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DEC undergoing severe staff cuts

October 27, 2010
By Mike Lynch, News Outdoors Writer
High-profile biologists, supervisors and fish hatchery staff and are among the 260 state Department of Environmental Conservation employees who recently left the agency after accepting a 2010 early retirement incentive program offered by Gov. David Paterson.

The list includes biologists such as Al Hicks, who worked to reintroduce the moose in the Adirondacks and who first warned of major die-offs of bats; Peter Nye, who worked for decades to bring bald eagles back to the state; and on a local level, Tom Hall, who recently served as the assistant regional director to Betsy Lowe.

“Many of the men and women on that list represent really long-term institutional knowledge,” Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said. “These are 25- to 30-year members of the department.”

The 260 are part of the 595 employees who have left the DEC since April 2008 through attrition, a severance program and the early retirement incentive program.

The 595 represent 16 percent of the 3,775 staff members DEC had in April 2008.

Those numbers don’t include the 209 positions Paterson told the DEC to cut by the end of this year.

Woodworth said the DEC will miss people like Hicks, pathologist Ward Stone, real estate specialist John Keating and David Forness, chief of the Bureau of State Land Management, who all worked in Albany.

“Out the door with John Keating goes an incredible amount of knowledge about the state’s Adirondack land holdings and Adirondack real estate in general,” Woodworth said. “Nobody knew those state forests better than Dave Forness.”

Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said Stone and Hicks jumped out at him as big losses.

“(Hicks) was largely responsible for the state’s work in helping the moose return to the Adirondacks (by) relocating animals that get into trouble and doing their best to keep them alive in transport and finding suitable habitat,” he said.

Sheehan also praised Stone for his work on West Nile virus, avian flu and in detecting pollution in the St. Lawrence River. Stone also came under heavy criticism in the last year, however, after it was learned that he had been living in his Delmar office, but some of his proponents overlooked his alleged misgivings.

“He was also one of the first to help us recognize white nose syndrome in the bats,” Sheehan said.

Hicks also played a lead role in researching white nose syndrome.

For Jason Kemper, who is chairman of the Conservation Fund Advisory Board, the biggest losses are in the Division Of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, which had 36 people retire statewide. That includes a turnover of the chief of the Bureau of Wildlife, where Gordon Batcheller has replaced John Major.

Kemper is especially concerned about are those who work at the fish hatcheries. The DEC’s website lists seven people who have left fish hatcheries statewide, including Ed Grant, manager of the Adirondack Fish Hatchery in Lake Clear, which raises landlocked salmon and stocks them in Adirondack waterways.

Kemper said the lack of staff at those hatcheries is jeopardizing operations for raising fish.

“We’re in a really big pickle right now,” Kemper said. “We’re starting to take eggs for next spring. Unless we can backfill some of those positions, we’re not going to have the fish to stock. The department has to make a decision whether they keep raising those fish or the eggs just sort of don’t go.”

Kemper said he was frustrated by the loss in DEC fisheries staff because there were across-the-board license fee increases last year and because the Conservation Fund, which funds fisheries staff positions, has a surplus in the millions of dollars. He was unable to provide the exact amount, but it’s enough to pay for those lost positions. The only reason the money isn’t going to that purpose is because of the governor’s mandate to cut positions, he said.

“We sold a huge license fee increase to sportsmen and -women, and they reluctantly accepted it with the promise that there would not be a reduced level of service,” Kemper said. “So now we have a huge surplus in the Conservation Fund and no ability, because the state Department of Budget, to backfill any of those positions.”

Article Photos

Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Peter Nye, who was head of the DEC’s endangered species unit and key to the recovery of bald eagles in New York, prepares to climb a tree in northern Franklin County as part of an annual statewide bald eagle survey. He left the agency this fall after accepting an early retirement incentive package.



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