Reflecting Back on 50-Years of Environmental Conservation

Randy Young

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will celebrate its 50th anniversary later this year with a series of regional and statewide events to mark the occasion. DEC was established on the first Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970. Since that time, DEC has played a major role in nearly every environmental milestone in New York’s history, including the remarkable recovery of the bald eagle, recovery of trout waters from the effects of acid rain, and the largest addition to the Adirondack Park in more than a century, completed in 2016. 

    “For 50 years, New York State has set the national standard for environmental excellence by advancing responsible and proactive policies to protect the planet,” said Basil Seggos, DEC Commissioner. “This year, DEC is reflecting on 50 years of national leadership on the environment and renewing our commitment to tackling the tough challenges the future will bring, particularly climate change, the most pressing threat to our air, land, and water.”  

    Prior to DEC, New York’s Conservation Department was the primary agency responsible for enforcing environmental regulations and protecting the state’s vast natural resources for more than a century. Funding for the Conservation Department came from the Conservation Fund, which raised money primarily through the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. In 1970, according to a survey of Americans at that time, 70% agreed that air and water pollution were serious problems where they lived (https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations Policy & Politics, Richard Nixon and the rise of American Environmentalism, written by Meir Rinde, June 2, 2017). In response to growing national support for strengthening environmental protections, Governor Nelson Rockefeller consolidated all environmental programs under the newly created DEC and unveiled it to the public on the first ever Earth Day. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed later that year in December by President Nixon. 

    “While there is much to celebrate, our work is not done. DEC’s mission to protect public health and New York’s environment is, and will always be, an ongoing endeavor. In the next 50 years, environmental challenges will continue to emerge, and DEC’s steadfast commitment to meet those challenges head on will be stronger than ever before,” said Seggos. “From policies and programs that are effectively reducing waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and the threat of emerging contaminants to investments to revitalize our communities and increase their resiliency, to the Thin Green Line of Environmental Conservation Police Officers and Forest Rangers patrolling and protecting our precious natural resources and public lands, DEC’s more than 3,000 experts are working across the state and around the clock to ensure the health and prosperity of current and future generations of New Yorkers.” 

    As part of DEC’s year-long anniversary celebration, the agency is releasing a commemorative logo that will be used on the DEC website, in printed materials, and other promotions throughout 2020. DEC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife will incorporate the logo in the yearly Habitat Access Pin to commemorate the anniversary. The new Habitat Access Pin will be available at license issuing agents statewide beginning in August. Beginning in January, the agency’s history of significant environmental accomplishments will be memorialized on DEC’s website, via email, social media channels using the #DEC50 hashtag, and in the Conservationist Magazine and Conservationist for Kids. DEC will also host a series of regional and statewide events throughout the year, including launching a new Geocaching Challenge – DEC will designate 50 properties across the state where geocaching canisters will be hidden with information inside on how to receive a prize. 

    For the latest updates on #DEC50 and DEC’s yearling celebration of the agency’s 50th anniversary, visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/about/9677.html.