Late last year, the Department of Civil Service and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation proposed that Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Police Officer titles be consolidated. The idea initially raised concerns as some interpreted the change as a plan to eliminate traditional Forest Rangers.
The union representing Forest Rangers in New York had submitted a request for an upgrade with Civil Service about five years ago seeking pay equity; rangers are one pay grade lower than Environmental Conservation Officers. Police Benevolent Association of NY Forest Ranger union Director Scott Van Lear notes that a letter issued by the Department of Civil Service in late November suggesting that the consolidation raised concerns. “The document itself can at times be taken to read as a merger and obviously we want to maintain our long independent tradition since 1885 and you see the importance of having some separation. But we have been constantly reassured by the department and by this commissioner that that’s not happening. I take them at their word. It doesn’t make sense that you’d want the title Forest Ranger to go away.”
DEC Deputy Commissioner for Public Affairs Erica Ringewald provided a statement noting that the plan would not merge the two divisions. She explains the intent is to ensure both divisions are treated equally in the Civil Service system. “New York State is evaluating Civil Service classifications for specific job titles based on their duties and responsibilities. There is no proposal to change the structure within DEC, the job functions of DEC’s Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Police Officers or how those functions are carried out.”
VanLear notes Rangers and ECO’s have already merged to what he calls an appropriate level. “We’re in separate divisions and we’re both underneath what’s called the Office of Public Protection and we have an in-common assistant commissioner and then we each division has their own director. So we do have some commonalities. We do have some job overlap and we also are in a combined shared academy.”
Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway supports the title consolidation if it is a good faith effort by the state to increase Forest Rangers’ pay. “Our concern is that this be done in a way that doesn’t diminish the critically important role of the Forest Rangers as the guardians of state lands and the state Forest Preserve, their responsibility for care and custody of those lands, for education, in addition to search and rescue and law enforcement. So we are supporting this as long as it’s done in a way where we don’t lose that important role the Forest Rangers have traditionally played. And the department is saying this will not change the job which is encouraging to hear them say that. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen in the end.”
If approved by the New York state Department of Civil Service, the changes go into effect April 1st.