Adirondacks of Hamilton County

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Need more Rangers

Posted by peteklein on December 25, 2014 at 1:50 PM

Need more Forest Rangers now

By PETE KLEIN

 

ALBANY—Local elected officials have been sounding the drumbeats on the need for more Forest Rangers and they now have an ally in Albany.

On Dec. 10 New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released a report on Environmental Funding in New York State which stated: “The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has experienced staff cuts and constrained funding since 2003 while its responsibilities have grown.”

This follows a letter sent by The Adirondack Council, the Catskill Center, the Adirondack Mountain Club and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve on Oct. 15 to DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens.

The letter asks Martens to support the NYS Forest Rangers and expresses significant concerns regarding necessary levels of staffing and funding to support and manage the state's forever wild forests and other state administered public land.

The letter says, “New York State's Forest Rangers are critical to the safe use of the NYS Forest Preserve, state forests, and other lands administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The Forest Ranger's mission, to not only serve and protect, but to educate and inform the public about wild lands and the proper use of natural resources is unique. In order for our rangers to continue to maintain an appropriate level of service to the communities in which they serve, additional state support is needed.

“The ranger force is currently stretched very thin for the over 5 million acres of DEC managed lands. In fact, in 1970 DEC managed 3 million acres of state public land with 118 Forest Rangers, but today, with 5 million acres of state managed lands, the force is down to 106 Forest Rangers. In addition to managing more land, we expect our DEC field staff to do much more. For example, in 2013 Forest Rangers performed 171 search missions, 105 rescue missions, and 11 recoveries. Forest Rangers made 66,699 inspections of trailheads, 11,487 inspections of campsites or campground patrols, conducted foot patrol of 18,580 miles of trails, conducted 12,722 miles of snowmobile patrol and did 16,764 snowmobile law safety checks. Forest Rangers conducted 1,586 hours of boat patrol and 1,627 navigation law safety checks, inspected 1,743 miles of state boundary lines, issued 1,347 tickets or arrests for state land offense (as well as issuing tickets for 557 ATV violations, 471 snowmobile violations, 155fish and wildlife violations, and 300 EnCon or other violations. Forest Rangers conducted 241 educational presentations or training events to 19,021 people. NYS Forest Rangers also conducted 432 DEC permit inspections and l,197 state land use permit inspections, issued 210 new guide licenses, checked credentials for 624 existing guides, responded to 1,661 calls for service or complaints, and helped other agencies on 523 other incidents. Forest Rangers also suppressed 123fires, issued 2,794 burning permits, trained 1,058 people in wildfire control in 50 training events, conducted 19 prescribed fires, conducted 67 fire prevention events with 17,971 participants, and issued I03 fire prevention tickets.

“During the next 6 years 48 rangers will be eligible for retirement. To insure a steady level of service and to replenish the ranks, DEC must immediately establish a 2015 Academy for Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Officers (ECO) with at least 20 Forest Ranger recruits in 2015. DEC must also begin scheduling regular, biennial Academies.

“In addition to staffing requirements, our rangers need an appropriate operating budget including, $10 million in payroll (plus funding for new recruits), $2,164,100 Other Personal Services (OPS), and $1,350,000 Non-Personal Services (NPS).

“Additionally, $3,479,000 in capital funds is needed to update an aging fleet of vehicles ($934,000), upgrade or replace other non-vehicle equipment such as ATVs, boats, and trailers ($250,000), and to replace an outdated radio system ($2,295,000).

“Some important items for the rangers are not reflected in the numbers above, including new winter field uniforms (which have not been purchased for 12 years), new firefighting and rescue equipment, alcohol sensors, and radar units.

“The Assistant Forest Ranger (AFR) Program is a highly successful program that effectively increases the eyes and ears on our state lands to keep resources and visitors safe. However, current funding practices for this program decrease the available funding for full-time Forest Rangers for Emergency Response and other necessary overtime. We ask that the DEC include a specific budget line item, which is not part of the Forest Ranger OPS budget line, to support not less than 20 AFRs.

“Ranger patrols on foot are the best way rangers can fulfill the educational and outreach aspects of their mission. A limited number of AFR.s mean fewer people see rangers, let alone gain an understanding of our wild lands and the proper use of our natural resources. Making time to be in the forest for education and outreach is a critical and unique part of our rangers' mission. Only with a permanent line item in the state budget can AFRs fulfill their unique mission without regularly impacting funding needed for Forest Ranger Emergency Response.

“Our Forest Rangers protect and promote our forests, and in turn our communities. Our forest preserves are an economic asset for surrounding localities. If rangers aren't able to meet their mission they cannot support our communities.

The letter to Martens concludes by saying, “Without this support our NYS Forest Rangers cannot adequately provide stewardship for the growing forest preserve, fulfill their unique strategic mission and support communities which rely on functioning forests as a tourism resource. We strongly urge the DEC to fulfill their mandate by fully supporting NYS Forest Rangers with a budget that includes $10 million in payroll (plus funding for new recruits), $2,164,100 (OPS), and $1,350,000 (NPS), and $3,479,000 in capital funds; by establishing a 2015 Academy with biennial Academies thereafter; and finally by assuring the hire of 20 AFRs supported by a specific budget line which is not part of Forest Ranger OPS funding.”

DiNapoli agrees and said in his Dec. 10 report, “DEC’s staff has declined while funding has barely kept pace with inflation and now is projected to decline. Our natural resources are major assets for the state’s economy and New Yorkers’ health and quality of life. We must continue to safeguard these assets.”

The DiNapoli report says that since 2003, several new programs have been added to the agency’s list of responsibilities. These include the Brownfield Cleanup Program; the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; and the Waste Tire Recycling and Management Act.

DEC spending was $795.3 million in SFY 2003-04 and $1 billion in SFY 2013-14. After adjusting for inflation, DEC spending rose by a total of 1.7 percent over the period examined. Since 2008, funding from state sources is down 15.1 percent. While federal funding has helped fill the gap, those resources are now declining as well. The state Division of the Budget projects that total DEC spending will decline this year and in each of the next three years by a cumulative total of 25.9 percent from the SFY 2013-14 level.

The size of the DEC workforce declined 10.4 percent, from 3,256 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in SFY 2003-04 to 2,917 FTEs in SFY 2013-14. It reached a peak of 3,779 FTEs in SFY 2007-08. Staffing in programs such as enforcement, air and water quality management, and solid and hazardous waste management has experienced significant cuts.

DiNapoli’s report also notes that two of the state’s major funds dedicated to the environment –the Environmental Protection Fund and the Hazardous Waste Oversight and Assistance Account combined have been subject to sweeps in excess of half a billion dollars to provide general state budget relief in the past.

Local governments and environmentalists agree it is time for the governor and the legislators to act by adequately funding the DEC and the Rangers.

For a copy of the report visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/environmental/environmental_funding_nys_2014.pdf

 

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