Department of Environmental Conservation

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Search and Rescue

DEC Dispatch:

  • 1-833-NYS-RANGERS (1-833-697-7264)
Rangers in an airboat on a frozen lake
Airboat is a handy tool for rescue mission

New York State has over 18 million acres of forest and wild lands within its borders. In one form or another much of this land is used for recreation and/or commercial activity. Each year over 300 individuals are lost or injured on these lands requiring an emergency response. Most of these events occur during recreational outings away from roads and local emergency services. Response to these emergencies occurs through a network of state and local agencies. Central to these interior search and rescue operations are the NYS DEC Forest Rangers who are stationed throughout the state. Each ranger has a geographic territory in which they live and is responsible for the preservation, protection, enhancement of the state's forest resources as well as the safety and well-being of the public using these resources. In addition to the private lands, the state owns and manages over 4.5 million acres of public land where recreational use such as hunting, camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing and snowmobiling are the principle use.

Litter rescue in action
A ranger being lowered in a litter

Authorization and Coverage

The NYS Environmental Conservation Law gives authority to the DEC Forest Rangers to direct search and rescue missions as well as provide training and support to other agencies that do the same. Typical missions involve lost persons, downed aircraft or rescue operations for persons injured or in serious danger of injury in wild, remote and forested areas. Rangers knowledge of first aid, land navigation, and rope rescue techniques are often critical to the success of missions. Search and rescue mission often require rangers to function in remote wilderness areas from rugged mountainous peaks to white-water rivers, and through vast forest areas from spruce-fir thicket to open hardwoods.

A Ranger and a group of volunteer with a search map
Ranger assigning volunteers to their search area

Coordination of Forces

Critical to the success of these missions is the support of state and local organizations. NY State Police Aviation helicopters provide an aerial search platform, crew insertion and patient medivac. Local volunteer fire departments and search and rescue groups provide ground searching and logistical resources while the local sheriff's offices provide local government liaison. All of these resources working together are critical to the success of any mission.

Several rangers climbing up a frozen waterfall with ice picks
Rangers being trained to climb up icy waterfall

Continuous Training

Forest Rangers have developed training courses to teach volunteers who assist at searches. They are trained in search management, national incident command system (ICS), map and compass, search techniques and the use of global positioning system (GPS) units. Rangers are represented on an ASTM National Standards subcommittee for search and rescue and are continually looking for ways to advance and improve the ability of state and local agencies to successfully respond to search and rescue incidents.


New York State Forest Rangers endorse the hikeSafe program as a means of preparing hikers and campers for their outdoors experience. All outdoor users should be familiar with the hikeSafe Hiker Responsibility Code and safety recommendations.

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  • NYS DEC Forest Rangers
    625 Broadway, 3rd Floor
    Albany, NY 1233-2560
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