DEC announces program to protect backcountry hikers and campers


Backcountry recreationists and the state’s natural resources will both receive a higher level of protection thanks to the creation of the Backcountry Stewards Internship Program, a new partnership with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and the reinstatement of the Assistant Forest Ranger program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today.

“DEC manages more than four million acres of lands and easements for the free use and enjoyment of the public,” Martens said. “Backcountry Stewards and Assistant Forest Rangers will help ensure that the public is able to use and enjoy these lands safely, while protecting the natural resources of our incredibly diverse state lands.”

The Backcountry Stewardship Program expands the long running partnership between SCA and DEC that began more than a decade ago in the Hudson River Valley and the Adirondacks. Funding from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) will be matched by contributions from SCA to hire college-aged students to work on state lands. SCA, a national leader in youth service and stewardship, will fulfill its mission to create the next generation of conservation leaders and DEC will improve its capacity to protect the natural resources of the state.

“The backcountry stewards will engage in substantive, hands-on conservation while conducting extensive public outreach and education,” notes Marsha Towns, National Director for Conservation Internships at SCA. “This is truly a win-win for all involved.”

A total of 24 new jobs have been created for young men and women to work this summer as backcountry stewards in a variety of settings including the shores of Lake Ontario, the Catskill Park and the Adirondack Park and on a variety of DEC public lands including State Forests, Conservation Easement lands and New York State Forest Preserve lands. Eleven men and women have also been hired as Assistant Forest Rangers to work on the public lands in the Adirondacks.

“Backcountry Stewards will be a welcome presence on the more than 220 miles of trails we help maintain in the Catskill State Park, providing on the spot educational opportunities to the public and assistance to the DEC and volunteer organizations like ours working in the park,” said Edward Goodell, Executive Director of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

“The Adirondack Mountain Club is honored to partner with DEC on this important initiative by providing training for these young conservationists,” said ADK Executive Neil Woodworth. “New York’s wild lands are one of the state’s greatest treasures, and the Backcountry Stewards Internship Program will go a long way in ensuring that this resource will be protected for future generations to enjoy.”

Working with DEC Foresters and Forest Rangers, the Backcountry Stewards and Assistant Forest Rangers will enhance DEC’s ability to provide for the safety and well-being of recreationists. Accessing the backcountry by foot, canoe or other paddle craft, they will monitor public use and prevent potential impacts to natural resources through education.

They will also educate the public about the appropriate use of state lands, including “Leave No Trace” principles for camping and hiking, ways to protect fragile ecosystems and DEC rules and regulations. They will provide a direct communication link with local forest rangers and DEC Emergency Dispatch if greater assistance is needed or to respond to a backcountry emergency.

While they will be wearing different uniforms, the recreating public can expect similar service from the Backcountry Stewards and Assistant Forest Rangers. Backcountry Stewards will camp overnight in the areas where they are assigned and the Assistant Forest Rangers will assist Forest Rangers with search and rescue missions and wildfire suppression.

Backcountry Stewards and Assistant Forest Rangers will receive substantial training before being placed in the field beginning Memorial Day Weekend. The Assistant Forest Rangers and most of the Backcountry Stewards will be patrolling through Labor Day weekend. The Backcountry Stewards in some heavily used areas will continue patrolling through Columbus Day weekend.

For more information on backcountry outdoor recreation resources, visit the DEC website.

Student Conservation Association