Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Stewards; Assistant Forest Rangers Return

Adirondack backcountry users and the state’s natural resources will both receive a higher level of protection following the creation of a Backcountry Stewards Internship Program, a new partnership between New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Student Conservation Association (SCA), and the reinstatement of the Assistant Forest Ranger program.

The Backcountry Stewardship Program expands on a long-running partnership between SCA and DEC that began more than a decade ago in the Hudson River Valley and the Adirondacks. Funding from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) will be matched by contributions from SCA to hire college-aged students to work on state lands.

“The backcountry stewards will engage in substantive, hands-on conservation while conducting extensive public outreach and education,” notes Marsha Towns, National Director for Conservation Internships at SCA. “This is truly a win-win for all involved.”

A total of 24 new jobs have been created for young men and women to work this summer as backcountry stewards in a variety of settings including the shores of Lake Ontario, the Catskill Park and the Adirondack Park and on a variety of DEC public lands including State Forests, Conservation Easement lands and New York State Forest Preserve lands. Eleven men and women have also been hired as Assistant Forest Rangers to work on the public lands in the Adirondacks.

Working with DEC Foresters and Forest Rangers, the Backcountry Stewards and Assistant Forest Rangers are expected to enhance DEC’s ability to provide for the safety and well-being of recreationists. Accessing the backcountry by foot, canoe, or kayak, they are expected to monitor public use and help prevent potential adverse impacts to natural resources through education. They are also expected to educate the public about the appropriate use of state lands, including “Leave No Trace” principles for camping and hiking, ways to protect fragile ecosystems and DEC rules and regulations. They will also serve as a direct communication link with local forest rangers and DEC Emergency Dispatch in Albany if greater assistance is needed or to respond to a backcountry emergency.

While they will be wearing different uniforms, the recreating public can expect similar service from the Backcountry Stewards and Assistant Forest Rangers, according to a press statement by the DEC. Backcountry Stewards will camp overnight in the areas where they are assigned and the Assistant Forest Rangers will assist Forest Rangers with search and rescue missions and wildfire suppression.

Backcountry Stewards and Assistant Forest Rangers will receive substantial training before being placed in the field beginning Memorial Day Weekend. The Assistant Forest Rangers and most of the Backcountry Stewards will be patrolling through Labor Day weekend. The Backcountry Stewards in some heavily used areas will continue patrolling through Columbus Day weekend.

The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has already provided backcountry training for two dozen Backcountry Stewards to supplement training provided by DEC staff. At sessions held at the Pack Forest in Warrensburg, ADK Outdoor Leadership Coordinator Ryan Doyle provided instruction in “Leave No Trace” principles, and ADK Trails Coordinator Wes Lampman covered basic trail maintenance principles, such as sidecutting, ditch cleaning and blowdown removal.

ADK is one of only a handful of organization nationwide that is certified to provide the highest level of Leave No Trace training. Leave No Trace is an international program designed to assist outdoor enthusiasts in reducing the impacts of hiking, camping, hunting, biking, fishing, skiing, paddling and other outdoor pursuits. Each year, ADK staff and volunteers spend thousands of hours maintaining hiking trails in the Adirondacks, Catskills, state parks and other natural areas.

The Student Conservation Association is the only national organization that provides high school and college students with conservation service opportunities in all 50 states, from urban communities to national parks and forests. Since 1957, SCA’s hands-on practice of conservation service has helped to develop new generations of conservation leaders.

Photo: An Assistant Forest Ranger talks with hikers at an Adirondack trailhead. Photo courtesy DEC.

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