David Cornell remembered for his leadership; search and rescue efforts
By Gwendolyn Craig
Another member of the forest ranger force died by suicide on Friday, the second in just over a year.
David M. Cornell, assistant director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Division of Forest Protection, died at age 52. Cornell was a forest ranger in DEC’s Region 6 for over two decades before he moved to a management position in Albany in 2021.
Cornell’s obituary published on Tuesday, said he “died as the result of suicide.” Rangers also lost Capt. Christopher Kostoss last summer to death by suicide. Kostoss, who patrolled the Adirondack High Peaks, was 49.
“Over the course of more than two decades with DEC, Colonel Cornell’s passion for protecting the environment and New Yorkers was unmatched, including his work helping to lead the Division of Forest Protection through the pandemic,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “He exemplified DEC Forest Rangers’ high standard of professional excellence.”
“Even when things were at their most chaotic, David was a calming force who always seemed to know exactly what to do,” added John Solan, director of the DEC’s Division of Forest Protection. Solan said he will miss Cornell’s “professionalism, and more importantly his friendship, more than he’ll ever know.”
Cornell attended SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Ranger School in Wanakena before rangering for 21 years in Camden, according to his obituary. For several years Cornell was on the DEC’s search and rescue advisory committee and helped create its search management response manual, according to the DEC.
Cornell, who served in the Marine Corps, used airplane mechanic knowledge in his ranger duties. The DEC said he was a helicopter hoist operator and “filled a vital role in the lower Adirondacks and Central New York.”
Arthur Perryman, an Adirondack Park ranger and director of the forest rangers for the New York State Police Benevolent Association, recalled a search and rescue operation in the early 2000s for two missing children in the Capital Region. Forest rangers all over the state came to help, including Cornell. Cornell was the one to find the siblings.
“It was an amazing moment, an incredible relief for everyone,” Perryman said. “Dave was the epitome of a Forest Ranger. He shared the details while quietly downplaying his skills and giving credit to the team. That’s just how he was.”
Seggos said he mourned “the sudden and tragic passing” of Cornell. The DEC said it is making emotional support resources available to all employees.
Cornell lived in Argyle in Washington County, according to his obituary. He is survived by his wife, Karalea Cornell, two sons and his parents, among other family members. There will be a funeral service at 12 p.m. on Aug. 18 at the Greenwich Elks Club, 13 Bulson Road, Greenwich. Calling hours are 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. prior to the service.
Memorials may be made in Cornell’s memory, according to the obituary, to American Suicide Prevention, 199 Water St., 11th Floor, New York, NY 10038 or the Arbor Foundation, 211 N. 12th St., Lincoln, NE 68508.
“If you or someone you know is in need of mental health assistance, please know help is available,” the DEC said. “The New York State Office of Mental Health has resources on its website (https://omh.ny.gov/omhweb/bootstrap/crisis.html), 988 is a free 24-hour hotline to call or text anywhere in New York, or can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.”
The Forest Ranger Foundation, recently started by Adirondack and Catskill park rangers, also aims to assist their colleagues with mental and physical health. The nonprofit is working out how to best provide support in those capacities.