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History of DEC

During the nineteenth century, old attitudes about nature and the environment began to change. People began to set aside ideas of how they could conquer nature and instead began to think about how they could nurture and preserve it. This growing awareness took hold in New York State as well, and led to the formation of what might be considered the seminal environmental programs that DEC still runs today.

In 1880, the state appointed the first officers to enforce its game laws. These "game protectors," who would later be called "conservation officers," were New York's first statewide law enforcement professionals, preceding the formation of the Division of State Police by 27 years.

Then, in 1885, the State Legislature established the Forest Preserve of New York State, setting aside land in the Adirondacks and Catskills to be protected as "forever wild" and establishing regulations and guidelines governing the use of these lands. The year 1885 also marked the beginning of the forest ranger service in New York State.

In 1895, the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission was formed to take on functions related to fish and game regulations, hunting seasons, and poaching. This and several other small Commissions were combined in 1911 to become the Conservation Commission, which then later became the Conservation Department in 1926. The Conservation Department became one of the forerunners of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation when it was formed in 1970.

Read the full timeline (PDF, 148 KB) tracing DEC's history and various environmental milestones throughout the decades.

DEC's First Year

During the 1960s, changing public attitudes and the availability of scientific information that hinted at man's effects, intended and unintended, on the environment led to the realization that government had a strong role to play in preserving resources and keeping the environment healthy. This expanded sense of awareness and responsibility led directly to the establishment of DEC in 1970.

On April 22, 1970-the first Earth Day-legislation was signed creating the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, one of the first government agencies specifically formed for the purpose of overseeing all environmental concerns through one organization. The legislation provided for a melding of the duties of the old Conservation Department, with responsibility for some programs from the Department of Health and some state commissions to DEC, and the creation of entirely new disciplines within the agency.

DEC opened its doors on July 1, 1970, and immediately began to wrestle with the urgent problems of the day-such as pesticides, mercury pollution, solid waste, and recreational access-and with the need to create an organization structured to deliver services across the state.

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