Sunday, September 4, 2011

Understanding Forest Rangers and ECOs

What follows is a guest essay contributed by the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership, a coalition of Adirondack organizations building on the Leave No Trace philosophy:

While fishing a fairly remote brook trout pond, a man in an official looking green uniform approaches and asks to see your fishing license.

While camping on a lake, a woman in a green uniform – a little different from the uniform you had seen before – comes into camp and makes some inquiries about your plans and practices for storing food and waste.

As you approach the trail head, a young man in tan uniform shirt comes up to your group and asks about your destination, clothing and equipment.

Who are the uniformed people described above?

They are all members of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Office of Public Protection. Whether an Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) asking for your fishing license, a Forest Ranger checking on your camp, or an Assistant Forest Ranger ensuring you are properly prepared for your hike, these men and women work to protect the natural resources of Adirondacks and ensure the safety of the people that recreate on its lands and waters.

While they all work for the DEC, and share the same basic charge, the responsibilities of each these uniformed groups are different.

DEC Environmental Conservation Police are police officers whose main responsibilities are enforcing the State’s Environmental Conservation Law. Environmental Conservation Officers place special emphasis on the laws and regulations that prevent environmental pollution, and the laws and regulations that protect fish and wildlife.

DEC Forest Rangers are also police officers. They are responsible for search and rescue and wildland fire fighting, however, their primary responsibility is protecting natural resources on state lands and the people that recreate on them.

If you recreate in the Adirondacks you are very likely to encounter an Environmental Conservation Officer or a Forest Ranger. Though each has a slightly different focus, they both patrol the lands and waters of the Adirondacks and enforce the laws and regulation of the State.

If you fish, hunt or trap it is likely that an environmental conservation officer will checking to ensure you are properly licensed and not violating game laws. You may also encounter an environmental conservation officer while boating on the water or at a boat launch. They are responsible for ensuring that your boat contains all of the required safety equipment (i.e. personal flotation devices) and is operated in a safe manner.

If you hike, camp, climb or participate in any other recreational activity on the state lands in the Adirondacks you will likely meet a Forest Ranger. They enforce environmental conservation laws and regulations on state land, and also provide information to ensure that you practice your recreational activity in a manner that is safe and minimizes impacts on the resources of the Adirondacks. Forest Rangers also enforce all other state laws that apply to outdoor recreational activities on state lands, including ATV & snowmobile enforcement.

During the summer season, in some of the busier backcountry areas of the Adirondacks, you may encounter an Assistant Forest Ranger while recreating on state lands. They wear tan shirts instead of green and are not police officers. They educate the recreationist on the proper ways to ensure a safe recreational experience that minimizes impacts on natural resources. They are trained in first aid and assist Forest Rangers in search and rescue. Any violations or serious incidents they observe are reported to a Forest Ranger.

DEC Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Officers are also responsible for law enforcement at DEC campgrounds. The people in tan uniform shirts at campgrounds are campground staff.

Take the time to make the most of any meeting you have with a Forest Ranger, Assistant Forest Ranger, or an Environmental Conservation Officer in the Adirondacks. They are friendly, knowledgeable, and well-trained people, and can teach a lot about being good stewards of the land.

More information on the duties of the DEC Environmental Conservation Officers and Forest Rangers, and how to become one, can be found on the DEC website at: and

Photo: DEC Forest Rangers conducting a search and rescue operation.

This guest essay was contributed by the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership, a coalition of Adirondack organizations building on the Leave No Trace philosophy. Their goal is to provide public education about the Forest Preserve and Conservation Easements with an emphasis on how to safely enjoy, share, and protect these unique lands. To learn more about AFPEP visit


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4 Responses

  1. Chris Allen says:

    I am just curious as to why I can’t find any information supporting the Park Rangers that work campgrounds in New York! They, as well, where full uniforms; I just cant find anything at all about them. It would be nice to see an article on here about them! DEC Park Rangers have a hard job as well!

  2. John Warren says:


    We have covered Forest Rangers and what they do extensively here (about 40 stories, including this very story you’ve commented on which describes what Forest Rangers do).

    Here is a sampling to get you started:

    William F. Fox, Father of Modern NY Forest Rangers

    Before Forest Rangers, There Were Game Protectors

    Forest Rangers: Ambassadors for the Wild

    Long Overdue Recognition of Ranger Douglas King

    Ranger Peter Fish Wins Alpine Stewardship Award

    If you use the tags at the bottom of each post you can find similar stories (for example all the stories on search and rescues).

    All our stories about Forest Rangers, including their regular reports which we always publish, can be found here (be sure you continue on to pages 2 through 4):

    Thanks for reading the Almanack.

    John Warren