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Forest Ranger Annual Report Statewide Highlights for 2013

Division Mission

The Division of Forest Protection protects five million acres of state-owned, department-managed lands and easements as well as the people who use these lands. For 128 years, New York State Forest Rangers have extinguished wildfires, found and rescued the lost and injured, and enforced state land use and wildfire prevention laws. Over three million acres are in the Adirondack Park alone, but every region has substantial state land resources that support public recreational use.

365-Day by 24-Hour Responsibility

The division's forest rangers continue their historic tradition of providing police, wildland fire and wilderness search, rescue and emergency medical services to protect department state lands and the people using these lands. The direct professional contact rangers make with state land users is an essential service for both residents and visitors. Rangers provide information that enhances people's safety and enjoyment while protecting the land for the benefit of all. This public service role is a 365-day responsibility. Historically, summer hiking/camping and fall hunting seasons were the primary periods of state-land use. In recent decades, however, the use of state lands has expanded through the entire year, with peak-use during summer and fall weekends. Rangers use the nationally recognized Leave-No-Trace (LNT) program as a means of promoting and inspiring responsible outdoor recreation on public lands through education, research and partnerships. Rangers made 51 presentations about the proper use of state lands to 5,739 recreationists. In addition, rangers issued 2,004 camping permits to groups of 10 or more or to any group staying at one site for more than three nights. Throughout the year, rangers inspected or patrolled the department's 52 public campgrounds 1,545 times to support campground staff or to check facilities during the off-season. Routine patrols included 69,699 inspections of trailhead access points and inspection of 1,743 miles of non-roadside state boundary lines.

Law Enforcement on State Lands

Number of Forest Ranger Tickets or Arrests by Category in 2013
Category Number
Offenses Related to State Land Use 843
Offenses Related to Fire Laws 89
Offenses Related to Fish & Wildlife Laws 155
Offenses of High Peaks Rules and Regulations 70
Offenses Related to Illegal ATV Operation 557
Offenses Related to Illegal Motor Vehicles on State 213
Offenses Related to DEC Campgrounds 135
Offenses Related to Air Pollution 14
Offenses Related to Under-age Drinking 86
Offenses Related to other EnCon Law, Rules or Regulations 42
Offenses related to Other Laws, Rules or Regulations 258
Offenses Related to Illegal Snowmobile Operation 471

Continuing a trend of the last two decades, the most problematic activity encountered by rangers was the illegal use of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and snowmobiles on state land. In 2013, forest rangers issued tickets or made arrests for 557 violations involving ATVs and another 471 tickets or arrests for snowmobile offenses. Another 213 violations involved the unauthorized use of traditional motor vehicles on state land. Rangers executed enforcement actions in response to 135 violations in department campgrounds and another 1,347 violations of various regulations designed to protect state land. An increased emphasis on curbing underage alcohol consumption on state lands resulted in rangers making 86 arrests for illegal possession of alcohol by a person less than 21 years of age. Rangers issued tickets or made arrests for 155 fish and wildlife law offenses that occurred on or near state land and 300 tickets related to other environmental law offenses.

Search and Rescue Responsibility

Forest Ranger leading Search & Rescue Demonstration

An important part of protecting the people who use New York's natural resources is wilderness search-and-rescue. The need often arises to find and rescue lost or injured people in wild or remote locations. Throughout 2013, the division fulfilled its traditional responsibility of assisting, rescuing and comforting hundreds of people. Forest rangers have always provided search and rescue response in the Adirondack and Catskill parks. During the last five decades, this service has expanded to all wildland areas of the state. In rural areas, local emergency services are insufficient to effectively find a lost hiker or rescue an injured person in a remote area. In urban and suburban areas, local services are available but generally not trained or experienced in wilderness search or back-country rescue techniques. New York's forest rangers are nationally known and respected for their search and rescue work and are even asked to teach agencies and volunteer groups from other states.

Search and Rescue Missions

In 2013, forest rangers conducted 171 search missions, 105 rescues and 11 recoveries. Seventy-seven percent (220) of these incidents occurred on state lands. Most of them were resolved in one or two days, but several searches went on for several days, incurring thousands of hours of search time. Although hikers are the group most often reported lost or injured, people suffering from dementia or mental illness are often the most difficult to find. Rescue and recovery missions are frequently complicated by the nature of wildland recreational activity. Ice-climbing rescue requires special training and equipment. White-water boating require rangers to prepare for fast-moving water rescue, sometimes in the most remote and inaccessible areas of the state. Snowmobiling accidents require rangers to be prepared to treat potentially serious injuries in cold weather and remote locations. The prevailing motto within the division, "If it was easy, someone else would do it," reflects the nature and complexity of search and rescue missions conducted by forest rangers.

Number of Forest Ranger Search and Rescue Missions by Category in 2013
Category Number Category Number
Aircraft 2 Hiking 161
Biking 3 Hunting 26
Boating 6 Motor Vehicle 1
Camping 11 Off Road Vehicle/ATV 3
Chainsaw 1 Runaway 12
Climbing: Rock/Ice 2 Skiing 1
Criminal 4 Snowmobile 6
Despondent 12 Swimming 6
Fishing 3 Walking 25
Flood Victim 1 Whitewater 1

Search and Rescue Training

Considerable time and effort goes into preparing for search and rescue missions. Rangers train emergency service agencies and volunteer groups to support them during incidents. Together, they maintain positive relationships and continually improve the search and rescue program. In 2013, rangers presented 24 NYS Basic Wildland Search courses to 578 participants. Another 67 presentations, covering wilderness first aid, advanced search and rescue training and incident management were given to 1,768 participants in support of local and division response to incidents statewide.

Wildfire Mitigation

An important part of protecting public lands, as well as privately-owned forest lands, is wildfire mitigation. New York State has 18.5 million acres of public and private forest lands that are susceptible to seasonal wildfires. The division is the state's lead agency for the control and prevention of wildfires. In 2013, forest rangers reported 126 wildfires which burned a total of 1,059 acres. During the last 25 years, rangers responded to an average of 263 wildfires per year burning an average total of 2,509 acres per year. More than 1,700 volunteer and career fire departments are the primary first responders to wildfires throughout the state. Combined, fire departments and rangers responded to 3,211 wildfires that burned a total of 2,819 acres in 2013. The past ten-year average occurrence of wildfires in New York was 5,578 fires burned 4,443 acres per year.

In 2013, the largest wildfire to occur in New York was the 363-acre Orangeburg Fire in Rockland County that began on November 14. This fire occurred on county park land and was seen by hundreds of thousands of people as they crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River a few miles north of New York City. The only other fire in 2013 that burned more than 100 acres was the 147-acre Mount Eve fire in Orange County that began on October 21. Both fires were caused by unextinguished campfires that escaped after the campers left. In 2013, campfires accounted for 22% of all fires that rangers fought but burned 66% of the total acres scarred for the year.

Wildfire Training

The division's wildfire mitigation role requires considerably more time than that spent extinguishing fires. Similar to the search and rescue program, significant time and energy is focused on preventing fires from occurring and preparing for fire suppression. Forest rangers instructed the 12-hour NYS Basic Wildland Fire Suppression Course on 15 occasions, teaching 284 volunteer firefighters the basics of wildfire suppression. On 4 occasions, rangers taught the 44-hour Basic Federal Wildland Firefighting Course, commonly referred to as S130/190. A total of 81 firefighters, state employees, students and volunteers completed this course, which is considered basic training for professional (non-volunteer) wildland firefighters. Rangers provided an additional 30 training sessions to 573 firefighters, emergency service personnel and volunteers in advanced firefighting or incident command management. When needed, the division uses state Department of Correctional and Community Supervision (DOCCS) inmate crews for "mop-up" of controlled fires. Rangers gave one four-hour training session to 120 inmates.

Wildfire Prevention

Forest Ranger with Smokey the Bear

The best way to reduce wildfire occurrence and loss is to prevent fires from starting. Rangers gave 67 prevention presentations to 17,971 people. Many of these events were large gatherings such as the state and county fairs where Smokey Bear appears with a ranger. Smokey continues to be the most recognized symbol of fire prevention in the world. Of the 126 wildfires extinguished by the division in 2013, rangers only attributed six fires to the actions of children. This statistic stands as a tribute to the effectiveness of the 69-year Smokey Bear campaign at preventing wildfires started by children and adults.

Wildfire Prevention Enforcement

Debris burning, arson and unextinguished campfires are the three leading categories of human-caused wildfires in New York State over the past decade. As a means of preventing debris fires, rangers and their permit-issuing agents, issued 2,794 burning permits as required by state Environmental Conservation Law. Rangers inspected 145 of the permitted burns to insure compliance with the terms of the permits. In addition, they issued tickets or made arrests for 103 violations of law related to fire prevention. The most frequent violation was burning without a permit in towns within the Adirondack and Catskill parks. Department burning permits are not required in other areas of the state. In October 2009, New York's open burning regulations were updated for the first time since their last modification in 1970. The new regulation generally prohibits burning anything other than tree branches and prohibits these fires from March 16 through May 14. Forest rangers and environmental conservation officers (ECOs) made 370 arrests for those violating the state's open burning regulations. As a result, upstate New Yorkers experienced a 75% reduction in the number of wildfires caused by debris burning during the spring ban period from 2010 through 2013 as compared to the previous ten-year record. Many rural fire departments supported the burn ban with public announcements.

National Response to Wildfires

New York Fire Crew out West

In 2013, the division sent one 20-person initial attack firefighting crew for 14 days to the 11,000-acre Lolo Creek Fire in Montana on August 18 as part of its mutual aid agreement with the US Forest Service. The division typically sends one or two crews each year. A crew consists of a forest ranger as crew boss and three other rangers as squad bosses. The other 16 members are forest rangers, other DEC employees and department volunteer firefighters. The division did send 6 of its specially trained and experienced rangers to national wildfire incidents as single resources. In addition to the crew, one ranger travelled to Billings, Montana on August 21 and served as a resource unit leader on the 950-acre Rock Creek Fire in Custer National Forest.

Prescribed Fire

In 2013, forest rangers maintained their working relationship with the department's Division of Lands and Forests and Division of Fish and Wildlife to use prescribed fire as an ecosystem management tool. Throughout the year, rangers supported 18 prescribed fires on state lands, burning a total of 438 acres. Rangers also assisted federal partners with one 15-acre prescribed burn on their property.

Volunteer Fire Assistance Grants

Each year, the division administers the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) Grant Program, using funds provided by the US Forest Service. VFA grants assist rural volunteer fire departments with the purchase of fire-suppression equipment and supplies. In 2013, 370 qualifying fire departments received VFA grants of $1,000 each. Not only does this program place much needed dollars in the hands of rural fire departments, it also furthers the solid working relationship between forest rangers and the volunteer firefighter service.

Support to Other Agencies

Forest rangers provide a variety of support activities to other programs within the department, other state agencies and local governments throughout New York State. They assisted other agencies with emergency incidents on 523 occasions in 2013. Many were automobile accidents at which a ranger came upon the scene. Others included criminal and evidence searches, fire-scene traffic control, drownings and marijuana-plantation eradication. Because rangers are considered experts in the National Incident Management System Incident Command Systems (NIMS ICS), they often are called upon to teach courses on these topics at police academies, county government centers and local fire departments.

Licensed Guide Program

The division manages the NYS Licensed Guide Program. By the end of 2013, there were a total of 2,196 licensed New York outdoor guides. Of that total, 210 new licenses and 428 license renewals or updates were processed throughout the year. Rangers made 624 license guide checks statewide and three arrests were made for guiding without a license. Three guides had their licenses revoked for violations of the state environmental conservation law.

Forest Ranger giving presentation to school

Comprehensive Annual Report

The division's 2013 Annual Report includes summary tables of reportable data on wildfire occurrence, prescribed fire, searchand-rescue missions, arrests or tickets issued, public presentations and general activities. Most summaries are reported at the division's zone level. A zone is identified as the smallest work group under the direct command of a division supervisor. There are 17 division zones in the state, each within a department region. Each zone supervisor has provided a narrative review of activities within their zone as part of the division's annual report. All summaries are substantiated by data reporting at the region, zone or individual ranger level. A fact sheet on 2013 forest ranger accomplishments and statistics accompanies this summary.