several years ago, with the wave of a political wand, the Criminal Procedure Law was changed to make Forest Rangers Police Officers without their receiving any additional training. Under Commissioner Seggos, DEC Executive is about to make NYS Forest Rangers into ECOs with the stroke of a pen! 

Both these measures are being taken to justify an increase in salary for Forest Rangers. In my opinion, the substantial, specialized expertise required to be a Forest Ranger and the level of service they provide in their traditional search & rescue and wildland fire suppression role, is more than adequate to justify a pay increase for Rangers.

Instead, DEC is taking away critical functions of ECOs and diminishing fish & game as well as environmental quality enforcement in this state. All in order to circumvent the legally proscribed administrative process through NYS Civil Service regarding salary upgrades for the Rangers. This is absolutely ludicrous. 

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise ran a piece on December 27, 2018 entitled, “DEC Wants to Consolidate Ranger and ECO Titles.” The article quotes DEC Public Information Officer, Ben DeLamater, as stating in an email, “DEC has been working with the New York State Department of Civil Service to support an upgrade of the Ranger title.” The quote continues, “…Forest Rangers and ECOs receive similar training and perform similar duties and functions but were not in similar civil service titles.”  

Stating that ECOs and Forest Rangers “…receive similar training and perform similar duties and functions,” is simply not true and entirely misleading. As I described earlier, the highly specialized training, function, duties, and roles of ECOs and Forest Rangers could not be more different. Each has a unique specialization requiring entirely different expert level training. 

In that same article, Willie Janeway, Director of the Adirondack Council, indicated the “…forest preserve role of the Rangers will suffer. We should pay the Forest Rangers more…without consolidating the Rangers with the Environmental Conservation Officers. Janeway said, As a former DEC Regional Director, I have seen the value of the independent and complementary roles of the Rangers and the ECOs.” 

This is not the first time civil service procedure has been circumvented by Commissioner Seggos. A few years ago, there was a vacancy for the DEC Director of Fish & Wildlife. Despite  having his pick of a number of extremely qualified DEC senior biologists at the top of the civil service list with extensive experience in the position, Commissioner Seggos selected someone outside the department that was not on any civil service list. 

Just over a year ago, Commissioner Seggos similarly disregarded the list for the Director of DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement. Ignoring a list of nine extremely qualified ECO majors and captains within the division, he chose a director that was not even on the list; forever politicizing the leadership of both divisions, thereby guaranteeing loyalty from of his newly appointed chiefs. 

Throwing ECOs off state lands and handcuffing their efforts to fight poaching and pollution for political expediency is wrong. Asking hunters, trappers and fishermen to pay for it is not only insulting, it’s a call to take appropriate action to prevent this from going forward.

Happy Hunting & Fishing until next time.

Remember to report poaching violations by calling 1-844-DEC-ECOS. 

News and Notes

There will be a pistol licensing course on July 25 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Craryville Rod & Gun Club. Cost of the course required to obtain a NYS pistol permit is $50. To sign up, contact Kevin Hill at 518-821-4747, or Mike Kutski at 518-651-5866.

**You will need to get an application before this course at the Sheriff’s Office in Greenport.

The next Lake Taghkanic Bass Tournament will be held at West Beach at Lake Taghkanic, on Saturday, August 10 from 4-11 a.m. All are welcome to compete. For more information, call Bill Johnson at 518-537-5455. 

Save the Dates: 

Greene County Youth Fair at Canna Park in Cairo - Thursday, July 25 through Sunday, July 28 

Come visit the DEC “Living Stream” tank with “Trophy the Trout,” talk to fish & wildlife technicians and identify furs, and animal tracks, and try your hand at the NY Bowhunter’s Archery Booth, or “I Fish NY’s” casting and fish ID game. 

You can see about participating in the Youth Pheasant Hunt coming up in September and talk to veteran sportsman volunteers and ECOs to help you get out hunting, fishing, trapping, and camping. All while taking in everything the free fair has to offer including animal shows and displays. Don’t miss this free, fun event. 

Roe-Jan Creek Boat Club Annual Chicken BBQ - August 11

This event will take place on August 11.  Grounds open at 1 p.m., dinner at 3 p.m. Cost for adults is $12, kids $6. Call Barbara at 518-828-7173 for more information, or the club at 518-828-5954 and leave a call-back number.  

You can share any comments with our sports desk at  sports@registerstar.com

*If you have a fishing or hunting report, photo, or event you would like to be considered for publication, you can send it to:  huntfishreport@gmail.com