New York DEC releases annual forest ranger report
Search and rescue missions abound with almost one per day statewide
RAY BROOK — The state Department of Environmental Conservation released its annual report on how forest rangers spend their year, and, to no one’s surprise, search and rescue missions dominated rangers’ time.
The report details virtually everything the 137 uniformed rangers did in 2017, from training to wildfire fighting to state land protection.
Search and rescue
Forest rangers were involved in 346 SAR missions last year, with 284 of those occurring on state land. The bulk of SAR missions were for hikers, but boating, hunting and snowmobiling all contributed as well.
“Most of them were resolved in one or two days, but several searches went on for many days, incurring thousands of hours of search time,” the report says. “Although hikers are the group most often reported lost or injured, people suffering from dementia, mental illness or fatal health conditions are often the most difficult to find.”
Although these missions occur statewide, many — if not most — are in the Adirondacks, including a multi-day search for a missing hiker on St. Regis Mountain.
“The most dramatic mission that Rangers performed in 2017 began on Sept. 2 for a lost lone hiker attempting to climb the Saranac Lake Six, a series of mountain peaks in the area. Five Rangers responded, as well as a State Police helicopter with night vision capability. Neither the trail nor air search found any sign of the hiker,” the report says. “By the next morning, 19 Rangers searched the area, however, heavy rains from Tropical Storm Harvey prevented helicopter flights. As the weather cleared on September 4, 26 Rangers were involved with the search, with efforts supported by the local fire department, search volunteers, State Police, and state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
“Shortly after starting, helicopter personnel spotted a person signaling for help. A Ranger was inserted to the location and helped secure the man for hoist.”
Rangers also conducted more than 70 trainings on search and rescue techniques, including 28 NYS Basic Search and Rescue courses to 679 participants, as well as 44 courses on wilderness first aid, incident management and advanced SAR. Those courses were attended by 622 participants.
In a series of tables that break down exactly what the rangers did, the DEC says that of all SAR missions, 176 were searches, 147 were rescues and 22 were recoveries.
Although local professional and volunteer firefighters are the primary responders to fires, rangers last year worked on 55 wildfires around the state. Just 191 acres burned, the lowest total in ranger history.
According to the report, over the last 25 years, rangers have responded to more than 200 fires each year with an average of 2,001 acres burned per year. When wildfires that were handled solely by fire departments are included, then 2017 saw 1,401 fires that burned 474 acres.
Rangers also taught a number of wildland firefighting courses, including 14 basic firefighting courses taught to 295 volunteers. Rangers also taught a more advanced federal firefighting course three times to 54 people. In addition, rangers taught a 4-hour course to 139 inmates and 13 training sessions “to 212 firefighters, emergency service personnel and volunteers in advanced firefighting or incident command management.”
Three crews of 20 rangers were also sent out west to help with fires in Montana, Oregon and California, typically for a 14-day stint.
“In total, 41 Rangers spent 698 work days assigned to eight different wildfires that burned a total of 469,000 acres in three states,” the report says. “This was the largest mobilization of New York’s Forest Rangers to national wildfires in history.”
Rangers also participated in 29 prescribed fires on public land, which burned a total of 654 acres. The prescribed burns resulted in more total acres burned that wildfires last year.
The report includes a series of tables that breakdown what rangers did as part of their day-to-day jobs. In 2017, rangers conducted 88,963 inspections of trailheads and access points; walked, snowshoed or skied 25,902 miles of trail; did 14,565 miles of snowmobile patrol; 11,635 inspections of occupied campsites; and conducted 1,620 patrols of DEC campgrounds.
Forty-six percent of rangers’ time was spent patrolling state lands, while 14 percent was spent on SAR missions. Thirteen percent was spent on fire management and two percent of their time was spent assisting other programs and agencies.
To read the full report, go to www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/2371.html.