Department of Environmental Conservation

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For Release: Wednesday, March 22, 2017

DEC Environmental Conservation Officer Highlights

ECO Actions for Early to Mid-March

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) enforce the 71 Chapters of NY Environmental Conservation Law, protecting fish and wildlife and preserving environmental quality across New York.

In 2016, the 286 ECOs across the state responded to 26,400 calls and issued 22,150 tickets for crimes ranging from deer poaching to corporate toxic dumping and illegal mining, the black market pet trade, and excessive emissions violations.

"From Montauk Point to Mount Marcy, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, the ECOs patrolling our state are the first line of defense in protecting New York's environment and our natural resources, ensuring that they exist for future generations of New Yorkers," said Commissioner Basil Seggos. "They work long and arduous hours, both deep in our remote wildernesses and in the tight confines of our urban landscapes. Although they don't receive much public fanfare, the work of our ECOs is critical to achieving DEC's mission to protect and enhance our environment."

Recent missions carried out by ECOs include:

Deer Surveillance Flight - Richmond County

On March 6, ECO Michael Hameline and Lt. Nathan VerHague worked with the New York Police Department's Aviation Unit on a flyover of Staten Island to collect intelligence regarding illegal deer hunting. Using complaints reported over the years, ECO Hameline mapped locations and used the coordinates to try and find evidence of baiting deer and other illegal activity. While no tree stands were located, several piles of corn were found along with what appeared to be traps commonly made to catch deer by their antlers. The information collected will be used to monitor these locations and identify the persons involved in illegal hunting.

ECO in a helicopter.
ECO Hameline and Lt. VerHague with NYPD Aviation.
ECO Hameline and Lt. VerHague with NYPD Aviation.

Illegal Lobster Pots - Suffolk County

On March 6, ECOs Evan Laczi, Jordan Doroski, Ike Bobseine, Ben Tabor, and Lt. Sean Reilly served a lobsterman an appearance ticket for fishing with illegal lobster gear in the waters off Southold. DLE's Marine Enforcement Unit developed this case with Connecticut game wardens, and used multiple boat patrols and seizure of illegally set lobster gear. The lobsterman was charged with multiple counts, including failing to use escape vents, using undersized or inoperable escape panels, failure to affix numbers on pots, and failure to use buoys or use of illegal buoys. The charges are returnable to Southold Town Court on May 1.

ECOs Ben Tabor, Tim Fay, and Lt. Sean Reilly with an illegal lobster pot on Long Island Sound.
ECOs Ben Tabor, Tim Fay, and Lt. Sean Reilly with an
illegal lobster pot on Long Island Sound.

A Fish Runner Leads to Illegal Catch - Westchester County

On March 7, ECO Dustin Dainack received a tip from a concerned sportsman who had witnessed a group of fishermen on the Hudson River keeping striped bass out of season. ECO Dainack was familiar with the location, as well as the tactics used by fishermen trying to poach fish in the area. The illegal activity involves hiding the catch in rocks or on lines under the water. Once several fish are caught, a "runner" discreetly moves the fish to a waiting car, and the process starts anew. ECO Dainack spotted the fishermen, moved into a hidden location, and patiently watched the fishermen through binoculars. The wait paid off as ECO Dainack spotted a man hiking through the trails toward the fishermen carrying an empty duffel bag. The man disappeared behind the rocks at the water's edge and emerged several minutes later, hurrying back down the trails toward the parking lot. ECO Dainack walked onto the trail in front of the fish runner who, knowing he had been caught, immediately dropped the bag and began apologizing. The bag held nine striped bass, including several well below the legal size limit. ECO Dainack found another striper tied to a line hidden among the rocks near the fishermen. Three fishermen and the runner were ticketed for possession of striped bass out of season and possession of undersized striped bass.

ECO Dainack with the 10 illegally taken striped bass.
ECO Dainack with the 10 illegally taken striped bass.

Endangered Species Bust - New York County

On March 9, ECO Adam Johnson, Lt. Michael Buckley, Lt. Jesse Paluch, and Investigator Sara Komonchak conducted a plainclothes operation at an antiques store in Greenwich Village. The operation was a result of previous store walkthroughs over several days, when Investigator Edward Piwko and ECO Johnson identified several pieces of elephant ivory being offered for sale. Lt. Paluch entered the store in plainclothes and identified additional ivory items for sale, along with a tiger tooth and a lion-tooth necklace. After Paluch made arrangements to purchase the illegal items, uniformed ECOs were called in and seized the endangered species items. Due to the volume of illegal items offered for sale, the case has been sent to the New York County District Attorney's Office for further investigation.

Staten Island Snakes - Richmond County

On March 11, ECO Wesley Leubner was on patrol in Westchester and Putnam counties when he heard a news report of a venomous snake bite in Staten Island. ECO Leubner contacted Richmond County ECO Michael Hameline regarding the report. A Staten Island man had been bitten on the hand by a deadly Gaboon Viper while cleaning its cage and was transported to Jacobi Medical Center in Bronx County. ECO Hameline and ECO JT Rich visited the NYPD 121st Precinct in Staten Island to obtain detailed information about the snake. After being bitten, the subject cut the snake's head off with a knife and called 911. NYPD arrived on scene and located the deceased Gaboon Viper, as well as a Red-Tailed Colombian Boa. Both snakes were secured by NYPD's Emergency Services Unit and transported to the New York City Animal Care and Control office in Manhattan. The subject was fortunate that the bite was a "dry" bite, meaning that no venom was injected into his hand. He was able to check himself out of the hospital Saturday morning. On March 12, ECOs Hameline and Rich interviewed the subject, who admitted to possessing both snakes without the required permits. The subject was issued a summons for violating NYC Law pertaining to illegal pets, as well as a summons from the DEC for possessing a venomous reptile without a permit. The DEC summons is returnable to Richmond County Court in May. The deceased viper was seized into evidence; the constrictor is being cared for by NYC animal care and control.

Head of the Gaboon Viper
The head of the Gaboon Viper.
Red-Tailed Colombian Python
Red-Tailed Colombian Python

Winter Storm Stella Response - Statewide

DLE was called upon to assist heavily impacted counties across the state in response to heavy snow and blizzard conditions during winter storm Stella from March 13 through March 15. Emergency equipment, including snowmobiles and a tracked UTV, were pre-positioned in the southern part of the state. ECOs assisted State Police with highway closures in the Hudson Valley. During the height of the storm on March 14, 48 ECOs actively assisted State Police in various locations across the eastern portion of the state, with an additional 100 ECOs at the ready if needed. The ECOs handled many traffic-related issues and assisted stranded motorists.

ECO Kurt Bush patrolling State Rt. 6.
ECO Kurt Bush patrolling State Rt. 6.
ECO Jared Woodin helping a stranded motorist.
ECO Jared Woodin helping a
stranded motorist.

If you witness an environmental crime or believe a violation of environmental law occurred please call the DEC Division of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267).

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