Last month, I caught a fish that I never believed possible in the Genesee River in Allegany County. That rainbow trout measured over 26 inches and weighed in at nearly 7 pounds. You’d expect a trout like that in one of the Great Lakes, not an inland trout stream.
While marveling that fish and that moment I said to my daughter, “This is one of those times you thank God and the DEC.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation made that catch possible. They stock the river, allow a year-round fishery in the Genny, and maintain upstream a special catch-and-release section that lets big trout flourish.
That experience had me further reflect on the importance that the DEC has had on my life.
Some of my earliest and most cherished memories of the outdoors are of family camping in state forests near Alfred. That helped lay the foundation for my deep appreciation of our wild world, something many of you know from my daily #Nature365 posts on social media.
I’d like to think the same foundation-laying is happening now with my kids, as they absolutely love our annual summer trip to the Adirondacks where they can hike and paddle on DEC-managed lands and waters.
Beyond those foundations, there is much more to appreciate of what the DEC provides New Yorkers – Man and Beast alike: Clean water and air, game management, campgrounds, forestry plans, invasive species controls, wildlife restoration, Econ officers, forest rangers, and so much more.
3,000 men and women work for the DEC and the environment, assigned to 24 divisions and offices. It seems like a lot, but it’s a big state, so diverse in natural splendor that takes an incredible amount of effort and so many macro and micro strategies to protect and promote the natural world: Heading west to east we have the Great Lakes and the mighty Niagara River; the Allegany mountains; the Genesee watershed including Letchworth; the Finger Lakes; the Tug Hill plateau; the Adirondacks; the Hudson River watershed; the Catskills; and the marine environs around Long Island…and many places in between.
We have a whole world’s worth of wonder just in our state’s borders.
It’s truly amazing.
And, so are the accomplishments of the DEC. Here are some highlights:
In 1970, the DEC created the state’s first endangered species list to identify and protect the most threatened of our plants and animals. I think of how this has helped our orchids and moose, to name just a few, escape extinction and, in some cases, thrive.
In 1976, the bald eagle restoration program was launched. Over my lifetime, these magnificent birds, our national symbol, have gone from rarities to regular sights across the state.
In 1980, the Salmon River Hatchery was opened. That was instrumental in making Lake Ontario a truly world-class fishery. Think of the millions of dollars in sportsfishing tourism that the hatchery and others bring to our lakeside communities every year.
In 1984, the acid rain law was passed after years of study by DEC scientists. Since then, brook trout and other creatures have made a return to Adirondacks waters once poisoned. Dedicated stewardship reversed fortunes.
In 1985, the DEC launched the Saratoga Nursery seedling program. If you’ve ever purchased seedlings from your local Cooperative Extension office or Soil and Water District, you know how important this has been for affordably improving our lands.
In 1988, the DEC helped devise the Solid Waste Management Act which has decreased the number of active landfills from 500 to 27 statewide. This has saved numerous rural towns and counties from being dumping grounds and having their watersheds exposed to various forms of waste.
In 2003, the DEC took ownership of the Brownfields Cleanup Program which uses $120 million annually to salvage and improve tainted industrial sites that were left by previous generations and bad players. It’s reassuring to see wastelands being repurposed to usable properties or greenspace.
The list could go on and on. Victories big. Victories small. Victories yet to be had.
2020 was supposed to be a special year for the DEC, its 50 year anniversary. There was so much planned to celebrate that milestone and I was looking forward to taking my kids to some celebratory and educational events at campgrounds, parks, and state forests. But, alas, like all celebrations this year it was canceled or muted.
But, just because parties couldn’t be had, we shouldn’t take the time to reflect upon and recognize what the DEC has meant and will mean to you, your family, and our natural world. 2020’s shutdowns and Covid protocols should have put it all into perspective: The crisis drove people to the outdoors and the chances are good that, this year, you probably enjoyed a public asset maintained by the DEC (a trail, forest, or camp) or savored a harvest they helped provide (like a trout or wild turkey).
The DEC has been good to us and good for us. They truly and literally make New York a better place.
Happy belated birthday!
From the 14 December 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News