In mid-February, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) opened the 21st Basic School for Uniformed Officers, the 28-week training academy in Pulaski that prepares recruits for positions as Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) and Forest Rangers.
The academy began with 34 ECO and 11 Ranger candidates. The recruits are from 28 of New York’s 62 counties and range in age from 22 to 44 years old. Graduation is tentatively scheduled for August 25.
During their time at the academy, which runs during the week from Sunday evenings to Friday afternoons, recruits are expected to log 1,288 hours of training. While the first few weeks focus primarily on basic police skills such as physical training, drill and ceremony, and computer skills, recruits also receive instruction in firearms training, swiftwater rescues, wildland fire suppression, and emergency vehicle operation.
An ECO’s job duties are centered on the 71 chapters of New York State Environmental Conservation Law and can range from investigating deer poaching to conducting surveillance on a company suspected of dumping chemical waste to checking fishing licenses on a local waterway. In 2016, ECOs responded to more than 26,400 calls and issued more than 22,150 tickets according to DEC.
Forest Rangers’ duties focus on the public’s use of DEC-administered state lands and forests and can span from patrolling state properties to conducting search and rescue operations to fighting forest fires.
In 2016, DEC Forest Rangers reported conducting 356 search and rescue missions, extinguishing 185 wildfires that burned a total of 4,191 acres, and working on cases that resulted in nearly 3,000 tickets or arrests.
ECOs and Forest Rangers are full-fledged State Police officers and are often called upon to assist other police and first responders. These officers were among the first responders on the scene to help in the aftermath of Sept. 11, they assisted in Superstorm Sandy response, and helped in the 2015 search for two escaped felons from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
The first Forest Rangers, originally known as Fire Wardens, were put into service in 1885 when the New York State Legislature established the Forest Preserve of New York State. Read High Peaks Forest Ranger Scott van Laer’s short history of Forest Rangers in the Adirondacks here.
ECOs trace their origins to eight Game Protectors first appointed for service in 1880 and their many Special Game Protectors, civilians deputized with peace officer status who could be appointed by county supervisors to serve in any municipality.
The recruits in this newest class were selected from an eligible list of qualifications and passing scores generated from the most recent Civil Service exam, which was given in 2013. To view job qualifications for ECOs, click here.
For an inside look into what it takes to be an ECO or a Forest Ranger, watch a 4-minute clip from last year’s Basic School for Uniformed Officers.
Upon graduation, recruits will be assigned patrol areas, typically consisting of one or two counties. They will join the ranks of 286 ECOs and 132 Forest Rangers currently serving across the state.
Photos: Screengrabs from a DEC video of last year’s Basic School for Uniformed Officers.