DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officer Highlights

ECO Actions for Late December and Early January

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 DEC 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:

Holiday Season Ripe For Shellfish Violations – Westchester County

On Dec. 21, ECOs Craig Tompkins and Kevin Wamsley set out for a day of seafood market checks in Westchester County. With the upcoming holidays, some seafood markets increase stocks of shellfish and marine fish, and the possibility of associated health and safety violations typically increases, as well. Five separate seafood distribution facilities were checked for violations ranging from undersized fish and lobsters to proper storage and tagging of shellfish. While checking one of these locations, ECOs discovered two large bags of clams without required tags. The ECOs issued a summons for possession of untagged shellfish. Later in the day, two additional distributors were issued summonses for the possession of untagged shellfish. One charge is pending in the Town of Greenburgh Court and the other charges are pending in the City of Yonkers Court. Because the shellfish were of unknown origin, they could not be sold for consumption, and one bushel of topneck clams, one bushel of chowder clams, one bushel of cockles, and one box of geoduck clams were seized and destroyed.

ECOS Tompkins and Wamsley with seized shellfish
ECOS Tompkins and Wamsley
with seized shellfish

A Whole Lot of Carp – Queens County

On Dec. 29, while on patrol in Queens County, ECOs Matthew Thibodeau and Jacob Jankowski observed two men floating on a homemade wooden raft on Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The raft was in a spot known for illegal fishing, so ECOs Thibodeau and Jankowski observed the subjects using a combination of gill and dip nets to land multiple fish. Freshwater lakes in Region 2 (New York City) are catch and release only for any species other than snakeheads, and the use of gill nets is strictly prohibited. As the individuals walked out of the cattails with their catch, the ECOs approached. The officers found the anglers in possession of two large bags and a cooler full of common carp. Neither fisherman possessed a freshwater fishing license and all of the fish had been caught illegally. A total of 35 common carp, two white perch, and two gill nets were seized. The fishermen were issued five summonses each, including fishing without a freshwater license, failure to release fish without undue harm, fishing contrary to regulations, fishing by means other than angling, and insufficient PFDs. All of the summonses are returnable to Queens County Court in March.

ECOs Thibodeau and Jankowski with seized fish and gill nets and the homemade wooden raft Homemade wooden raft floating on Willow Lake
ECOs Thibodeau and Jankowski with seized fish and gill nets and the homemade wooden raft

Illegally Guided Duck Hunt – Yates County

On Dec. 29, ECO Joshua Crain received multiple complaints about an individual posting guided waterfowl hunts on social media in the Yates County area. ECO Crain determined that this individual was not licensed to guide hunts in New York, and photos showed an over-the-limit take of waterfowl. Over the next several days, ECO Crain compiled more evidence and attempted to locate the subject. On Jan. 1, ECO Crain located the individual guiding a group of five hunters on Seneca Lake in the town of Torrey. Because of the size of the hunting party, ECO Ron Gross responded to the area to assist. The hunting party was approached by the ECOs and the officers conducted a compliance check. One hunter was charged with possessing a shotgun capable of holding more than three rounds while waterfowl hunting, and a second hunter was charged with hunting wildlife without a valid license and possessing a shotgun capable of holding more than three rounds while waterfowl hunting. The guide, a resident of Elmira, was charged with two counts of guiding hunters without a guide’s license and taking over the limit of redhead ducks. All of the tickets are returnable to the Town of Torrey Court.

Over the limit of ducks taken during illegally guided hunt
Over the limit of ducks taken
during illegally guided hunt

Unsafe Target Shooting – Onondaga County

On Dec. 29, ECO Don Damrath received a call from a couple hunting on the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in the town of Lysander. The hunters told Damrath they were pursuing pheasants with their Labrador Retriever when they heard gunshots and ricocheting bullets. The ricochets were close enough that the hunters ducked for cover and headed back to their vehicle. From the parking area, the couple observed two men shooting a handgun at a target hung on a tree. The only backstop was another group of trees, and the shots were being fired in the direction where the couple had been hunting. The couple were able to write down a vehicle registration before the two target shooters drove away. ECO Damrath called ECO Rick Head for assistance and after taking statements and collecting evidence, the officers tracked down the shooters in the city of Syracuse. The two men readily admitted to target shooting at the trees, using a permitted 9 mm handgun. The shooters also admitted that they did not consider the insufficiency of their backstop, nor that the bullets could ricochet or pose a danger to hunters using the property. ECO Damrath charged each shooter with unlawfully damaging vegetation on a Wildlife Management Area. In addition, ECO Damrath provided brief instruction on firearms safety and encouraged the shooters to join a gun club.


Trees damaged by target shooting on Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area
Trees damaged by target shooting on
Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area

Multi-Agency Search for Missing Man – Orleans County

On Dec. 29 at 1:30 p.m., the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department requested assistance from DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) to help search for a missing 71-year-old male with Alzheimer’s disease. The subject was last seen at his residence the night before at 7 p.m. Twelve ECOs responded with a DEC K-9 and six ATVs in order to help access the rural lands surrounding the man’s home. Eight DEC Forest Rangers joined the search efforts later in the day. Unable to locate the subject on Saturday, the search effort regrouped and planned a larger response for the following morning. On DEC. 30, more than 20 Forest Rangers and ECOs from both Regions 8 and 9 continued in the search efforts. Just after 10 a.m., a New York State Police Dive Team located the missing man’s body in a pond behind the residence. The Orleans County Sheriff’s Office is continuing the investigation.


ECOs Charge Three Relatives in Hunting Related Shooting Incident – Orleans County

ECOs, working in conjunction with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office, arrested three individuals on Jan. 2, who were allegedly involved in a hunter related shooting incident (HRSI) that caused damage to a home on River Road in the town of Mount Morris. Robert R. Houseman, 35, of Greece, was charged with tampering with evidence, providing a false written statement, failing to carry tags afield while hunting, and discharging a firearm over a public highway. Richard A. Houseman, 65, and Richard R. Houseman, 35, both of Greece, were charged with tampering with evidence, providing a false written statement, and failing to carry tags afield while hunting. On Dec. 1, a homeowner contacted 911 after a bullet passed through a window and lodged in a wall of their residence. Orleans County Sheriff’s Deputies and ECOs were able to identify and locate a group of hunters that had fired at some deer across the street from the address. An investigation alleges that Robert Houseman fired the shot that passed over River Road and struck the residence. In an effort to conceal their actions, the three subjects allegedly tampered with physical evidence at the scene and provided false statements to investigating deputies and ECOs. The subjects were arraigned at the Livingston County Jail Central Arraignment Part (CAP) and released to appear at a later date. In addition to the criminal charges, Robert Houseman is facing the loss of his hunting privileges for a five-year period.


DEC Investigators Arrest Man for Dumping Asbestos on Wildlife Management Area – Orleans County

On Jan. 3, ECOs charged a man for dumping asbestos-laden materials on state land after a seven-month-long investigation. Carl J. Rivers, 49, from Albion, was arrested on felony charges of endangering public health, safety, or the environment in the 3rd degree, a class “E” Felony, as well as a violation level charges of unlawfully disposing of solid waste in Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area in the town of Alabama. In May 2018, ECO Gary Wilson was notified of an illegal dumpsite on Klossen Road. ECO Wilson investigated the dump site and immediately notified the DEC Spills unit and investigators with DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation (BECI) unit. Investigators from DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement’s Environmental Forensics Unit (EFU) and the State Department of Labor’s Asbestos Control Team assisted with the case. DEC Spills unit hired a contractor to clean up and remove the hazardous debris, which was brought to a registered facility. Rivers, already in custody on an unrelated charge, was transported to the Town of Alabama Court for arraignment. The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of up to four years in prison and/or a fine up to $150,000. The violation carries a penalty of up to 15 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,500 to $15,000. The subject is due back in court on March 7. DEC was assisted in this case by the State Department of Labor – Asbestos Control Bureau, the U.S. EPA, and the New York State Police.

Asbestos-laden materials at illegal dump site
Asbestos-laden materials at illegal dump site