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For Release: Tuesday, May 12, 2020

DEC Statewide Forest Ranger Highlights

Recent Forest Ranger Actions

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Forest Rangers respond to search and rescue incidents statewide. Working with other state agencies, local emergency response organizations, and volunteer search and rescue groups, Forest Rangers locate and extract lost, injured, or distressed people from the backcountry.

In 2019, DEC Forest Rangers conducted 337 search and rescue missions, extinguished 74 wildfires that burned a total of 212 acres, participated in 29 prescribed fires that burned and rejuvenated 645 acres, and worked on cases that resulted in 2,507 tickets or arrests.

"DEC celebrates our 50th anniversary this year, but our Forest Rangers have been on the front lines for even longer, protecting New York's wildlife, natural resources, residents, and visitors for more than a century," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "The state's brave Forest Rangers have a vast knowledge of first aid, land navigation, and technical rescue techniques that are critical to the success of their missions in remote wilderness areas, rugged mountainous peaks, white water rivers, frozen lakes, and forested areas statewide. We are proud of the work our Forest Rangers perform and look forward to another 50 years and beyond of highly trained service."

Town of Riverhead
Suffolk County
Bonfire Debris:
During the first week of May, Forest Rangers John Gagne and Scott Hicks began investigating a bonfire site at the Peconic Headwaters Natural Resource Management Area and stepped up patrols in the area after several wildfires. The Rangers discovered evidence of a previous fire and fresh wood pallets being collected for a future fire. During an evening patrol on May 9, Forest Ranger Gagne discovered a vehicle transporting more wood pallets to the site. With assistance from DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officer (ECO) Taylor Della Rocco, the officers issued a total of five summonses to four individuals for trespassing on State land without a permit and operating an unauthorized motor vehicle on State land. Rangers ordered the offenders to properly dispose of the waste and clean the site. In addition, the Forest Rangers notified the offenders that all tickets for dumping in the Pine Barrens are being held pending confirmation that all waste materials are removed, and the site is restored to pristine condition.

DEC reminds residents that the statewide ban prohibiting residential brush burning runs through May 14. Conditions for wildfires are heightened in springtime when most wildfires occur. Every spring as the snow melts and vegetation dries out, New York's partnering local responders all too often have to leave their jobs and families to respond to wildfires caused by illegal spring debris fires. DEC Forest Rangers respond to and assist local agencies with the larger and more remote fires. Complying with the burn ban prevents unnecessary burdens on and dangers to state resources and local responders, especially during the State's ongoing COVID-19 response.

photo of a pick-up truck in the woods with wooden pallets in the back of it burned debris in the woods
Vehicle transporting wood pallets for illegal fires in Suffolk County

Town of Brookhaven
Suffolk County
Dumping Enforcement:
On May 1, Forest Ranger Scott Hicks discovered a large pile of home renovation debris on the outskirts of the Rocky Point Natural Resource Management Area, adjacent to a shopping center. Using information gathered by the Suffolk County Pine Barrens Law Enforcement Council and a document discovered by Forest Ranger John Gagne, the team identified a possible suspect. Upon further investigation, Forest Ranger Gagne and ECO Taylor Della Rocco obtained a confession from one of the alleged suspects. On May 10, Forest Rangers Hicks and Gagne charged the responsible parties with dumping in the Pine Barrens and dumping on state land, and ordered the subjects to clean up the debris and dispose of the materials in accordance with the law.

construction materials dumped at the side of the woods near a parking lot pick-up truck with large amounts of construction debris and garbage in the back of it
Home renovation debris illegally dumped at Rocky Point Natural Resource Management Area

Town of Benson
Hamilton County
Swiftwater Rescue:
On May 4 at 12:30 p.m., while conducting a fly-over patrol, New York State Police (NYSP) Aviation noticed a vehicle in West Stony Creek and notified Forest Ranger Lt. Dave Kallen. Ranger Kallen responded to the location and found a 61-year-old man from Northville trapped in a vehicle about 25 feet from shore down a 15-foot embankment. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, NYSP Troop G, Mayfield, Northville, Edinburg, and Hope fire departments responded to the scene along with Forest Rangers Melissa Milano and David Nally, who brought cold water gear and a small inflatable watercraft to help rescue the trapped motorist from swift water conditions. Forest Rangers and fire department personnel secured the vehicle to shore as Lt. Kallen, a deputy from the Sheriff's Office, and fire department members waded out to the motorist to bring him back to shore using an inflatable kayak. Once on shore, emergency personnel put high angle rescue rigging in place to get the man up the steep embankment to a waiting ambulance. The ambulance then transported the man to a helicopter bound for a nearby hospital. At 1:40 p.m., the incident concluded and ECO Jason Hilliard checked for any environmental hazards such as debris and possible leaks from the damaged vehicle.

wide angle of a creek with various rescue crews pulling a man and his car out of the creek
Vehicle plunges into West Stony Creek, trapping driver (Photo courtesy of Bill Mahan)

Town of Moreau
Saratoga County
Wilderness Rescue:
On May 4 at 3:30 p.m., Saratoga County 911 transferred a call to DEC's Ray Brook Dispatch from two female hikers in Moreau State Park who called for assistance after taking a few wrong turns trying to get back to the trailhead off Old Saratoga Road from the summit of Grant Mountain. Dispatchers obtained coordinates that placed the hikers on the west side of the mountain when they should have been on the east side. The 22-year-old from Mechanicville and 23-year-old from Gansevoort were directed to remain at their location until help arrived. Forest Rangers Joe Hess and Tony Goetke responded to the hikers' location along with New York State Park Police, who had also received a call and were heading to assist. At 5:08 p.m., Dispatch received notification that Park Police located the hikers and were walking them out to the trailhead.

Town of Long Lake
Hamilton County
Wilderness Rescue:
On May 6 at 12:01 a.m., Hamilton County 911 contacted DEC's Central Dispatch following an alert from a Garmin Emergency Beacon from two men camping on Forked Lake. One of the men was experiencing dizziness and loss of equilibrium. Coordinates provided by 911 indicated the men were in a lean-to on the southwestern side of the lake. Forest Rangers Melissa Milano and Jason Scott responded to the location and provided first aid to the ailing man. Rangers then walked the 65-year-old man from Averill Park and the 66-year-old man from Delanson out of the woods to a road where the ill man was transported to a local hospital for additional medical treatment. Rangers were cleared of the scene at 2:22 a.m.

Town of Hardenburgh
Ulster County
State Land Enforcement:
On May 7, Forest Rangers Richard Franke and Lt. Rob Morse were patrolling Alder Lake following a complaint about individuals picking ramps and leeks on State land. Rangers witnessed numerous individuals with packs and bags full of ramps/leeks throughout the day. The individuals did not have a DEC permit and Rangers determined the large volume was not intended for personal consumption, making the harvest illegal. Two tickets were issued for depositing trash on State land, six tickets for defacing, removing, and destroying plants on State land, and one ticket was issued for violating the penal law on State land. Forest Rangers seized approximately 100 pounds of ramps and leeks that the officers offered to local food banks.

New York State COVID-19 Response:
DEC personnel from across agency divisions and regions statewide continue to support the State's response to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Personnel from more than 20 New York State agencies are working on response efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. DEC Forest Rangers' expertise in the Incident Command System (ICS) and experience in applying ICS to wide area searches and large wildland fire have made them a key part of this statewide effort.

Three Forest Rangers and DEC Commissioner stand in a parking lot of a COVID testing site
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos (far right) meets with Forest Ranger Matthew Hettenbaugh, ECO Shea Mathis, and Forest Ranger Nathan Sprague (l-r) at the COVID-19 testing site in Buffalo

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