Outgoing DEC boss may have been involved with scheme to shake up law enforcement arms of environmental police

While I cannot confirm anything at this time (it’s not yet cut in stone) it definitely appears that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) is changing leadership.

Not willingly on the part of this venerable organization, but conducted with subterfuge with a near-perfect political submarine action. Let me explain so all this becomes just a bit clearer.

At first, back in 1880, the Division of Law Enforcement consisted of a handful of dedicated officers that were called Game Protectors. They were scattered across NY State, and did their best to prevent poaching of game fish and animals. In 1885 they were joined by Forest Rangers who were charged with protecting NY’s forested lands. And for 138 years they worked together at their various assigned tasks.

For the record today there are approximately 300 "Conservation Police Officers" whose primary missions are:  "To conserve, improve and protect New York's natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution, in order to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state and their overall economic and social well-being."

There are approximately 120 Division of Forest Protection's Forest Rangers dedicated to protecting NY’s forests. These Rangers, as police officers, wildland firefighters and wilderness first responders, are prepared to protect the state's forests and the people who use these natural resources from all kinds of problems. Each day DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers and Forest Rangers patrol Department-administered public lands and easements by vehicle, boat, ATV, snowmobile, aircraft, bicycle, foot, skis or snowshoes.

And now for the crux of this sneaky, dastardly situation. The New York State Forest Rangers, in conjunction with the DEC commissioner and more than likely the DEC ECO’s own union (which is active under the Department of Prisons), have apparently initiated a hostile takeover of the environmental conservation officer’s jobs in a letter sent to the NY Civil Service by the DEC Human Resources office. I have read that letter, and it certainly details how Forest Ranger duties, salaries (at all levels), and training could all be altered in such a manner so as to make this agency the premier law enforcement group within the DEC. That means Forest Rangers will be assuming many of the responsibilities that the ECO’s have held since 1880.

If this situation is implemented, then as of April 1, 2019 the Forest Rangers will essentially become that premier LE agency within the DEC. They will also continue to do their specialized search and rescue functions, and they will no doubt use their takeover of DEC ECPO  job duties to argue for a significant increase in their own pay.

All of this subterfuge was orchestrated and supported without any knowledge by anyone within the Division of Law Enforcement (the ECPO’s). To say they have been blind-sided by this decision, if it is implemented, would be a monumental understatement. The Forest Ranger Division has even requested that the Civil Service change the DEC ECPO’s probationary period and requirements.

The sportsman groups within New York should be furious. The fact that the DEC’s commissioner, Basil Seggos, was obviously behind this situation and supportive of it is beyond unprofessional. Oh, and Seggos is leaving his commissioner’s job within just a few weeks. I guess this is his way of saying goodbye to the dedicated men and women who protect our fish and wildlife resources and so much more.

Folks, this is an environmental tragedy in the making. I was fortunate to have spent my entire law enforcement career in upstate NY working with ECO’s in almost every county, and I cannot believe that this situation would have ever even be contemplated. I hope it does not become fact.

But right now that desire looks like a pipe dream.

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Anyone who reads these columns at least semi-regularly know my "feelings" with respect to deer spay and neuter programs. After all, they never solve the basic population problem, they subject the deer to extreme trauma, and tax payers always take it on the chin (and in the wallet) when the programs are finally declared to be complete failures.

Various places all across the eastern and mid-western states have tried various "soft-hearted" spay and neuter programs, and all have failed miserably. One of my favorites is Princeton, N.J., where city officials loudly proclaimed that this procedure was the real answer to their deer population problems. But when the program was ended seven expensive years later, the city officials admitted total failure and asked archers to come in and hunt the deer.

Which brings us to Staten Island and its "enclosed" deer herd. After all, how hard could it possibly be to stop deer from breeding when you are dealing with a 58.5 square mile island and lots of houses and people (nearly 500,000) living there? And how much has it cost taxpayers?

Brace yourself. The wildlife ecologist (unidentified) running Mayor de Blasio’s deer-vasectomy project was paid over $600,000 during the first two years of this project. And, Dr. Anthony DeNicola, the founder of White Buffalo Inc. (a nonprofit), was paid up to $2,500 a day for 250 days of project "management" and "field sterilization" for both the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons (under a no-bid "emergency" contract). These salaries and other information were discovered by the NY Post newspaper.

DeNicola’s wife, Vickie, was a staff member during the project’s first season. Her job was shooting bucks with tranquilizer guns and then securing the drugged animals. She was paid $1,600 every day for 150 days of "work", or $240,000. That type of job normally pays around $30,000 per year. This husband/wife team accounted for around 30 percent of the project’s first year budget.

Other veterinarians working on this project earned $1,000 to $1,700 each day, even if they did not perform any vasectomies during any particular work day. But the vets must have earned at least some of their bloated salaries because the project reported inflicting 1,456 vasectomies on buck deer (a figure I have a hard time believing, by the way). Those procedures cost a total of $2,652 per buck.

The budget for this program began at $3.3 million. That figure was increased to $4.1 million because the White Buffalo Inc. people apparently found more deer within the borough than expected. As any knowledgeable deer hunter would know, if there are 1,400 males on the island to be sterilized, there has to be more than 2,000 deer there. My guess would be 2,400 or more total deer present.

So what do Staten Islanders say about the deer population? Almost unanimously they say they are seeing more deer now than they did in 2016. Oops!

More deer now, two full years after this project was started? And those urban-minded politicians are going forward, at taxpayer expense, with funding this project again in 2019. Mayor De Blasio has to be smiling at his success.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet .net