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Hispanic Heritage Month

Since its inception 50 years ago, the mission of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to protect, sustain, and, when possible, improve our environment is a cause that has united all cultures and heritages. Environmental awareness and stewardship play an integral role in many of our cultures, and the pursuit of ensuring a clean, healthy environment now and into the future remains a goal of our agency on a professional and personal level.

DEC is proud to observe Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15 in honor of the history, culture and influence of past generations of those with Hispanic origin. The observance started in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson's administration as a one-week celebration called Hispanic Heritage Week. Years later, President Ronald Reagan proposed extending this celebration into a month-long event. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988, officially designating Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month.

The celebration starts on September 15 as that date marks the independence anniversary of five countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Followed by Mexico's Independence Day on September 16 and Chile's on September 18, it is capped by Día de la Raza which is celebrated on October 12 and recognizes the heritage, colonization, and cultural diversity of Latin America.

From the time of the Aztecs' "zero-waste" society to modern-day, frontline neighborhoods confronting the impacts of pollution, many diverse cultures continue to recognize the need to protect and nourish our environment and natural resources. This month, we pay tribute to our Hispanic neighbors, co-workers, and environmental stewards who are making a positive difference in our lives.

Let's join with these individuals and all who are fighting for our environmental futures. See the profiles below to learn the personal stories of DEC staff of Hispanic heritage and learn how they are working to make New York a better place to live, work, and recreate outdoors. These stories reflect our agency's mission in action, highlight the value of diversity in our workforce, and illuminate our quest to build a safe, sustainable and inclusive world.

Read Governor Cuomo's Hispanic Heritage Month proclamation (PDF).

View DEC's Hispanic Heritage Month playlist on YouTube (leaves DEC website)

DEC Staff Profiles

Michael C. Chappell
Division of Forest Protection
Ranger Michael Chappell stands beside his DEC truck
Forest Ranger Michael C. Chappell
works for the Division of
Forest Protection in Region 7.

Michael C. Chappell was born in Chile and came to the United States as a very young child. He works for the Division of Forest Protection as a NYS forest ranger and has served in this role for over seven years. He currently patrols in Region 7, and thoroughly enjoys the challenges that each day brings. No two days are alike, and he never knows what to expect.

Before joining DEC, Michael served in the US Army as a captain in the Military Police Corps. He is an avid outdoorsman, which made his transition to civilian law enforcement much easier.

The additional tasks of search and rescue, as well as wildfire management are an added bonus for him!

Michael earned a Forest Resource Management degree from SUNY-ESF.

View a short video of Forest Ranger Michael Chappell (leaves DEC website).
Tony Colyer-Pendas
Office of Communication Services
Tony Colyer-Pendas of Conservationist Magazine in his office
Tony Colyer-Pendas recently joined
DEC at Conservationist magazine.

Tony Colyer-Pendas is a first generation Cuban American. His brother is the first of his family born in the United States. Tony's family came to the US from Cuba in 1960, shortly after Fidel Castro became prime minister.

Tony works in DEC's Office of Communication Services as an assistant editor of the Conservationist magazine. He started in December 2019, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic forced state employees to work remotely. In his role, Tony reviews and edits submitted magazine articles; reviews the magazine layout and design; and writes articles, news stories, and other pieces for the magazine. He previously worked at the Columbia Land Conservancy for 14 years, serving as the director of Conservation Programs.

After surviving a near-fatal car accident, he consulted for the Open Space Institute from 2016-2019. Tony earned a Bachelor of Science degree from SUNY Albany and an Associate of Arts degree from Miami Dade Community College.

View a short video of Tony Colyer-Pendas of Conservationist magazine. (leaves DEC website)
Rachel Systak
Division of Marine Resources
Marine biologist Rachel Stystak from DEC's Division of Marine Resources at a lake
Rachel Systak of the Division of
Marine Resources is passionate
about conserving the environment.

Rachel Sysak has worked for the Division of Marine Resources for the past 13 years. She is currently the Marine Finfish Unit Leader. Her unit monitors and manages many popular recreational species of marine fish such as fluke, scup, black sea bass, and bluefish.

Rachel's heritage is Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian. While her family never spent much time fishing or doing outdoor activities, Rachel was extremely curious about nature. She was able to fully explore this curiosity in college where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Vertebrate Biology.

Rachel says, "I absolutely love my career with DEC and I am fortunate to get to work not only with the natural resources I want to conserve, but the people in our communities who value those resources as well. I encourage anyone with a passion for the environment and wildlife to consider a civil service career with DEC."

View a short video of Rachel Systak sharing her experiences as a marine biologist with DEC (leaves DEC website).
Marcelo del Puerto
Division of Fish and Wildlife
Marcelo delPuerto
Marcelo del Puerto is responsible for habitat
management and public access programs
for the Bureau of Wildlife, in the Division of
Fish and Wildlife.

Marcelo Jorge del Puerto was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 11. They first lived in California, then moved to New York where he finished high school. He also earned a degree through the Argentine educational system. Marcelo was about 13 when he started to feel a definite connection to the natural world. He loved exploring New York City neighborhoods as well as natural areas.

Marcelo earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Pre-medical Biology from New York University and a Master of Science degree in Physiological Ecology from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. One of the most interesting jobs he has had was as a wild animal keeper. He learned a lot about animals and their behavior, working with a diverse variety of species, including leaf-cutter ants, primates, Gila monsters, bald eagles, Pumas, and Gentoo penguins. It was a surreal experience for him to work with penguins all day then ride the subway home.

Marcelo started working for DEC in 1997 in Region 2, eventually moving to Region 7, and later to Central Office in Albany. He still very fondly remembers the beaches of Long Island where he spent many days monitoring piping plovers and least and common terns.

He enjoys his work and interacting with colleagues. Off work, he enjoys hiking with his family, bicycling, skiing, exploring new places, cooking, and world news. Marcelo keeps a connection with Argentina and South America. He enjoys reading and is always reading something good in Spanish.

Marcelo feels lucky and blessed to have a wonderful family and career. To him, it is an honor to be a public servant and to play a role in the stewardship of New York State and its natural resources.

View a short video of Marcelo del Puerto, Head of Habitat Management and Access for the Division of Fish and Wildlife (leaves DEC website).
Aphrodite Montalvo
Office of Communication Services, Region 1
Aphrodite Montalvo
Aphrodite Montalvo is an outreach specialist
for the Office of Communication Services
on Long Island. When not at work, Aphrodite
loves hiking the outdoors.

Aphrodite Montalvo is a Public Participation Specialist in the Office of Communication Services for Region 1, Long Island. Aphrodite has been with DEC for 15 years and originally joined the agency as an environmental education assistant. Aphrodite has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from Boston University and has additional graduate course work in Environmental Management from Stony Brook University.

In her position, Aphrodite works with the public to assist with any questions or issues that arise, moderates meetings, assists with media inquiries, edits documents, photo documents DEC activities, and works with municipalities to further DEC goals and pursuits. She also assists DEC's Office of Environmental Justice for Region 1 and is the Indian Nations liaison for the region.

Her father's family is originally from Puerto Rico and they came to the US in the1920s. Aphrodite grew up enjoying nature and open spaces on Long Island. She has been back to Puerto Rico several times and appreciates getting in touch with her culture. Aphrodite enjoys kayaking, traveling, and hiking in New York, as well as around the world.

View a short video of Aphrodite Montalvo, a public participation specialist for the Office of Communication Services in Region 1 (Long Island) (leaves DEC website).
Major Francisco Lopez
Environmental Conservation Officer
Major Francisco Lopez
Major Francisco Lopez works for the
Division of Law Enforcement in Region 2.

Francisco Lopez is a major in DEC's Division of Law Enforcement. Early in his life, he was involved in camping and hiking, which helped him get interested in his current job. He likes that his position addresses fish and wildlife issues, along with the environmental quality protection aspects as well. He is proud to work with a great group of people whose mission is to go after the violators who negatively impact the environment.

One of the many rewarding parts of Francisco's job is being involved in an internship program where DEC introduces college students to the responsibilities of an environmental conservation police officer. Many youth from New York City aren't aware of this job opportunity within DEC and Francisco feels it is important to train the next generation of environmental protectors.

View a short video of Major Francisco Lopez of the Division of Law Enforcement in Region 2, New York City (leaves DEC website).

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