Brighton is first town to endorse forest ranger hiring

PAUL SMITHS — At its board meeting Thursday, the town of Brighton became the first Adirondack municipality to pass a resolution in favor of increasing the number of forest rangers that patrol the state’s backcountry, most of which is inside the Adirondack Blue Line.

Scott Sabo, the ranger responsible for patrolling the towns of Duane and Waverley and the northern half of Santa Clara, spoke to town council out of uniform and representing the Police Benevolent Association union of which forest rangers are members. He told them that he was part of a statewide effort to gain support for a campaign to add 40 rangers to the current roster. He explained that New York state has acquired land and put it under protection but has not hired more staff to patrol it. This has stretched the ranger corps to its limit.

Sabo noted that when the rangers were established in 1885, they largely focused on fire prevention. Since then their role has expanded to include law enforcement and emergency medical care in the backcountry as well as environmental and public safety work in the “front country.”

Sabo admitted that he and his fellow rangers have little interaction with town government officials these days because they don’t have time for it.

“We’re usually out looking for people doing something negative to the resource,” he said.

He described being part of a recent search for a lost person on St. Regis Mountain.

“I hiked from [Upper St. Regis] Lake to the summit as part of the search,” he said. “Then I came down again, and I was soaking wet.”

He was immediately ordered over to Cascade Mountain to assist with a medical emergency.

“We can’t maintain that tempo,” he said but added that it is nonetheless routine.

Town Supervisor Peter Shrope told a story that corroborated Sabo’s. He had met another ranger hiking with his family on St. Regis, only to meet the ranger’s wife later, alone with the children. Her husband had been called away to a rescue on Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain in northeast Essex County.

Town Councilman Brian McDonnell said the rangers had been “the quiet force for a long time,” but had recently been brought to the foreground because of their public role in the rising number of backcountry rescues. Sabo had listed the rangers’ many duties, but “You didn’t even mention taking care of the campgrounds,” McDonnell said. “The ranger corps is worth every penny we pay them.”

The resolution passed unanimously.

Forest Ranger Scott Van Laer of Ray Brook is the regional delegate to the PBA and is leading the effort to add the rangers. It is, he said in a phone call on Friday, a component of a broader strategy. The requested 40 new rangers would make up the deficit created by the recent purchase of 1 million acres of protected land, but in the long term, Van Laer said, the PBA is lobbying the state Legislature to pass the Ranger Staffing Bill, which would require adding “an item” (i.e. a ranger) for every 35,000 acres of land purchased by the state.

Van Laer said there are 104 municipalities inside the Blue Line, and he and his rangers plan to visit meetings in all of them in the next four to six months. Although this is a statewide campaign, his focus is on the Adirondacks, where, he said, the staffing crisis is most acute.