New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Forest Rangers respond to search and rescue incidents statewide. Working with other state agencies, local emergency response organizations, and volunteer search and rescue groups, Forest Rangers locate and extract lost, injured, or distressed people from across New York State.
In 2020, DEC Forest Rangers conducted 492 search and rescue missions, extinguished 192 wildfires that burned a total of more than 1,122 acres, participated in eight prescribed fires that served to rejuvenate more than 203 acres, and worked on cases that resulted in 3,131 tickets or arrests.
A look at some recent reports:
• The over-friendly turkey (Erie County) — On April 14, ECO Koepf received a call from State Trooper Montante about a turkey in a rest stop parking lot off the Thruway in Angola. The turkey was reportedly extremely friendly, allowing people to pet it, and refused to leave the area. ECOs Koepf and Machnica responded to the location and observed the full-grown turkey hanging out near the trooper’s car. The officers caught the turkey without incident, placed it in a container for transport, and drove the bird to a more rural area where it was released, unharmed.
• Sick seal recovery (Suffolk County) — On April 18, ECOs McCabe, Doroski, and Bobseine assisted a New York Marine Rescue Center team in collecting a harp seal in Amagansett. The seal appeared sick. East Hampton Marine Patrol found the animal after it had been reported by a member of the public. ECOs assisted with getting the seal into a transport cage and loading it into the Marine Rescue Team’s truck for transport to biologists for treatment.
• Help sought to solve eagle shooting (Broome County) — On April 3, ECOs received a complaint about an unknown individual shooting a duck or goose. ECO McCormick responded, and upon investigation, determined the shot bird was a bald eagle. A forensic examination determined the eagle was shot by a high-caliber rifle. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a reward of up to $5,000 to eligible individuals for information that significantly furthers this investigation or leads to enforcement action against the person or persons who shot the bald eagle. The eagle is believed to have been perched in a tree on the edge of a field near 1022 Nanticoke road in the town of Nanticoke when it was shot.
Although bald eagles are no longer listed as federally endangered, these birds remain protected under the New York State Environmental Conservation Law and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection acts. Maximum fines are $15,000 and $100,000, respectively, with possible imprisonment up to one year.
Anyone with information is asked to contact either Environmental Conservation Officer McCormick at (607) 621-3464, Special Agent Bessey with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Amherst at (716) 691-3635 x205, or 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477).
• Persistence pays off (Sullivan County) — On April 13, an illegal bear case pending in the Town of Fallsburg Court was resolved after years of persistence, patience, K9 assistance, DNA testing, and a photograph.
In September 2019, ECO Wood received a complaint about suspects unlawfully shooting a bear with the aid of bait in the town of Fallsburg. The illegal activity reportedly happened over the final weekend of the early bear season. ECO Wood responded to the area and patrolled on foot with his partner, K9 Deming. ECO Wood located two stands around a bait pile and K9 Deming located blood and black fur. ECO Wood photographed the area and collected the blood for potential future testing.
On opening day of rifle deer season in November 2019, ECO Wood returned to the area with K9 Deming and a New York State Trooper as part of the annual Green and Gray Patrol, a detail that pairs ECOs and Troopers in areas with a high call volume during hunting seasons. During the patrol, the officers observed hunter Michael Travis in one of the bait stands with his younger brother. When asked who else was hunting, Travis was adamant that he was alone. However, K9 Deming quickly tracked to a vehicle in the woods where another hunter, Tasha Curry, was found hiding with her rifle. Officers interviewed Travis and Curry and charged them with hunting deer with the aid of bait. Curry was issued an additional charge of failing to report her bear harvest during the previous bear hunting season as required.
ECO Wood remained committed to finding the bear and solving the illegal bear take case. The two hunters eventually admitted to killing a bear illegally and taking it to a residence in Ulster County until they could get it mounted. ECO Wood made several attempts to locate the bear carcass at the Ulster County residence with negative results, but eventually found it at Travis’ residence. DNA test results confirmed that the animal was the bear killed in September 2019. IN addition, ECO Wood observed a photograph of Curry posing with the bear in the same area of the bait stands, where the evidence was found.
On Feb. 4, 2020, Travis and Curry appeared in Fallsburg Court for hunting deer with bait on the opening day of rifle season. Both pleaded guilty and were fined. The illegal bear case was resolved in the Town of Fallsburg Court on April 13, 2021. Curry and Travis each pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges of taking protected wildlife except as permitted by Fish and Wildlife Law. They were each fined $2,000 for the illegal bear and mandated to pay a $120 surcharge, plus $450 in DNA testing restitution, to DEC.