BAD NEWS IN THE BACK COUNTRY

November 15, 2018 at 4:45 am

As visitors head to the Adirondacks to see the fall foliage, park rangers call for reinforcements to keep hikers safe. But state officials are standing in their way. New York Now managing editor and host Matt Ryan has the details.

Aired on November 14, 2018.

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>> IN ALBANY I'M "METROFOCUS"
CONTRIBUTOR MATT RYAN, MANAGING
EDITOR AND HOST OF "NEW YORK
NOW."
THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR
TIMES TO HEAD TO THE
ADIRONDACKS, GORGEOUS FALL
FOLIAGE AND THE COOL MOUNTAIN
AIR MAKES IT A GREAT TIME TO GET
IN SOME HIKING BEFORE OLD MAN
WINTER ARRIVES.
THERE HAS BEEN A NOTICEABLE
INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE
HEADING TO THE MORE POPULAR
MOUNTAINS INSIDE THE HIGH PEAKS
AREA, SO MUCH SO THAT THE DEC
ANNOUNCED SOME SIGNIFICANT NEW
RULES THIS YEAR.
BUT ONE MAN WE TALKED TO IS
CONCERNED THAT FOREST RANGERS
CHARGED WITH HELPING TO PROTECT
AND EDUCATE THIS INCREASING
STREAM OF VISITORS, ARE BEING
STRETCHED TOO THIN.
THE HIGH PEAKS POPULARITY HAS
NEVER BEEN, WELL, HIGHER.
MORE PEOPLE, MORE CARS, BUT
ACCORDING TO SCOTT VAN LAER, NOT
ENOUGH FOREST RANGERS.
>> IT'S GOTTEN TO THE POINT NOW
WHERE WE HAVE 100 SEARCH AND
RESCUE INCIDENTS A YEAR IN THE
HIGH PEAKS.
THAT'S ONE EVERY THREE DAYS AND
OF COURSE THEY'RE CONCENTRATED
MORE IN A SIX-MONTH PERIOD.
WE ARE REALLY TO THE POINT WHERE
WE'RE JUST WAITING TO RESPOND.
>> VAN LAER HAS BEEN IN HIS JOB
FOR OVER TWO DECADES AND IS A
UNION DELEGATE FOR THE PBA OF
NEW YORK.
HE IS MORE THAN HALFWAY THROUGH
HIS GOAL OF HITTING EVERY ONE OF
THE 100 TOWNS INSIDE THE BLUE
LINE AND GETTING A RESOLUTION
PASSED IN SUPPORT OF INCREASING
THE NUMBER OF RANGERS THROUGHOUT
THE STATE.
>> WE'VE BEEN HIT WITH A
TREMENDOUS OVERUSE OF STATE LAND
AND WE'RE REALLY FEELING THE
LACK OF STAFFING PRIMARILY THE
LAST FIVE YEARS AND WE HAVE A
SHORTAGE OF STAFF STATEWIDE, BUT
IT'S MORE COMPOUNDED IN THESE
REALLY HEAVY STATE LAND USE
AREAS, COLLATERAL THE CATSKILLS
AND ADIRONDACKS AND OM SOME
UNIQUE AREAS OUT IN WESTERN NEW
YORK.
WE'VE BEEN LOBBYING THE
TRADITIONAL WAYS, GOING THROUGH
ALBANY, WORKING INTERNALLY AND
OUR UNION HASN'T GOTTEN A LOT OF
TRACTION THAT WAY.
WE HAVE HAD A BILL THAT'S BEEN
STALLED FOR A LONG TIME THAT
WOULD ADD A NEW POSITION FOR
EVERY 30,000 ACRES THAT WERE
ADDED OF STATE LAND.
THAT BILL WOULD ONLY HELP THE
PROBLEM GOING FORWARD, IT
WOULDN'T HELP ANY OF IT
RETROACTIVELY.
SO ADD TO THE SHORTCOMINGS WE
HAD WITH THE MILLION ACRES THAT
HAVE BEEN ADDED OVER THE LAST
FEW DECADES.
>> WE CAUGHT UP WITH HIM IN THE
NORTHERN SARATOGA COUNTY TOWN OF
GREENFIELD.
>> WE'VE BECOME TOTALLY
REACTIONARY.
THAT WHILE IT MAY HELP IN THE
SENSE THAT I CAN RESPOND QUICKLY
TO THE -- TO AN INCIDENT AND
SAVE PEOPLE, BECAUSE I'M KIND OF
STAGED JUST IN THE PARKING LOT
AND I CAN DRIVE AND GO WHERE I
NEED TO GO, BUT IT DOESN'T HELP
PREVENT ANY INCIDENTS BECAUSE
I'M NOT DELIVERING THAT MESSAGE
TO THE PUBLIC ANYMORE THAT I
USED TO.
>> LET'S LOOK AT THE NUMBERS.
UNDER GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO'S
TENURE NEW YORK HAS ADDED OVER
130,000 ACRES OF LAND TO THE
FOREST PRESERVE.
THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL
CONSERVATION SAID THERE ARE
CURRENTLY 135 RANGERS.
THE HIGH PEAKS AREA IS
DESIGNATED BY THE AGENCY AS
REGION 5, WHERE VAN LAER WORKS.
RIGHT NOW HE IS ONE OF 48 ON
PATROL THERE.
HE SAYS THAT'S EIGHT FEWER THAN
THE DEC HAD IN 1971.
HE WANTS TO SEE THE TOTAL NUMBER
OF RANGERS INCREASE TO 175.
WE CAUGHT UP WITH THE DEC
COMMISSIONER BASIL SAY GOES A
FEW WEEKS AGO AT A PRESS
CONFERENCE IN ALBANY.
>> THEY'VE BEEN ASKING FOR MORE
FOREST RANGERS FOR A LONG TIME.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
>> YOU KNOW WHERE WE ARE IN THE
BUDGET PROCESS.
WE DON'T JUST ADD STAFF IN THE
MIDDLE OF THE YEAR.
ADDING ANY ENVIRONMENTAL
CONSERVATION POLICE ORESSSS TO
GET THE BUDGET APPROPRIATION AND
HAVE A SIX-MONTH ACADEMY.
YOU DON'T JUST FLIP A SWITCH ON
THAT KIND OF A THING.
WE'VE BEEN WORKING CLOSELY WITH
THE RANGERS AND ECOs ON THEIR
NEEDS.
THE LAST TWO YEARS WE HEALED
BACK TO BACK ACADEMIES.
WE ARE AT THE HIGHER LEVELS IN
30 YEARS FOR OUR FOREST RANGERS.
DOESN'T MEAN WE DON'T WANT TO GO
HIGHER.
WE HAVE TO WORK WITHIN OUR
BUDGET CONSTRAINTS, BUT WE ARE
SEEING THE RECORD USE UP IN THE
ADIRONDACKS AND CATSKILLS, WE
ARE MAKING A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT
CHANGES TO HOW WE OPERATE IN
THOSE AREAS.
SOME OF THAT IS ON THE FOREST
RANGER SIDE, SOME OF THAT IS
GOING TO BE OBVIOUSLY ON THE --
ON THE OVERALL MANAGEMENT SIDE.
HOW DO WE BETTER DIRECT PEOPLE
TO DIFFERENT AREAS, HOW DO WE
SPREAD OUT THE INTEREST A LITTLE
BIT SO IT'S NOT ITENSE AREAS.
>> RECOGNIZING THE GROWING
NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN CARS LINING
ROUTE 73 IN ESSEX COUNTY FROM
MAY TO OCTOBER, THE DEC HELD A
SERIES OF FORUMS THIS SPRING
ASKING FOR INPUT FROM PEOPLE ON
HOW TO BEST ALLEVIATE THE
PROBLEM AND THE POTENTIAL
DANGER.
>> 70% OF THE PEOPLE I MEET ON
THE TOP OF CASCADES IT IS THEIR
FIRST HIKING EVENT.
SO TO TAKE THAT AWAY, TURN IT
INTO AN EIGHT-MILE HIKE I'M
WORRIED YOU WILL BE TAKING AWAY
A JEWEL FROM WHAT'S HAPPENING TO
SOMETHING WHERE YOU ARE NOT
GOING TO GET THE SAME FAMILIES,
YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET THE
SAME BEGINNERS, YOU ARE NOT
GOING TO GET THE SAME FIRST TIME
EXPERIENCED HIKERS.
>> IN AUGUST THE AGENCY
FINALIZED A NEW SET OF RULES FOR
THE HIGH PEAKS THAT INCLUDED
CONSTRUCTING SOME NEW PARKING
LOTS, EXPANDING OTHERS, AND
PAINTING ACTUAL LINED SPACES FOR
VEHICLES.
THEY ALSO CLOSED THE CURRENT
TRAIL HEAD TO CASCADE, THE MOST
POPULAR HIGH PEAK CLIMB BECAUSE
OF ITS RELATIVE EASE AND
BEAUTIFUL VIEWS AT THE SPACIOUS
SUMMIT.
INSTEAD A NEW PARKING LOT AND
TRAIL WILL BEGIN FOR THE
MOUNTAIN FROM THE OLYMPIC SPORTS
COMPLEX.
>> FOR THE FIRST COUPLE MONTHS
IT'S BEEN RELATIVELY SUCCESSFUL,
BUT WE KNOW THAT THIS IS A
MULTI-YEAR PROJECT OF OURS.
WE WANT TO PUT IN PLACE SOME
EARLY PROJECTS TO SEE WHAT THE
IMPACT IS GOING TO BE.
ULTIMATELY YOU ARE STILL SEEING
A LOT OF PEOPLE GO TO THE SAME
PLACE, SO THE NEW PARKING LOT AT
VAN HO IS GOING TO BE, I THINK,
A LONG-TERM A VERY GOOD
SOLUTION, WE'RE WORKING VERY
CLOSELY, THOUGH, WITH THE TOWNS
UP THERE.
WORKING ON SHUTTLE SERVICES, YOU
KNOW, WAYS TO GET PEOPLE INTO
THE BACK COUNTRY THAT DON'T
INVOLVE THEM HAVING TO PARK ON
MAIN ROADS.
>> VAN LAER SAYS HE HAS SEEN
IMPROVEMENTS THIS FALL ON THE
BUSY WEEKENDS DUE TO THE NEW
PARKING REGULATIONS AND IS
GRATEFUL FOR THE RECENT HELP OF
THE ECOs ON ITS ENFORCEMENTS.
>> WE'VE GOTTEN TO THE POINT
WHERE WE ARE ALMOST LIKE -- WE
ARE ON LIKE PINS AND NEEDLES
WAITING TO RESPOND TO STUFF AND
IT'S NOT JUST THOSE NUMBER OF
INCIDENTS, IT'S THE POSSIBILITY
OF THE INCIDENTS.
WITH ERR ALMOST HELD HOSTAGE BY,
HEY, YESTERDAY WE HAD TWO, WE
HAVE TO BE READY FOR THE TWO
TODAY.
IT MAKES IT VERY DIFFICULT WITH
A SMALL STAFF TO DO ALL THE
OTHER THINGS THAT WE SHOULD BE
DOING, HIKER EDUCATION, BACK
COUNTRY STEWARDSHIP.
IT'S BECOMING VERY DIFFICULT,
ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO ACCOMPLISH
THAT.
>> THE DEC NOTES THAT IN
ADDITION TO THE 135 RANGERS
PATROLLING STATE LAND, THERE ARE
ALSO 22 ASSISTANT FOREST RANGERS
AS WELL AS ENVIRONMENTAL
CONSERVATION OFFICERS, PLUS
OTHER STATE AND LOCAL POLICE AND
FIRE DEPARTMENTS INSIDE THE BLUE
LINE.
IN ALBANY FOR "METROFOCUS," I'M
MATT RYAN.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

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