Perhaps most of all, the outdoor experience offers us a chance to explore and shape our values, attitudes, and behaviors towards the environment and ourselves. It instills a sense of ownership and personal responsibility.
The above statement, taken from the Seventh Annual Report of the NYS Forest, Fish and Game Commission is as applicable today, as it was when first published in 1906.
At that time, New York's forests and streams were just beginning to recover from an unrelenting onslaught of environmentally damaging practices, which ranged from illegal lumbering to deer poaching to squatters settling on state land.
There was even an early environmental advocacy group formed to prevent the pilfering of spruce for ornamental use in camp construction. Appropriately known as the Society for the Preservation of Adirondack Spruce, the group claimed there was, 'Barely a spruce tree to be found, larger around than the size of a man's wrist; due to the demand for architectural ornamentation."
There were similar efforts underway at the same time, which sought to protect black bears, to restore beavers and to put an end to the commercial harvest of fish and game.
In 1880, Governor Alonzo B. Cornell appointed eight Game Protectors in New York state. They were the state's first environment law enforcement force, dedicated to protecting the state's woods and waters, and the fish and game.
In 1899, Governor Theodore Roosevelt claimed, "I want as Game Protectors men of courage, who can handle the rifle, axe and paddle; who can camp out in the summer or winter; who can go on snowshoes, if necessary; who can go through the woods by day or by night without regard to trails."
In 1964, the NYS Conservation Department renamed the Game Protectors as Conservation Officers, and in 1970 the newly minted NYS Department of Environmental Conservation again updated the title to Environmental Conservation Officers, or ECO's. In 1971, they were vested with police powers.
Although the title's been changed several times, their duties remain essentially the same. The men in green Stetsons are entrusted with the responsibility, "To protect the environment, natural resources and people of the State of New York through law enforcement, education and public outreach."
In 1976, the department created a separate Division of Law Enforcement and in 1982, the Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation was formed to provide a special investigative unit within the Department of Law Enforcement.
This unit, with 45 staffers statewide remains focused on large scale hazardous waste dumping, endangered species trafficking and undercover operations.
Currently, there are over 320 ECO's on duty, including the Marine Enforcement Unit and a K-9 Unit. They are responsible for everything from checking a fishing license to the transport of protected species, to the illegal dumping of hazardous waste along a quiet, back road.
At first glance, being an ECO may seem like an ideal occupation. However, it is also considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Officers often deal with armed suspects, who may be addled by drugs or alcohol, in remote locations where there is illegal activity, and very few witnesses available.
In January 1981, Idaho Game Wardens Wilson Elms and William Harlan Pogue were shot and killed while they attempted to arrest a poacher named Claude Dallas. They were ambushed at the poacher's campsite.
In November, 2010, Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer, David Grove was fatally shot near Gettysburg, after a shootout on a rural road with a deer jacker he was attempting to arrest.
The incident in Pennsylvania occurred in the dark of night, as New York ECO's were involved in Operation Dark Night, an effort to combat deer jacking in 57 of 62 counties.
That deer jacking enforcement effort eventually resulted in 137 defendants charged with 274 misdemeanors. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
ECO's are also responsible for enforcing the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, (IWVC), a reciprocal agreement that establishes the revocation of hunting, fishing or trapping privileges for violations in member states.
In 2010, DEC added the names of 144 New York residents to the IWVC list of revocations and a dozen additional names for violations that occurred in member states. These criminals were not simply stealing from the forest, field or stream; they were robbing fish and game from all legitimate sportsmen, and women.
ECO's can be reached by contacting the 24 hour dispatch to report poaching or environmental crimes. DEC encourages anyone with information on environmental crimes and violations to call its 24-hour hotline, 1-800-TIPP-DEC or 1-800-847-7332. Callers may request to file complaints anonymously. An online form is also available.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org