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Additional High Peaks rangers seen as step in right direction

RAY BROOK — The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that two additional rangers would be detailed to the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks.

Over the last several years, there has been a concerted push by the union that represents rangers and local elected officials to add more forest rangers statewide.

The High Peaks area specifically has seen increased use by hikers in recent years.

DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said in an email that the two new rangers will be assigned to Region 5, Zone C (High Peaks) and will start on patrol by early 2020. One ranger will fill a current vacancy in the High Peaks while the second will be a position moved from somewhere else in the state, she said. Where that transfer will come from has not yet been determined.

Scott van Laer, a Ray Brook-based ranger and union delegate for the Police Benevolent Association, said the additional High Peaks rangers are a step in the right direction.

“I’m excited about that because a lot of people are saying ‘Where’s the department’s action on this?'” he said. “While this is not — as far as I know — an increase in the state-wide level of rangers or even the Adirondack level of rangers, it is targeting staffing to where it’s most needed currently.

“Forty is our proposal, (but) I felt like this is a great first step. Identifying where rangers need to be (and) recognizing that it’s a response to increased intensity of use. Our workload has increased here, but I have concerns about where it’s coming from. Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul? But I can’t deny that right now, the High Peaks has the greatest workload because of the use.”

The DEC is currently holding its 22nd basic training academy for both environmental conservation officers and forest rangers at its training campus in Pulaski, Oswego County. A recent press release from the agency said there were 30 ECOs and 14 rangers in the academy, which is slated for graduation on Dec. 6.

“We’re in the process of graduating another class from the academy,” DEC Chief of Staff Sean Mahar said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We looked at the need to have more staff in the Adirondacks, and we have shifted around some of those positions to have more people in the Adirondacks.”

The current number of rangers statewide is set at 134, and includes lieutenants, captains and directors in addition to field personnel. A resolution circulated by the PBA to all of the towns either wholly or partially within the Adirondack Park calls on the DEC to increase that number to 175.

Van Laer said there are currently six rangers covering the High Peaks and 44 rangers, including supervisors, in DEC’s Region 5, which covers most of the Adirondack Park and the Champlain Valley. There are 21 rangers assigned to Region 6, which covers the western Adirondacks and North Country, to the Lake Ontario shore.