Forest Rangers Address Staff Shortages
Thursday, November 15, 2018
For Immediate Release:
November 14, 2018
Forest Rangers address staff shortages, communications problems during public comment period for Sundown Wild Forest and Vernooy State Forest Unit Management Plan meetings
Albany NY – The Police Benevolent Association of New York State Law Enforcement (PBA of NYS), the union representing Forest Rangers, Park Police, Environmental Conversation officers and University Police on SUNY campuses, is raising concerns over the Draft Unit Management Plan (UMP) for Sundown Wild Forest and Vernooy Kill State Forest regarding staffing levels and safe working conditions.
Associate Director Kenneth Gierloff attended a public comment hearing for the management area, which covers the problematic Blue Hole and entered into the record numerous public and officer safety concerns.
“There is no cell signal and the radio coverage is spotty to non-existent,” said Associate Director Kenneth Gierloff. “When emergency communications are required a ranger must drive fifteen minutes or more to get cell coverage or be in position for someone to hear what you are saying on the radio.”
High volumes of recreationists in this area require constant Ranger patrols, especially at the Blue Hole, which now has a permit requirement for public access. This has led to a loss in all other areas of service, as the understaffed ranger force must enforce the permit system. While the PBA supports this as a necessary resource protection measure, we request a reasonable increase in staffing to maintain the essential function forest rangers provide throughout the 700,000 acre Catskill Park.
Rangers are currently mandated to work regular pass days to compensate for inadequate staffing levels. The staffing crisis is so serious that when an emergency incident occurs, rangers must leave their post limiting entry into the blue hole and respond, sometimes an hour’s drive away. When this happens the entire use limitation system collapses.
The Draft (UMP) for Sundown Wild Forest and Vernooy Kill State Forest proposes changes to the recreational infrastructure along the Peekamoose Valley Corridor to address safety and overuse issues currently experienced in these areas. The amendments also list the creation of new access points and additional mountain biking opportunities.
“The PBA of NYS fully supports these plans but if we add additional recreation opportunities and infrastructure to an area already experiencing overuse it must come with an increase of forest rangers,” said Dan De Federicis, PBA of NYS Executive Director and Counsel.
There are actually three fewer rangers in DEC’s region 3 then there were in 1990, prior to the internet and social media craze, which has been the primary driver of overuse at the Blue Hole. The growth in the number of visitors on all state lands has led to significant problems beyond trailheads or front country congestion. Rangers assigned to the Blue Hole are unable to patrol the backcountry and are now forced to remain in the front country to handle parking issues, and maintain a state of readiness for search and rescue operations.
In order to fully implement these amendments, some modest staffing increase in the ranger force around this unit must occur. The PBA of NYS recommends increasing the workforce in both Ranger District 3-2 and 3-1 from 4 to 6. We also recommend a ranger station with electricity, landline, cell tower booster and external payphone at the Peekamoose to improve communications issues and for general safety
These staffing increases will allow Forest Rangers to fully support and implement these UMP amendments and provide greater safety for the public recreating on these lands.
The PBA of New York State is the exclusive bargaining agent for the New York State University (SUNY) Police, the New York State Environmental Conservation Police, the New York State Park Police, and the New York State Forest Rangers. Our members police and protect New York State’s public universities and colleges; state parks and historic sites; and they enforce state laws and protect our lands and forests and ensure environmental safety and quality throughout the state.