New York DEC to cut Assistant Ranger Program

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New York DEC to cut Assistant Ranger Program

New postby CrisisBill » Mon May 10, 2010 1:12 pm

A program that has played a key role in helping backcountry recreation users since the late 1970s appears to be one of the casualties of this year's budget crisis, prompting opposition from a variety of sources.

The assistant forest ranger program employs roughly 20 people in the Adirondack Park and about 30 statewide on a seasonal basis from about late May until early October. The program cost about $400,000 to run annually.

Assistant forest rangers spend much of their time in the backcountry, giving DEC a presence in remote areas only reachable by paddling or hiking. Their role is to provide assistance and advice to Forest Preserve users, assist in search-and-rescue missions, help fight fires and perform routine maintenance of trails and campsites. They help forest rangers enforce state land regulations but don't have the authority to issue tickets.

Without assistant forest rangers, it's uncertain who these tasks will fall to.

"The forest rangers will need to perform some of the duties previously performed by the assistant forest rangers," DEC Region 5 spokesman Dave Winchell wrote in an e-mail. "However, much of the duties and work just aren't going to be done. Due to the significance of the state budget cuts, there is no way to avoid reducing services to the public."

Many consider assistant forest rangers critical in high-use areas such as the High Peaks Wilderness, Lows Lake, the St. Regis Canoe Area and the Moose River Plains.

The Moose River Plains, located between the hamlets of Indian Lake and Inlet, is a popular destination for hikers, campers anglers and other backcountry users. It would be especially affected by the loss of assistant forest rangers; its gates are closed indefinitely as a result, forcing people to park their motor vehicles on its outskirts.

The Plains consists of 85,000 acres of Wild Forest lands and has more than 40 miles of dirt roads and 140 primitive campsites. The area is still accessible by foot.

Bill Farber, supervisor of the town of Morehouse in Hamilton County, said the lack of assistant forest rangers' presence this season is a big reason the access roads to the Plains haven't been opened. He said the issue was discussed Thursday at the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors meeting.

"Part of the impetus for (closing the gates) was two of the folks from that very program provided services, the policing, the cleanup of the Moose River Plains," Farber said. "Absent that staff, they don't believe they can open the Plains. One of the things we did today was obviously request that the commissioner immediately reopen the two gates."

Farber said not opening the gates to that popular recreation area would be devastating to the local economy.

"The Moose River Plains is a huge part of the summer economy for Indian Lake and Inlet, particularly, but really the whole northern part of Hamilton County," Farber said.

Another area that will be affected is the High Peaks Wilderness, home to Mount Marcy and some of the most popular hiking destinations in the Park. The main trailhead and parking lot is on Adirondack Mountain Club land near the High Peaks Information Center.

Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said he is deeply concerned. One of the main reasons, he said, is that a few years ago forest rangers were reassigned to cover law and order in DEC's drive-in campgrounds, taking them out of the backcountry.

"So, in effect, it took them off the hiking trails and the canoe trails and made them much more responsible for the public campgrounds," Woodworth said. "So the assistant forest rangers really became the backcountry presence - in many cases, the only backcountry presence. This is certainly not a criticism of the forest rangers because I know they try to do everything they can, but the point is that the other responsibilities that they have been tasked with have really pulled them away from the trails and trailheads."

Many believe the assistant forest rangers are one of the best means of outreach to Park visitors. They provide a DEC presence that is there to educate the public and help them.

"The assistant forest ranger is the DEC employee that quite often, probably more often than most DEC employees, encounters the public on Forest Preserve land," said Guy Middleton, who was an assistant forest ranger for 22 years, including 20 in the St. Regis Canoe Area.

Retired High Peaks forest ranger Pete Fish said he played a key role in the creation of the assistant forest ranger program by recommending it to then DEC Commissioner Peter Berle on a hike up Gothics in 1977. He said the assistant forest rangers are important in backcountry rescues, recalling that before them it could be difficult to find help for carrying injured people out of the woods.

"I remember when I came on in 1975 that when we were carrying out one person, we'd be looking at the next person we were going to carry out," Fish said. "Things were grim, and we'll maybe be going right back to that same era. People will have to take a number for being carried out."

State Sen. Betty Little said she wasn't aware that the assistant forest ranger program was going to be cut, but upon hearing the news, she said she was against it.

"I know we have to cut and reduce expenses, but they have an awful lot of people working in Albany, and they ought to be looking in that direction rather than the people who are out in the field," Little said.

Fish blamed the cuts on Gov. David Paterson for requiring the DEC to make so many reductions compared to some other agencies.

"I think our administration is doing a wretched job because I don't think our governor has any feel for the backcountry," Fish said. "He's a New York City person. I think his focus is right there, and he's aware of an island called Albany, and as far as I can see the rest of the state doesn't exist. ... It feels like the whole North Country has been abandoned."
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Re: New York DEC to cut Assistant Ranger Program

New postby mtnclimber » Tue May 11, 2010 11:09 am

I think that they only have a couple in the Catskill's. Most being around the North-South Lake area. A lot of people get lost around Kaaterskill Falls and the Escarpment Trail, and this year more will be lost then ever.
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Re: New York DEC to cut Assistant Ranger Program

New postby bikenhike » Fri May 14, 2010 2:28 pm

Not sure what they do here in the Catskills?
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Re: New York DEC to cut Assistant Ranger Program

New postby dave » Fri May 14, 2010 8:37 pm

We tried to get the DEC to provide us with reports from Regions 3 & 4 showing the work that the Rangers do. This would have helped their cause significant. They did this for Region 5, and the public in the Adirondacks now understands that Rangers are quite busy doing some very important work.

After asking twice and not getting a call back, we gave up.
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Re: New York DEC to cut Assistant Ranger Program

New postby mike » Fri May 14, 2010 8:51 pm

I called the DEC twice. The second time I called, she said that it was unlikely that we would ever get the reports. They knew about region 5 releasing them. She understood the benefit to the DEC. I think the regional offices don't want to do the reports.
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