Help DEC keep up

As one drives around the Adirondack Park, one may well see campaign-style signs with the hashtag #AddNYRangers. This is a grassroots campaign backed by the forest rangers’ union, town boards, environmental groups and the region’s state lawmakers, and we hear support for it all the time from Adirondack residents, both in person and on social media.

People are urging the state to add forest ranger positions to the Department of Environmental Conservation. There are several reasons why:

¯ To keep up with state land purchases that add to the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The preserve now makes up 2.6 million acres — double the size of Delaware and nearly half of the park’s acreage — and the same number of rangers are stretched thinner to patrol it.

¯ To assist, educate and, when necessary, ticket hikers, whose numbers have increased dramatically in recent years, doing environmental damage to some of the most popular mountain trails.

¯ To save people’s lives, because with more hikers — including the explosion of extreme hikers — comes more search-and-rescue missions. The Adirondack rangers have proven to be brilliant at this, but the frequency of it takes them away from educating hikers before they get in trouble.

About half of the park’s town boards have passed resolutions calling on the state to hire more rangers, according to the rangers’ union representative Scott van Laer.

Yet once again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget would not do so. It would keep staffing flat at the DEC except for five new operations employees.

We continue to strongly support the call for more ranger positions. We still support passage of the Ranger Staffing Bill, which would require a ranger to be hired for every 35,000 acres the state buys. We also still urge the state to hire more DEC foresters to design and upgrade unit management plans so state land can be enjoyed and conserved.

The governor’s budget proposal would give $82.5 million to the Olympic Regional Development Authority to upgrade winter sports venues in Lake Placid, and maybe also at the Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre ski centers. We’ll discuss that more in a future editorial, but some rough math suggests that with that amount of money, the DEC could hire 20 full-timers — a combination of rangers, foresters and whatever else is needed — for something like 40 years. It’s easy to see how adding those positions would save lives, protect the environment and improve the public recreation experience.

The final 2019-20 budget will be negotiated over the next two-and-a-half months. Now that Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature, lawmakers seem to be taking more leadership initiative rather than just following the governor. We urge them to hear the call to #AddNYRangers and add some key DEC positions in the Adirondacks.