DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officer Highlights

ECO Actions for Late October

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 2017, the 301 ECOs across the state responded to 26,400 calls and issued 22,150 tickets for crimes ranging from deer poaching to corporate toxic dumping and 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 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:

Fall Striper Enforcement – Suffolk and Nassau Counties

With the fall striped bass run in full swing across Long Island, DEC’s Marine Enforcement Unit has been busy enforcing the state’s fishing regulations. More than 20 fishermen have been caught and issued summonses in the last few weeks for taking more than 40 illegal striped bass and failure to possess a Marine Registry. ECOs have discovered fish buried in the sand, hidden in between rocks, concealed inside backpacks, and even stashed in women’s purses and hollowed-out speakers in attempts to hide over-the-limit bass or undersized bass. The seized fish have been released or donated to community centers and food pantries whenever possible. The tickets issued are scheduled to be returned to their respective municipal courts across Long Island in November and December.


Two ECOs on beach sorting fish
Uniformed and plainclothes ECOs sorting striped bass

Illegal Fishing Enforcement – Monroe County

On Oct. 21, ECO John Lutz received a complaint of individuals snagging salmon on Irondequoit Creek at Channing Philbrick Park in the town of Penfield. At the scene, ECO Lutz located several people fishing illegally and observed one subject reeling in a salmon that he had hooked in the tail. After the fish was netted, the subject kept the fish and gave it to a second subject fishing from the bank. The second subject then put the illegal fish in a garbage bag and gave it to a third subject, who carried the illegal fish to a station wagon in the parking lot before returning to the creek. The ECO continued to monitor the creek and watched a fourth subject intentionally snagging fish. At this point, ECO Lutz made his presence known. The officer gathered the illegal fishermen and issued five tickets to the four violators, with charges including failure to immediately release foul hooked fish, possession of foul hooked fish, use of a hook with greater than a half-inch hook gap, and attempting to take fish by snatching.

Smoke on the Water – St. Lawrence County

On Oct. 24, ECO Ian Helmer responded to a complaint of an open burn in the town of Brasher. The ECO found a fire tended by a man and a woman. The man explained he had started the fire to clear debris from property he is trying to sell. ECO Helmer explained to the pair that it is unlawful to burn debris that is considered garbage and that the materials should be disposed of at a registered dump. The officer issued tickets for the unlawful disposal of solid waste and the unlawful burning of solid waste. On Oct. 29, ECO Helmer was traveling with Lt. Troy Basford when he received another complaint at the same location. Upon approaching the scene, the ECOs spotted thick grey smoke covering the Deer River. The same subjects were burning another pile of solid waste from a different location. ECO Helmer issued tickets for the unlawful disposal of solid waste, the unlawful burning of solid waste, and operating a solid waste facility without a permit.


Smoke billowing over river
Illegal fire along the Deer River

Hunting with a Shotgun Before Season Opens – Cattaraugus County

On Oct. 25, ECO Jason Powers received a phone call from a hunter who reported that on the previous evening while packing up his truck at the Boyce Hill State Forest in Franklinville, he encountered a woman walking out of the woods carrying three firearms. He asked the woman what she was doing, and she told the hunter that she, her husband, and their 15-year-old son were hunting turkeys. The suspicious hunter wrote down the woman’s license plate. The next day, when the hunter and his friend returned to the same parking area, they found a blue plastic sled covered with blood, deer hair, and pine needles. The sled had left a noticeable trail, and when the hunters retraced its tracks they found more blood and a 12-gauge shotgun shell, which prompted them to call ECO Powers. The ECO met the pair at the property. The officer surveyed the area and found more shotgun shells. He visited the license plate owner’s residence and the male wasted no time telling the ECO how he had shot a 7-point buck with both a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge shotgun, although only the archery season for deer was open at the time. The man explained that while hunting turkey, he couldn’t resist taking aim at the buck. The deer was seized and taken to a processor before being donated to the Food Bank of Western New York. The illegal hunter was issued multiple tickets, including illegal taking of a deer, taking a deer with a shotgun during the archery season, illegal possession of a shotgun and slugs afield during the archery season, hunting without a license, and deer tagging violations.


Deceased Buck
The illegally taken 7-point buck

Unlicensed Hunter and Baiting Leads to Tickets – Orange County

On Oct. 28, ECOs Jon Walraven and Melissa Burgess checked a site where ECO Walraven had received an anonymous tip reporting several tree stands positioned over a deer feeder. The ECOs located the feeder and tree stands. However, no hunters were present. As the officers were leaving, an individual walked up the trail toward the feeder carrying a compound bow. The two ECOs hid in the brush and watched as the individual set himself up to hunt. The officers emerged from their hidden position and confronted the man about the bait. He admitted to placing the bait and not having a valid hunting license. Tickets were issued for hunting over bait and hunting big game without a license and are returnable to the Town of Wallkill Court in November.

Tree with ladder and field in background with bait for deer
Tree stand with illegal feeding station in the background

An Illegal Shipment in NYC – Queens County

On Oct. 28, ECO Daniels Plows was patrolling Queens County when he received a call from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The officers reported an individual attempting to import 10 kilograms of blood clams into New York from China. China is not among the approved countries on the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List published by the Public Health Service Act, so the import of the blood clams was illegal. ECO Plows arrived at the airport and interviewed the subject bringing in the clams. During the interview the officer learned that 400 mitten crabs were also being imported. Importation of live mitten crabs is prohibited under Federal and State laws as the crabs are an invasive species that destroys native habitat. ECO Plows and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents seized and destroyed both the mitten crabs and the blood clams and issued state and federal citations to the importer.

Yellow crates of mitten crabs stacked on cart

Insulated box of blood clams on luggage belt
Mitten crabs (top) and blood clams (bottom) seized at JFK Airport

The Domino Effect – Oneida County

On Oct. 29, ECO Jeff Hull received a rare deer hunting complaint in the city of Utica. The complainant stated they had observed a deer in a resident’s driveway with an arrow protruding from it. ECO Hull responded to the residence, where he observed tufts of deer hair in the driveway. When the homeowner was questioned, he claimed to have shot an injured buck in his backyard using a bow. With the houses on both sides well within the 150-foot regulated distance for discharging a bow, ECO Hull asked to see the deer. The subject brought ECO Hull to his basement where the hindquarters were hanging. When asked where the head of the buck was, the subject directed ECO Hull to a freezer, where there was an untagged 7-point deer head and several more packages of soft, not yet frozen meat. The officer spotted an additional dozen packages of meat labeled “10/05/2018.” The subject quickly admitted to shooting a doe on Oct. 5, which he had not tagged or reported. The 7-point buck was actually shot the previous night at 8 p.m., more than two hours after legal hunting hours. Using his flood light, the poacher observed the healthy deer eating from a pile of corn behind his house and shot it with a bow from a bedroom window. The man was charged with the misdemeanors of taking wildlife except as permitted, taking a deer outside of permitted hunting hours, and taking a deer with use of an artificial light. The subject was also charged with hunting over bait, two counts of failure to tag deer as required, failure to report harvest, and discharging a bow within 150 feet of a dwelling. Sixteen packages of venison, the 7-point deer head, and the subject’s bow were all seized as evidence. He is due in court in December and will also face possible hunting license revocation.