(WKBW) — As we head into summer, nature lovers will start pouring into Zoar Valley in Cattaraugus County, one of New York's state forests that offer an escape from the daily grind.
"More people, more activity, but we aren't increasing the staff out here at this point," Robert Rogers, PBA representative for Region 9 Forest Ranger Division, said. Aside from his PBA duties, Rogers also covers the West Valley, including Zoar Valley as a ranger.
Right now, the State DEC says 134 Rangers cover 5 million acres of land across the state. That means one Ranger is in charge of more than 37,000 acres, which to put it into perspective, Disney World is about 25,000 acres.
"So there's three of us that cover this plus a lot of other stuff at the same time," Rogers said. He continued, "We do our darnedest with what we have, but we know with just a little more man power, we'll take that from an appetizer almost up to a main course in order to serve the public."
Some relief is on the way. Sixteen Forest Ranger recruits are now going through basic training, which Rogers is excited about, but says, still isn't enough.
"That 16, if they all come out, is only going to back-fill what we're planning on for retirements."
Rogers says the PBA and fellow Rangers also appreciate new technology from the DEC, Assistant Rangers and assistance from volunteers, local police, fire and first responders, but wants to see a concrete plan to add more Rangers to the forests.
"The long term goal...is about 45 more members. That would raise our force by about a third."
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said on the issue:
"DEC is committed to ensuring that Forest Ranger staffing remains at historically high levels. The men and women choosing to become Forest Rangers and ECOs are continuing the proud tradition of the first environmentalists. These officers have been serving on the front lines since the late 1800s, protecting New York's environment, natural resources, and citizens. I applaud this year’s recruits for selecting a noble career in state service and wish them well as they embark on this journey."