Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) James S. Cranker is a familiar face to Paul Smith’s students. Current students may recognize him from PSC job fairs. Last year he participated in a K9 demonstration on campus during The Wildlife Society conclave. Alumni may remember him teaching a course in Wildlife Law Enforcement at Paul Smith’s College.
Officer Cranker’s career as an ECO began in 1999 when he graduated from the New York State (NYS) Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) 12th Basic Training Academy in Oswego, NY. Like many officers, he was initially stationed in NYC, then transferred upstate (Delaware County in the Catskills), and then to his home station. For the past 13 years, he has worked in the Franklin County area of the Adirondack Park. For five of those years, he worked in Communications as a Technical Sergeant, supervising civilian employees at the Ray Brook Dispatch. Currently, and happily, he is working as a field officer in the Saranac Lake region.
His career protecting natural resources began even earlier. His first job with the NYS DEC (1979 – 1982) was as a Fire Tower Observer at Black Mountain Fire Tower (eastside of Lake George in the Adirondacks) where, for four summers, he was under the supervision of NYS DEC Forest Rangers working in forest protection and fire prevention.
His law enforcement background includes an A.S. in Criminal Justice from SUNY Adirondack, Queensbury, NY. He then attended the Zone 5 Law Enforcement Training Academy (Troy, NY) where he became a Certified Municipal Police Officer, and worked as a Patrol Officer for Warren County Sheriff’s Dept. Since becoming an ECO, Officer Cranker has continued both his own education, and the education of others. He is a Certified Boating Safety Instructor, teaching NYS Safe Boating Course to the public and a Certified Sportsman Education Instructor, teaching hunter safety to young people. He is also a Certified Police Topics Instructor, teaching new ECO recruits at the NY DEC Training Academy.
Officer Cranker’s love of the outdoors is evidenced by through hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1978 from Georgia to Maine, a distance of 2000 miles, and in setting a U.S. record in snowshoe racing in in 1978 (United States Snowshoe Association). He is also the Founder and first President (1990) of the LASAR (Lower Adirondack Search and Rescue) Team based in the Warrensburg area. LASAR is a volunteer search and rescue organization created to provide trained volunteers to assist responsible agencies with search missions.
Officer Cranker says the type of work an ECO does is driven by the time of year. Seasonal changes in recreation determine the work: camping, fishing and boating in the summer, hunting in fall, and conducting snowmobile patrols and checking ice fisherman during winter. Officer Cranker states “The changing nature of the job and the variety of the work is one of the aspects that I enjoy.”
Another factor in an ECO’s job duties is geographical. ECOs in Long Island have different cases than an upstate officer. ECOs are posted in each of New York State’s 62 counties (including NYC). Consequently, an ECO working in an urban area or an area with larger populations and more industry, would deal with environmental cases that would be uncommon to Officer Cranker in the rural Adirondacks. “I like to think I have the best patrol area in the state, with the lakes, mountains, and wilderness areas. I can focus on the traditional duties of an ECO, much like officers did in the past when they held our original job title of ‘Game Protector.’ ECOs are the original community policing model: we live, raise our families, and work in our assigned patrol areas.” notes Officer Cranker.
“My duties include conducting boat patrols on the many waterways in my patrol area, checking on fishermen, and enforcing the navigation law on the Saranac Chain of Lakes, checking sportsmen to ensure compliance with fish and game laws. An ECO’s job is law enforcement, to enforce the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL). However, our duties are not exclusively law enforcement, I think an important part of our job is to teach young people skills so they can enjoy outdoor sports the way we do: safely. That’s why I became involved in teaching the Safe Boating Course, which is now mandatory for anyone 19 years of age or under to operate a motorboat.”
Working as an ECO is not all fishing, hunting, fun and games. Recently Officer Cranker spent two days working on a plane crash near the Lake Clear Airport, that claimed four lives. And earlier this year in June, the entire law enforcement division was involved in the month-long search and capture of the two dangerous prison escapees. Anyone considering becoming an ECO has to understand that ECOs are trained police officers – specialists in dealing with wildlife and the environment – but the job is law enforcement.
Once an ECO is on the job, additional training is needed to keep certifications and skills current, such as First Aid, active shooting training, and emergency vehicle operations. Officers also have opportunities to specialize – the Division of Law Enforcement has K-9 officers, plain clothes investigators, firearms and defensive tactics instructors. They have the opportunity to grow, to learn, to continue to challenge themselves. An officer has to be mentally and physically sharp.
Officer Cranker is a FCC Licensed Ham radio operator. He volunteers with the Adirondack Amateur Radio Association assisting with communications at public events such as the Tupper Lake Tin Man and the Adirondack 90 Miler Canoe Race. He is married to his wife Joy, who home schools their two children.