For the first time, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Forest Ranger training will be held at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) campus in the hamlet of Wanakena in the Adirondacks.
For decades, Forest Ranger recruits have had to share a training academy with Environmental Conservation Office recruits, where law enforcement and policing became the training emphasis. The two positions are very related, but also very distinct.
Forest Ranger duties focus on the public’s use of DEC-administered State Lands and easements and can span from patrolling State properties to conducting search and rescue operations to fighting wildland fires. In 2020, DEC Forest Rangers conducted 492 search and rescue missions, extinguished 192 wildfires, participated in eight prescribed fires that served to rejuvenate more than 203 acres, and worked on cases that resulted in 3,131 tickets or arrests.
Leaders of the nonprofit advocate Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve are hailing the announcement. “We are pleased that this training academy will be 100% dedicated to Forest Ranger recruits,” said Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson. “It’s something we have long sought.”
“Forest Rangers are active participants in managing the public’s responsible use of public lands like the Forest Preserve. In addition to ensuring public safety and handling of emergencies like search and rescue, they must be effective public communicators and educators on our trails, mountains, lakes, and rivers,” Gibson said. “To gain these combination of skills Forest Ranger recruits require and deserve their own training academy.”
For the past two decades, the joint Training Academy was located far from the Adirondack or Catskill Forest Preserve in Pulaski.
Gibson said Adirondack Wild is also asking DEC next year to recruit more women and persons of color to serve as Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Officers. “Our front-line Rangers and Officers should look like the rest of New York. This is a recruitment challenge for the 2022 Ranger and ECO Academies, for all of DEC, and for all environmental organizations as well,” he said.
The number of field Forest Rangers has been stuck at 1971 levels even as each ranger is responsible for an additional 20,000 acres on top of their areas of responsibility 50 years ago. Meanwhile, search and rescue emergencies led by the Forest Rangers on our public lands and waters have increased by one-third just over the past decade.
“The immediate need is 30 more Forest Rangers simply to fill vacant positions and to account for retirements. But that would only be treading water,” Gibson said. “The entire force of 134 Forest Rangers should, in fact, be doubled. Our Forest Rangers are all stretched to the breaking point.”
Photo of Forest Ranger truck provided.