|New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Division of Law Enforcement enforces the 71 chapters of New York State's Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), protecting fish and wildlife and preserving environmental quality across New York. In 1880, the first eight Game Protectors proudly began serving to protect the natural resources and people of New York State. In 2021, 282 Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) and Investigators across the state responded to 26,207 calls and worked on cases that resulted in 11,562 tickets or arrests for crimes ranging from deer poaching to solid waste dumping, illegal mining, the black market pet trade, and excessive emissions violations. Some of these incidents result in injuries, property damage, or even death, and starting this year, 'ECO Highlights' is transitioning to a new title, 'Environmental Conservation Police On Patrol.'
"DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers and Investigators are on the front lines each and every day protecting our natural resources by upholding New York's environmental laws and regulations and safeguarding public health," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "From ensuring hunters and anglers follow rules and regulations afield and on the water, to sustaining partnerships with local law enforcement agencies investigating crimes that include solid waste dumping and air emissions violations, ECOs and Investigators are on patrol, ready to serve their communities. Each year brings new challenges, and fortunately, these Officers and Investigators are expertly trained to perform their duties with persistence, integrity, and good judgment, as they've done for over a century."
No "Likes" For You - Erie County
On Dec. 6, 2021 ECO Mathis and Tonawanda Police Officer Ansel received information that two individuals took large bucks in the town of Tonawanda, which is closed to hunting. Since the suspects posted videos of their hunts and photos of the deer on social media, the Officers were able to determine the exact location where one of the suspects had posed with his deer. The Officers also found blood and deer hair at the location. Social media posts also led ECO Mathis to a taxidermist in Monroe County where the deer were taken. ECO Snowden assisted in the investigation by collecting the racks as evidence, while ECO Mathis and Lieutenant Thomas drove to Wayne County to interview the suspects. During the interviews, both suspects admitted to illegally taking the deer in Erie County and tagging the deer as shot in Monroe County. One of the suspects also confessed to shooting his buck with a rifle, which is illegal in Erie County. Both hunters were charged with taking deer in a closed area, illegally taking whitetail deer, hunting deer with a rifle in a non-rifle county, and failing to properly tag deer. The suspects each agreed to a Consent Order, paid a $1,000 penalty, and face revocation of their hunting privileges.
ECO Mathis with antlers of illegally taken deer
One Man's Trash is Another Man's Problem - Westchester
On Jan. 3, while patrolling northern Westchester for fishing violations, ECO Franz observed several large garbage bags illegally dumped at a fishing access site. The ECO looked through the bags and found receipts, magazines, and other materials with the same name and address and conducted a visit. Officer Franz spoke to the man at the address who admitted to dumping the bags because he missed trash pickup day. ECO Franz issued two summonses to the violator and directed him to clean up his mess to avoid a bigger fine. The man complied and picked up all the trash.
Illegally dumped trash
Disturbing the Peace - Chautauqua County
On Jan. 6, a Pennsylvania man paid a $700 penalty in the Town of Ripley Court for illegally taking a deer in a Chautauqua County neighborhood. On Nov. 22, 2021, ECO Kinney received a complaint from a resident who said he heard a shot close to his home the day before. When the complainant went outside to check things out, he observed a gray vehicle quickly drive away. ECO Kinney learned the suspect was not from New York and contacted the Pennsylvania Game Commission for assistance. ECO Kinney met with the hunter who admitted to illegally taking a deer, possessing a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, and discharging a firearm from the roadway. The suspect is also facing additional charges in Pennsylvania for drug possession as the Warden observed illegal drugs in the residence while investigating the deer incident.
Suspect flees in vehicle after roadside deer take
National Wild Turkey Federation Award Banquet - Onondaga County
On Jan. 8, ECO Craig Tompkins had the distinct honor of joining the New York Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) at their annual award banquet where he was honored as the organization's "ECO of the Year." The award is given to an ECO who displays a significant effort to protect New York's fish and wildlife resources. For 26 years, the New York NWTF chapter has awarded the honor to an ECO nominated by their peers and chosen by an awards committee. This year, Officer Tompkins was chosen based on a case involving the illegal take of a turkey from the road by an individual in Mamaroneck, Westchester County. Several other awards were given out to regional chapters for their efforts supporting habitat protection, encouraging young people to get outdoors, and helping those with limited access get outdoors.
ECO Tompkins (center) with Eric Taylor (right), NWTF New York Vice President, and Howard Travis (left), NWTF Honorary Director
Illegal Trapping - Ulster County
On Jan. 10, ECO Johnson solved the case of an illegal deer take in the town of Denning that resulted in several additional charges for the hunter. During the 2021 regular rifle season, ECO Johnson observed an untagged deer carcass behind the residence of a suspected baited property. The Officer also discovered a conibear trap set for fisher mounted on a tree. The ECO checked the property for several weeks but didn't see anyone. In the Southern Zone, traps must be checked every 24 hours and labeled with the trapper's information. The trap in question had incorrect information, but Officer Johnson eventually caught up with the responsible party. The suspect admitted to killing the deer behind the residence and received three summonses for failing to tag trap property, failing to check trap every 24 hours, and failing to report deer harvest within seven days.
Conibear trap set for fisher
More Than Just a Bait Pile - Madison County
On Jan. 11, a Kirkville man paid a $500 penalty in Town of Sullivan Court for the misdemeanor charge of unlawfully taking a white-tailed buck over bait on Nov. 29, 2021. ECOs Damrath, Thomas, and Foster were investigating another suspect accused of killing two bucks unlawfully when evidence and interviews led them to the Kirkville man. During their search for this new suspect, the Officers observed a bait pile near his home, as well as several untagged deer skulls nearby being "European mounted," a term describing the process where a deer head is cleaned and left out in the elements until only the skull remains. The suspect eventually admitted to killing a buck over bait and further investigation showed he was processing deer heads for other hunters. Four other hunters were charged in this case and pleaded guilty to failing to tag their deer as required by law.
Trough baited with corn near the defendant's hunting blind
Taxicab (Poaching) Confessions - Cortland County
In Cortland County, two hunters are facing numerous charges for illegally taking deer while driving around in a taxicab. ECO Burdick and Lieutenant Colesante were investigating a deer jacking incident in Cortlandville in early January when they found the two suspects. The men were pulled over by the Cortland County Sherriff's Department while attempting to recover a deer shot almost 24 hours prior. After several interviews and multiple written statements, the men were each issued tickets for nine charges, including eight misdemeanors. The charges include criminal possession of a weapon, possession of a gun and a light in a motor vehicle, taking deer with the aid of artificial light, shooting from a public highway, shooting within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling, possession of a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, taking big game during closed season, taking illegal deer, and taking wildlife from a motor vehicle. The taxicab was used in both the shooting and the attempted recovery of the deer. The case will be handled in the Town of Cortlandville Court.
Taxi used in deer poaching incident