(Editor’s note: A criminal charge is merely an allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of the criminal law, and it is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the state of New York’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.)
On March 12, 2019, ECO Wes Leubner received a call from a resident in the town of Brunswick regarding a distressed red-tailed hawk on the ground in her backyard and unable to fly. Leubner captured the bird using a blanket, a large cardboard box, and assistance from the property owners. The officer transported the hawk, which had a severely fractured wing, to the Slingerlands Animal Hospital for treatment, where the hawk later succumbed to its injuries. Red-tailed hawks are one of New York state’s most wide-ranging raptor species, observable just about anywhere from Long Island to Buffalo, and often perched in trees bordering open or grassy areas.
No St. Patrick’s prank
On March 15, 2019, ECO Steve Gonyeau and Lt. Ben Bramlage responded to assist DEC Spills responder Steve Paszko with a report of bright green liquid flooding a yard, running into the street, and flooding a nearby parking lot in the town of Queensbury. The green liquid was coming from a neighboring property, carried by heavy snowmelt. The officers discovered that a local paint dealer had sold a large industrial paint mixing machine to a scrap hauler, who had dismantled it outdoors several weeks earlier. The machine contained a highly concentrated green pigment powder, which had spilled onto the ground. When the combination of rainfall and snowmelt mixed with the powder, it turned the water green. The bright liquid was contained to the soil and did not reach any storm drains or water bodies. DEC called in a spill response contractor to remove as much of the runoff and saturated soil as possible. The investigation of this incident is continuing.
Heavy duty trucks, heavy duty fines
On March 13, 2019, ECOs in the Bronx conducted a truck detail specifically targeting heavy duty diesel vehicles, checking to ensure these vehicles were following emissions standards, as well as targeting fluid leaks. The detail was a joint operation with DEC’s air quality staff, the State Department of Transportation, NYC Sanitation Police, and the New York Police Department Traffic Unit. Of the approximately 500 commercial vehicles inspected at the checkpoint, nine were placed out of service due to unsafe practices and six were towed due to faulty brakes and steering equipment. A total of 54 summonses were issued for return in Bronx Criminal Court later this year.
Illegal ivory is not an antique
(New York County)
On March 15, ECOs Joshua Harvey and Ryan Grogan were in plainclothes when they visited an antique shop on the Upper East Side and found two Buddha statues made of elephant ivory offered for sale. After Harvey expressed interest in the pieces, the shop owner offered an ivory wizard statue and two carved tusk pieces. Harvey told the shop owner that he would return the following day. On March 16, Harvey returned to the shop while Grogan waited close by in uniform. After Harvey offered $6,245 for all of the ivory pieces, Grogan entered the shop, confiscated the ivory, and issued two summonses for illegal sale of ivory and commercialization of wildlife.
It is illegal to sell or attempt to sell products made in whole, or in part, from endangered and/or threatened species in New York without obtaining a license. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo introduced and signed a new law in 2014 that banned the sale of elephant and mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horns and strengthened the criminal and civil penalties for buyers and sellers because their actions are contributing to the endangerment of elephant and rhinoceros populations worldwide.
Forensic files, wildlife edition
On Dec. 8, 2018, ECO Nathan Doig and the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department responded to a verbal dispute over a dead deer at a residence in the town of Walton. When they arrived, one subject had already left, taking the deer with him. The officers interviewed several people at the residence who said they were not involved, but provided a license plate of the vehicle. Doig gathered DNA evidence and photographed a spot where a deer had been killed. The Walton Police Department located the pickup truck about an hour later. There was nothing in the back of the truck and it appeared to have been freshly cleaned, but Doig located two specks of blood near the tailgate. Doig collected those for DNA testing. The owner of the truck claimed the blood was from a buck his brother had shot several days prior. Doig submitted the DNA samples from the original scene and the swabs from the truck to DEC’s wildlife pathology lab. The results came back in early March as being from the same female deer. On March 16, 2019, Doig interviewed the truck owner again, armed with the DNA results. The subject admitted to the illegal take of a doe deer without a permit and was charged with a misdemeanor in Walton Town Court. The successful conclusion of this case is the result of diligent police work by Doig, Delaware Sheriff’s, and Walton Police combined with scientific support from the pathology lab.
Illegal rhino skull
On March 25, 2019 ECOs and investigators with the Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation (BECI) unit conducted an undercover operation into the sale of a black rhino skull. A Greene County man who sold the skull to an undercover investigator was arrested and charged with illegal commercialization of wildlife. Black rhinos are listed as critically endangered and it is illegal to sell any part of them under the New York State Environmental Conservation Law (ECL). It is estimated that somewhere between 5,000 and 5,500 black rhinos are left in the wild.
Injured red-tailed hawk
On Jan. 15, ECOs Christopher Doroski and Michael Hameline responded to Low Road in the town of Neversink to investigate a report of a red-tailed hawk that appeared to be injured and was unable to fly. Upon arrival, the ECOs observed the hawk with a broken wing. The ECOs captured the bird and placed it in a carrier for transport to a nearby wildlife rehabilitator.
Obstacles marked for lake safety
(Great Sacandaga Lake)
On Jan. 17, ECOs Paul Pasciak and Wes Leubner, along with Forest Rangers Michael Thompson and Ian Kerr, conducted a patrol on Great Sacandaga Lake to assess docks that broke free from shore and became frozen in ice south of the Batchellerville Bridge. The docks likely broke free during heavy rains in early winter and became frozen in the main portion of the lake when temperatures dropped. Due to unsafe ice conditions, Kerr and Thompson piloted an airboat with Pasciak and Leubner on board to locate the docks. The three docks could not be removed, but the ECOs and forest rangers used reflective signs and high visibility flagging tape to ensure the docks are noticeable during the day and at night. As always, snowmobilers are encouraged to use caution operating on trails and frozen waterbodies, keeping in mind that with changing ice conditions, potential hazards can be difficult to predict. For more information on snowmobile safety when traveling on ice visit DEC’s website.
On Jan. 19, a concerned resident of Old Forge contacted ECO Robert Howe about a small, malnourished bear cub that had been wandering around his property for several days. Howe responded to the location, captured the bear, and transported it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Bald eagle rescue
On Jan. 20, a New York State Police trooper contacted a wildlife rehabilitator after observing an injured eagle on the bank of a pond in Horseheads. Attempts to catch the eagle were unsuccessful because the bird continued to jump into the pond, evading capture. ECO Travis McNamara was contacted and asked to assist. With the help of Troopers Nathan Lowmaster and Brandon Salyerds, and Elmira Animal Control, McNamara tracked down and cornered the eagle near the pond. The ECO used a landing net to safely capture the eagle and transport it to Cornell University’s Wildlife Health Center.
On Jan. 20, while on patrol in Orange County, ECOs Heather Carl and William Chomicki received a report of an injured hawk in the city of Poughkeepsie. When the ECOs arrived, the red-tailed hawk was perched on a low branch with what appeared to be a broken wing. The hawk was quickly captured without incident, transported to New Paltz Hospital for observation, and later picked up by a wildlife rehabilitator for treatment.
Cub Scout outreach
On Jan. 23, ECO Jeff Hull spoke to the VVS Cub Scouts about an ECO’s training and responsibilities. The children asked a variety of questions, such as where does Santa get his reindeer, have you ever seen a black mamba, and is it true you can suck venom out of a snakebite? A few youngsters were quick to offer up information about family members shooting more than their legal limit of deer and using illegal traps. Before departing, one young Cub Scout approached Hull with a stuffed animal that had a globe stuck on its head, mimicking the deer in the globe Hull rescued in 2016. The young lady asked the officer how he would handle such a situation, which caused everyone to laugh. Hull reported that the outreach opportunities are often the most enjoyable part of the job.