Environmental Conservation Police on Patrol

Environmental Conservation Police on Patrol

The 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 2023, the Division of Law Enforcement fielded more than 101,500 calls, resulting in Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) and Investigators across the state responding to more than 30,932 complaints and working on cases that resulted in nearly 16,900 tickets or arrests for violations ranging from deer poaching to solid waste dumping, illegal mining, the illegal pet trade, and excessive emissions violations.
“DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers and Investigators from Brooklyn to Buffalo and beyond work around the clock to protect our environment, safeguard public health, and hold law breakers accountable,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “As DEC continues its efforts to build a Police force more reflective of the communities they serve, the public can rest assured that our Officers, in partnership with representatives of local, State, and federal law enforcement agencies, continue to enforce New York’s stringent Environmental Conservation Laws.”

Duo Guilty of Elaborate Poaching Scheme – Erie County 
On Dec. 14, 2023, two hunters pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for illegally taking two large antlered deer in an area closed to deer hunting in the town of Tonawanda. The investigation began Nov. 14, 2022, when ECO Mathis and the Tonawanda Police Department received separate calls about two suspicious men walking through the woods near the Raintree Apartments.

A witness who is an avid hunter observed one of the subjects crouching in the woods behind his residence before hearing what he believed to be the snap of a bow discharge and an arrow strike a large 16-point buck that ran into his yard after being shot. The witness then observed a second subject taking pictures of the wounded deer with his cell phone. The subjects fled the area as police arrived but not before trail cameras photographed them. The photos were posted online, and the subjects were identified as Jayson Zorda and Kevin Butler from Oneonta and Afton, respectively.

DEC Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigators (BECI) interviewed Zorda and Butler; both denied hunting deer in Tonawanda. DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) then applied for search warrants for the hunters’ residences. Officers from DEC Regions 4, 7, and 9 executed the search warrants simultaneously and seized cell phones, hunting equipment, and the clothes the hunters wore on the date of the incident. A review of cell phone records uncovered a larger scheme where the subjects conspired with a network of poachers, using hunting and wildlife photography posts on social media to target large bucks in suburban and urban areas closed to hunting. Warrants revealed that Zorda had a fictitious Facebook profile in which he posed as a female wildlife photographer. He would use this profile to contact other photographers to learn the exact locations of mature urban bucks so he could illegally hunt them. Zorda and Butler would hide compact bows in backpacks and conceal their arrows in hollow walking sticks to look like hikers to any witnesses.

Butler and Zorda both pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for illegally taking whitetail deer, paid $1,075 in fines and surcharges, and had their hunting licenses revoked for five years. DEC thanks the Town and City of Tonawanda Police Departments and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office for assisting with the case.

Other individuals were implicated in the warrants and charges are pending.

man posing with illegally taken deer

Zorda poses with deer taken illegally in Erie County 

Man caught on a trail camera

Butler caught on a trail camera in connection with widespread illegal poaching investigation in Erie County 

Baiting Deer – Greene County
ECO Palmateer recently conducted enforcement actions in Greene County focused on individuals hunting with the aid of bait. In the town of Cairo, the Officer ticketed two hunters for their use of pre-established bait and placing salt licks on lands inhabited by deer. Hunting with the aid of bait is unlawful and unethical. It gives the hunter an unfair advantage by luring the targeted game to an unnatural food source. Additionally, multiple deer feeding out of the same bait pile can spread disease amongst the herd. ECOs work tirelessly to ensure the rules of “fair chase” are adhered to so that hunting remains an equally challenging, yet rewarding, tradition for all who go afield.

Responding to a tip about baiting activity in the town of Prattsville, Officer Palmateer investigated and located two subjects hunting in a tree stand on State land, both with fresh piles of corn on the ground in front of them. The ECO also located a third member of the hunting party hunting over bait on a neighboring property. ECO Palmateer contacted ECO Burgess for assistance in gathering evidence and the Officers charged all three subjects with hunting with the aid of pre-established bait. One subject received a charge for maintaining a tree stand on State land without displaying owner information. Another subject was also charged with failing to wear hunter orange.

Hunter caught on camera next to bait pile

Hunter caught on camera hunting with the aid of bait in Cairo, Greene County 

Waterfowl Hunting Enforcement – Greene County
On Dec. 17, 2023, ECO Palmateer conducted patrols focused on hunting-related activity at Vosburgh Swamp Wildlife Management Area in the town of Coxsackie. The ECO located two waterfowl hunters while on foot patrol who just finished hunting. The Officer checked their hunting equipment and discovered one subject in possession of a gun capable of holding more than three shotgun shells. It is generally illegal to hunt waterfowl with shotguns that can hold more than three rounds. ECO Palmateer issued a ticket for hunting waterfowl with a shotgun capable of holding more than three rounds and issued written warnings to both subjects for hunting waterfowl without Harvest Information Program (HIP) Registration Numbers.

Mystery Bag – Queens County
In the early morning hours of Dec. 17, 2023, ECO Milliron received a phone call reporting two men on the Joseph P. Addabbo Memorial Bridge in Queens taking striped bass during the closed season. Officer Milliron arrived and located a vehicle suspected to belong to the pair. Through the rear window, he observed a bag flopping around in the cargo area. ECO Rappold also responded, identified the two anglers on the bridge, and found them in possession of one striped bass. The ECOs escorted both men back to the vehicle and discovered the bag moving around in the cargo area contained an additional six striped bass. The Officers issued tickets returnable to Queens County Court for possession of striped bass out of season and failure to release the striped bass without undue harm. The fish were returned to the water and the poachers, who are repeat offenders, paid just over $1,000 in combined fines and surcharges.

six striped bass on the ground and the offenders standing nearby

Six striped bass illegally caught in Queens County 

Remembering Sgt. Daniel DiDato – Dutchess County
On Dec. 23, 2023, ECOs from DEC Regions 2 and 3 stood in solidarity with members of law enforcement from across the country to remember East Fishkill Police Department Sergeant Daniel DiDato. Officer DiDato was killed in a vehicle crash on Dec. 18 when traveling on the Taconic State Parkway to Westchester Medical Center to interview a pedestrian struck in a different traffic accident. Officer DiDato served with the East Fishkill Police Department for 18 years and served with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection from 2001 – 2005.

ECO at the funeral services

ECO Swart attends funeral services for East Fishkill Police Officer Daniel DiDato, killed in the line of duty

Loaded Guns – Suffolk County
On Dec. 26, ECO Perkins arrived at Cedar Beach to check waterfowl hunters hunting from a boat within the Mount Sinai Inlet. From shore, the Officer observed two individuals hunting from the vessel and conducted a compliance check when they tied their boat at a nearby marina.

During the compliance check, ECO Perkins observed loaded 12-guage and 20-guage shotguns in the boat. Both firearms belonged to the operator of the vessel. He issued the hunter one ticket for two counts of possessing a loaded firearm in a vehicle. Tickets are returnable to First District Court, Suffolk County.

Two shotguns seized during investigation

20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns seized during illegal hunting investigation in Suffolk County 

Busted Baiter – Suffolk County
On Dec. 27, 2023, ECO DeRose received a call about a dead deer with an arrow wound discovered in the backyard of a residence. The ECO responded, confirmed the deer was shot, and followed a blood trail into nearby woods that are closed to hunting. Officer DeRose found an unoccupied tree stand camouflaged in a pine tree and a fresh pile of bait within 20 yards of the tree stand. He returned to the tree stand the next evening with Officers Perkins and Kaufherr to continue investigating. The ECOs found a fresh pile of sweet feed and a grey squirrel impaled to the ground by an arrow. The hunter at the location denied any association with the deer previously found shot and the fresh feed at the location. However, the subject admitted to hunting near an adjacent residence without permission. Officers escorted the hunter from the area and ticketed him for hunting with the aid of bait, trespassing, feeding deer within 300 feet of a road, failure to wear a back tag, failure to carry his hunting license, and discharging a bow within 150 feet of a dwelling.

Bait pile close to residential home

Bait pile discovered during illegal hunting investigation in Suffolk County 

Peebles Island Poaching – Albany County
On Dec. 29, 2023, ECO Hameline and New York State Park Police Officer Wier responded to Peebles Island State Park in the city of Cohoes for a report of hunters entering the woods. Peebles Island is located in Wildlife Management Area 4J and hunting big game with a vertical bow is permitted, but hunting in the State Park is prohibited. The Officers arrived at the location to find the hunters already back at their vehicle with a harvested deer. The subjects admitted to illegally taking the animal with a crossbow. They were also hunting during New York’s Holiday Deer Hunt without the proper licenses. The Officers issued tickets to both hunters for hunting without the required licenses, taking big game illegally, and possessing a cocked crossbow in a motor vehicle. All tickets are returnable to the City of Cohoes Court.

Crossbow sitting on a seat in a vehicle

Evidence discovered during illegal hunting investigation in Albany County

Illegal Dump Bust – Erie County
On Jan. 2, ECO Damrath charged a subject responsible for illegally dumping solid waste in the city of Buffalo weeks earlier. On Dec. 11, 2023, Norfolk Southern Railroad Special Police Agent Steiner contacted Officer Damrath for assistance in investigating the dumping of two truckloads of household waste, including mattresses and furniture, on railroad property in the city. The ECO tracked the waste to a vacant house that had been deemed unsafe by the Erie County Health Department due to hazardous levels of lead. Health Department employees provided Officer Damrath with the name of a California-based LLC associated with the property and Officer Damrath’s investigation produced the name of a property manager. The manager admitted to hiring a contractor to clean out the vacant house while it was being remediated for lead contamination. ECO Damrath and Norfolk Southern Police supervised the cleanup and lawful disposal of the waste before charging the suspect.

illegally dumped furniture

Illegally dumped solid waste discovered in Erie County

Poaching in Friendship – Allegany/Niagara Counties
On Jan. 2, ECO Calanni received a complaint about a hunter who illegally took a deer a few days earlier during New York’s Holiday Deer Hunt in the town of Friendship. The complainant, who was hunting property he leases in the town, encountered a hunter dressed in full camouflage hiding in bushes next to a loaded shotgun and a freshly taken spike buck. Only bows, crossbows, and muzzleloaders are allowed for deer hunting during the late season. The two men got into a heated argument and the alleged poacher left the area with the deer when the complainant headed to his camp to call police. ECOs Calanni and Damrath interviewed multiple witnesses over the next two days. They tracked down both the mystery hunter and what was left of the deer on Jan. 4 in Niagara Falls, about 100 miles north of the poaching incident. ECO Calanni charged the hunter with two ECL misdemeanors and one violation. The subject faces more than $4,000 in potential fines and could lose his hunting privileges for up to five years.

Loaded shotgun in the bed of a truck

Loaded shotgun discovered during poaching investigation in Allegany and Niagara counties 

Unsafe Shellfish Grab – Kings County
On Jan. 5, ECO Pansini patrolled Kings County to focus on the unlawful sale of marine species as part of his assignment to the Region 2 Marine Enforcement Unit. The ECO observed a subject during the patrol offering untagged shellfish for sale on the sidewalk along Eighth Avenue in Brooklyn. The subject attempted to flee on foot, but the Officer apprehended them and issued New York City summonses for offering untagged shellfish for sale, offering shellfish for sale from waters not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for food consumption, and failure to comply with a lawful order from an ECO. The subject is scheduled to appear in Kings County Criminal Court to answer the charges.

Without proper tagging and tracking information, it is impossible to determine whether shellfish are safe for members of the public to consume, or to track the distribution of shellfish in the event of an outbreak of shellfish-related illness. Consuming shellfish from waters not approved by the FDA for food consumption could carry serious health risks. All unlawful shellfish were seized and destroyed.

illegal shellfish in a bucket, bags, and jars

Illegal shellfish offered for sale in Brooklyn seized as evidence

National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day – Region 9
On Jan. 9, a class of fourth and fifth grade students from St. Andrews County Day School in Erie County wrote letters of appreciation to ECOs, Investigators, and Supervisors in Region 9 in celebration of National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. The students took the time to print out copies of the DEC logo and the ECO shield to color and add to their cards in addition to the kind and thoughtful messages. National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day was created in 2015 to thank Officers across the country for the daily sacrifices made for their communities.

Appreciation letters displayed on a wall

Handwritten notes from students from St. Andrews County Day School in Erie County to ECOs in Region 9 in celebration of National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day 

Northern Saw-Whet Owl Rescue – Delaware County
On Jan. 14, ECO Osborne responded to a report about an injured baby owl in the town of Deposit. A local family travelling along State Route 8 discovered the owl in the roadway with what appeared to be a broken wing. Officer Osborne, a member of DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement Wildlife Response Team, arrived and determined the reported baby owl was actually an adult northern saw-whet owl. The ECO transported the injured owl to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Hunter for care. The northern saw-whet owl, native to New York State, is the smallest species of owl in the state and is most active at night.

ECO holding the injured owl

ECO Osborne with rescued northern saw-whet owl in Delaware County

To contact an ECO to report an environmental crime or to report an incident, call 1-844-DEC-ECOS for 24-hour dispatch or email (for non-urgent violations).

Author: Harlem Valley News