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State fails to give DEC the staff it needs

April 27, 2018
Editorial , Lake Placid News

New York's Department of Environmental Conservation is a big deal in the Adirondacks, and its short-staffing affects residents and visitors alike in myriad ways. Therefore, we are sad to note it is not getting any new forest rangers, trail crews, foresters, dispatchers or other positions in the recently passed state budget.

That means the DEC's current staff must keep doing its best on tasks it's already too small to manage: patching up trails to mitigate a growing wave of hikers in the Adirondacks, rescuing unprepared people whose only safety tool in their backpack is a cellphone to call for help, catching up on deferred maintenance and working through a giant backlog of unit management plans for state land.

Meanwhile, governors keep buying more land to add to the Adirondack Forest Preserve that DEC manages.

Over the last few decades or so, the state has added more than a million acres to the Adirondack Forest Preserve, which needs to be patrolled. In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo Cuomo's ramped-up I Love NY tourism campaign has contributed to an increase in hikers tackling the High Peaks, which has led to the forest ranger force conducting a search-and-rescue mission roughly daily, statewide.

Those rescues come at the expense of patrolling the backcountry and educating people, so as to prevent future rescues.

New York's forest ranger force currently sits at 140, about one for every 40,000 acres of state land they must patrol. While the DEC touts the fact that there are more rangers than ever before, the number hasn't increased substantially. Plus, support positions such as backcountry caretakers, trail crew and assistant forest rangers have all been decreased over the last 10 years.

Therefore, the DEC increasingly relies on outside help, such as the Adirondack Mountain Club, SCA-Americorps and search-and-rescue volunteers. That cooperation is good, but those groups can't write tickets when they see someone do something illegal and unsafe.

Meanwhile, Cuomo and the state Legislature committed millions of dollars in last year's budget to building a fancy DEC campground and equestrian park at the former Frontier Town theme park in North Hudson, alongside a visitor information center and a new location for Paradox Brewery. Construction is now underway. Taken on its own, it could be a good project, but in context of what the DEC is dealing with in the Adirondacks, it makes one wonder about priorities. Big, new, splashy, ribbon-cutting-type stuff gets the money it needs, but day-to-day, behind-the-scenes labor gets squeezed.

We call upon the governor and state legislators to make this right in next year's budget, and also to pass a bill (S7185, A9927 in 2015-16) that would require the DEC to hire one full-time forest ranger for every 30,000 acres of land the state acquires in the future.



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