Although the title's been changed several times, their duties remain essentially the same. The men in green Stetsons are entrusted with the responsibility, "To protect the environment, natural resources and people of the State of New York through law enforcement, education and public outreach."
In 1976, the department created a separate Division of Law Enforcement and in 1982, the Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation was formed to provide a special investigative unit within the Department of Law Enforcement.
This unit, with 45 staffers statewide remains focused on large scale hazardous waste dumping, endangered species trafficking and undercover operations.
Currently, there are over 320 ECO's on duty, including the Marine Enforcement Unit and a K-9 Unit. They are responsible for everything from checking a fishing license to the transport of protected species, to the illegal dumping of hazardous waste along a quiet, back road.
At first glance, being an ECO may seem like an ideal occupation. However, it is also considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Officers often deal with armed suspects, who may be addled by drugs or alcohol, in remote locations where there is illegal activity, and very few witnesses available.
In January 1981, Idaho Game Wardens Wilson Elms and William Harlan Pogue were shot and killed while they attempted to arrest a poacher named Claude Dallas. They were ambushed at the poacher's campsite.
In November, 2010, Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer, David Grove was fatally shot near Gettysburg, after a shootout on a rural road with a deer jacker he was attempting to arrest.
The incident in Pennsylvania occurred in the dark of night, as New York ECO's were involved in Operation Dark Night, an effort to combat deer jacking in 57 of 62 counties.
That deer jacking enforcement effort eventually resulted in 137 defendants charged with 274 misdemeanors. Fortunately, there were no injuries.