Following a week of training, a group of 40 backcountry stewards and assistant forest rangers are now deployed on state lands and wildlife management areas across New York to protect the state’s natural resources and help visitors enjoy a safe and rewarding outdoor experience according to state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens.
The training was conducted through the Backcountry Stewardship Program, a long running partnership between DEC and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) that began more than a decade ago. The majority of backcountry stewards and assistant forest rangers were in the field starting Memorial Day weekend and will serve through Labor Day, with some working through Columbus Day.
“New York’s beautiful natural resources attract millions of visitors and it is important to have trained stewards to protect our lands and waters, while also helping people enjoy their outdoor experience,” Commissioner Martens said in a statement to the press. “Governor Cuomo has expanded outdoor recreation opportunities throughout New York, and DEC will have staff in many remote areas to provide assistance as needed. The Backcountry Stewardship Program offers a great learning experience for interns who work alongside DEC foresters and forest rangers, and has proven to be a popular and effective way to protect our natural resources and the people who use them.”
Under the Backcountry Stewardship Program, 22 college-aged students have been trained as backcountry stewards and, along with 18 assistant forest rangers, will work on DEC public lands, including State Forests, Forest Preserve lands, wildlife management areas and conservation easement lands. The areas protected by stewards and assistant forest rangers include the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, the shores of Lake Ontario, the Salmon River, the Sugar Hill and Hemlock-Canadice State Forests and the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area.
The interns and assistant forest rangers work closely with DEC Foresters and Forest Rangers and will hike and paddle through New York’s backcountry, protecting resources, monitoring usage and providing visitor services. Assistant forest rangers are seasonal DEC employees who are trained in wilderness first aid and wildland firefighting as part of their role to assist hikers and campers and ensure they have a safe and enjoyable experience on state lands.
The Backcountry Stewardship Program is funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) – matched by contributions from SCA.
Photo: An Assistant Forest Ranger talks with hikers at an Adirondack trailhead. Photo courtesy DEC.