DEC wants to consolidate ranger and ECO titles

Forest rangers confer at the Newcomb firehouse in September 2017, the third day of a search for Alex Stevens of New Jersey, who was last seen Sept. 2 in the High Peaks Wilderness. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation requested to consolidate the title of Forest Ranger into the Environmental Conservation Police Officer title for the spring of 2019. This deals primarily with the names of the two divisions and is not a merger. The proposal was made to the state Department of Civil Services in November.

“New York State Forest Rangers have been seeking a title upgrade for several years,” said Ben DeLaMater, DEC Public Information Officer, in an email Wednesday. “DEC has been working with the New York State Department of Civil Service to support an upgrade of the Ranger title. Because Civil Service encourages consolidation of title series when appropriate, it was proposed that Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) and Rangers utilize the same title while maintaining separate divisions and responsibilities. Forest Rangers and ECOs receive similar training and perform similar duties and functions but were not in similar civil service title series.

“To be clear, this is not a merger of the two divisions, but rather a move to ensure both divisions are treated equally in the Civil Service system. Much like other shared titles in the Civil Service system, for example, DEC engineers and biologists share similar titles, but can work in a number of different divisions.”

Both groups are law enforcement, however, Rangers grew out of the Fire Wardens while the ECOs grew out of the Game Wardens. The Rangers focus more search and rescues, fighting wildfires and protecting natural resources while also providing education on how to best recreate in the wild and not damage the environment. ECOs mainly enforce state Environmental Conservation Law when it comes to pollution, hunting and fishing. ECOs are the folks who check for hunting licensees and proper safety equipment on boats.

In the proposal, it says the two groups are similar and often carry out the same duties. The Rangers would continue to learn techniques for responsibilities such as swift-water rescues, aviation hoist operations and GPS and land navigation, but they could also take on additional coursework such as hunter-related shooting incidents, waterfowl identification and wildlife forensics.

Forest Ranger Adam Baldwin, center, and Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks Training Officer Neilson Snye lead some soldiers from Fort Drum out of the woods in September 2017 after a missing hiker had been found. (Enterprise photo -- Justin A. Levine)

This could also increase salaries for Rangers. Right now, Rangers are hired at $59,448 while ECOs are hired at $62,228, according to the DEC website.

If approved, the title consolidation would go into effect April 1.

An environmental advocacy group thinks the consolidation could create problems. Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said he believes the DEC has a good reason to consolidate the titles, but he is concerned that the proactive education and forest preserve role of the Rangers will suffer.

“We should pay our Forest Rangers more, and hire more Forest Rangers, without consolidating the Rangers with the Environmental Conservation Officers,” Janeway said. “As a former DEC Regional Director, I have seen and value the independent and complementary roles of the Rangers and the ECOs.”

Now-retired Ranger Pete Fish said he’s not sure how much the roles would change after title consolidation, but he believes education to be the most important aspect of a Ranger’s position. Fish started his career as a Ranger in the late 1960s and said he hated doing search and rescues.

“I’d go into find someone, and as I’m carrying them out, I’d pass by the next person I’m was going to have to carry out because they didn’t have the right shoes on or they weren’t carrying the proper equipment,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

After a while, Fish said he took it upon himself to do more community outreach and stewardship. He’d wait at trailheads every Saturday morning, informing hikers on the difficulty of trails and what they should be carrying along for the trip. Sometimes he would suggest alternative hikes if he didn’t think people were prepared.

“I think there is a terrific need for public education,” he said.

Like Janeway, Fish also argued the separation of Rangers and ECOs. Fish initially worked during a time when Rangers were strictly peace officers, which are kind of like police but they tend not to carry guns or have the same authorities. He said it was better for the Rangers’ image and impact to not be so closely associated with cops.

“We used to drive around in these red trucks,” he said. “We had a good reputation. People would wave at us. Everyone loved a ranger. Once we started driving around in the green trucks like the cops, there was a difference in attitude toward us from the public.”

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