DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officer Highlights

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
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DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officer Highlights

ECO Actions for Late January to Early February

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) enforce the 71 Chapters of NY Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), protecting fish and wildlife and preserving environmental quality across New York.

In 2018, the 288 ECOs across the state responded to 21,668 calls and worked on cases that resulted in 20,665 tickets or arrests for crimes ranging from deer poaching to solid waste dumping, illegal mining, the black market pet trade, and excessive emissions violations.

If you witness an environmental crime or believe a violation of environmental law occurred, please call the DEC Division of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267).

"From Montauk Point to Mount Marcy, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, the ECOs patrolling our state are the first line of defense in protecting New York's environment and our natural resources, ensuring that they exist for future generations of New Yorkers," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "They work long and arduous hours, both deep in our remote wildernesses and in the tight confines of our urban landscapes. Although they don't receive much public fanfare, the work of our ECOs is critical to achieving DEC's mission to protect and enhance our environment."

Recent missions carried out by ECOs include:

Children's Books Lead to Illegal Dumping Charges - Franklin County
On Jan. 19, ECO Jennifer Okonuk received a complaint of garbage and construction and demolition debris dumped in the town of Bellmont. ECO Okonuk visited the scene and found a name of a person on several children's books that were mixed into the pile of debris. Over the next several weeks, the officer successfully tracked down the individual who was responsible for the dumping. ECO Okonuk met them at the site and worked out details to ensure they cleaned up the area. Tickets were issued for the unlawful disposal of solid waste and for depositing a noisome or unwholesome substance near a public highway, returnable to the Bellmont Town Court.

ECO Okonuk sorting through debris at the illegal dumping site
ECO Okonuk sorting through debris at the illegal dumping site

Training and Recruitment - New York City
On Jan. 19, ECOs Joshua Jarecki and Ryan Kelly gave a presentation on endangered and protected species at the request of the New York City Police Department Animal Cruelty Squad at the NYPD Academy in College Point. The ECOs spoke to 400 future police officers about the state's Environmental Conservation Law and the regulations concerning the possession, importation and commercialization of legal and illegal wildlife. On Jan. 25, ECO Brendan Dickson and program aide Cynthia Turk participated in the 2019 Beyond Barnard Opportunities Fair at Barnard University in Manhattan. Many students and young professionals were eager to learn how their degrees could lead to a rewarding career at the DEC. Turk and ECO Dickson educated them on the different volunteer and employment opportunities at DEC for both civilian and law enforcement positions.

ECOs Kelly and Jarecki presenting at the NYPD Academy
ECOs Kelly and Jarecki presenting at the
NYPD Academy

ECO Dickson and Cynthia Turk at the Beyond
ECO Dickson and Cynthia Turk at the Beyond
Barnard Opportunities Fair

Drinking and Snowmobiling Don't Mix - Franklin County
On Feb. 2, ECOs patrolled the Simonds Pond ice fishing derby in Tupper Lake - an event that draws more than 1,200 fishermen. ECOs John Blades and Scott Pierce observed a snowmobile speed through a group of fishermen, shanties, and tip-ups on the far side of the lake and were able to stop the driver. ECOs Jeff Hovey and Nate Favreau and Lt. Mike Phelps determined the operator was intoxicated. The operator, who was traveling at 70 mph, admitted that he had been drinking all morning. He was arrested and brought to the NY State Police barracks for testing, where his blood alcohol level was 0.125 percent, well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. The operator was charged with operating with a blood alcohol higher than .08, operating a snowmobile while intoxicated, operating a snowmobile in excessive speed within 100 feet of a person or shanty, and operating at an imprudent speed.

Simonds Pond ice fishing derby participants

ECOs checking speeds on the ice
Simonds Pond ice fishing derby participants and ECOs checking speeds on the ice

Joint Snowmobile Patrols - Fulton County
On Feb. 2, ECOs Paul Pasciak and Fulton County Sheriff Deputy Chris House conducted a snowmobile patrol in the towns of Caroga, Oppenheim, and Stratford. An annual poker run was scheduled for the day so the two officers patrolled to provide public safety for the hundreds of snowmobilers expected during the event. ECO Pasciak and Deputy House assisted multiple snowmobilers who had gotten stuck in deep snow or were broken down on the trails. The next day, ECO Pasciak and Deputy House were joined by ECO Brian Toth and Deputy Noah Western on the eastern side of Fulton County, patrolling the towns of Perth, Broadalbin, and Mayfield. They issued several tickets for unregistered snowmobiles, but no major violations were observed. The ECOs and Deputies are planning future joint patrols throughout Fulton County.

ECO Pasciak and Deputy House on snowmobile patrol
ECO Pasciak and Deputy House on snowmobile patrol

ECO Discovers Missing Person During Traffic Stop - Steuben County
On Feb. 2, ECO John Lifrieri was travelling on I-86 in the town of Campbell when he observed a car swerving badly in the driving lane. Suspecting intoxication or driver distraction, he stopped the vehicle at the Campbell rest area. ECO Lifrieri immediately noticed that the elderly man seemed confused and unaware of his whereabouts. The man denied taking prescription medications and the ECO did not detect any odor of alcohol. The man's home address on his driver's license matched his sister's registration and he confirmed that he lived with her. Multiple attempts to find a valid phone number for the man's sister failed. NY State Police arrived to assist ECO Lifrieri, and Steuben County Dispatch eventually found that the elderly man had been reported as a missing person earlier that day to Rochester Police due to dementia issues. Apparently, he had left his sister's house for an appointment in the Rochester area and never returned. State Police worked with Rochester PD to get the man safely back to his home, and ECO Lifrieri secured the car so that a family member could retrieve it the following day.

ECOs Participate in Hunter Education Workshop - Saratoga County
On Feb. 2, ECOs and investigators from DEC Regions 4, 5, and 9 participated in the annual workshop in Ballston Spa for DEC Hunter Education instructors across the state. The program, hosted by the NY Shooting Sports Program, included presentations from DEC Sportsman Education staff and motivational speaker and sportsman Josh Carney. Lt. Nathan VerHague and Lt. Liza Bobseine delivered a presentation on key issues that ECOs encounter in the field that relate to hunter education and tree stand safety. Lt. Ken Bruno detailed the hunter related shooting incidents (HRSIs) from the previous year, the technology used to investigate and prosecute the cases, and the teachable lessons from each incident. Major Matthew Revenaugh and ECOs Rob Higgins and Steve Shaw were also present to discuss popular themes in hunter education and answer questions from the dedicated men and women who instruct the future hunting and trapping enthusiasts in New York State.

Lt. Liza Bobseine and Lt. Nathan VerHague talk Tree Stand Safety
Lt. Liza Bobseine and Lt. Nathan VerHague talk Tree Stand Safety

Bear Cub Rescued - Ulster County
On Feb. 3, ECO Adam Johnson received a call from a concerned citizen stating that a bear cub was in a tree close to a local highway in Shandaken. DEC biologists had been attempting to capture a bear cub in that area, and when ECO Johnson arrived, he saw that the bear cub was sitting in front of the trap entrance, contemplating if it wanted to follow the treats inside. Finally, the bear cub entered the trap, triggering the door release. With the bear successfully trapped, ECO Johnson brought the cub to a wildlife rehabilitator qualified to care for young bears. The small bear was severely dehydrated and malnourished, weighing approximately 10 pounds. Bear cubs this time of year should be close to 50 pounds and hibernating in dens. This bear's survival is even more impressive considering that temperatures in the area were well below freezing for weeks prior to its capture.

The bear cub before being transported to a rehabilitator
The bear cub before being
transported to a rehabilitator

Abusing the Resource - Saratoga County
On Feb. 3, ECOs Rob Higgins and Steve Shaw responded to a complaint that someone was keeping fish on the catch-and-release section of the Hudson River near Coveville. ECOs Higgins and Shaw walked down to the river to check the fisherman, who was inside a portable shanty. Once the man realized the two ECOs were on scene he began throwing fish down a hole into the water. After unsuccessfully attempting to dispose of the evidence, the fisherman was found to be in possession of 22 black crappie and 33 bluegills. Higgins then asked the fisherman if he had more fish inside his sled, to which he replied, "Yeah, I'm done," while producing two more bags full of fish that brought the total to 55 black crappie and 48 bluegills. Fish that were still alive were released back into the river and the man was issued tickets for taking fish in a catch-and-release area, taking fish over the limit, and taking undersized crappies. The case is pending in Saratoga Town Court.

Illegal fish taken in a catch-and-release only area of the Hudson River
Illegal fish taken in a catch-and-release only area of the Hudson River

Burn Out the Night - Niagara County
Just after 10 p.m. on Feb. 5, a call came through Niagara County 911 reporting a large pile of DEC garbage burning in Middleport. ECO Josh Wolgast responded to the scene along with the Middleport Police Department and the Hartland Fire Company. The fire consisted of various types of construction and demolition debris. A male at the scene stated he had found an ad on Facebook for garbage removal and that he was paid $200 to remove the trash from Buffalo, which he then brought to the residence in Middleport to burn. The Fire Company extinguished the fire and ECO Wolgast issued the man two summonses returnable to Hartland Town Court for the unlawful disposal of solid waste and unpermitted open burning.

The illegal fire being extinguished DEC
The illegal fire being extinguished DEC