By TIM ROWLAND
Adirondack forest rangers are responding to significantly more emergency calls than they were 12 years ago, even as the number of rangers has remained the same, a new study shows.
By 2017, rangers were receiving 346 search-and-rescue calls compared to 223 in 2007. That translates into an extra emergency call every three days, according to an academic paper by Ethan Collins, a student at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Peter Pettengill, an environmental studies professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton.
The paper was published in the Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies.
With more users and more acreage incorporated into the park over the decade, the increase is understandable. But services haven’t kept pace. “The issue lies in the staffing,” said Collins, noting that as calls are on the rise, the number of rangers in the decade studied increased by only one, to 135.
That means that in the 10 years studied, emergency calls per ranger were up 54 percent. Collins said the problem isn’t just for people who are hurt or lost, but for the rangers themselves who may be fatigued from an overnight rescue, when a new call comes in.
Although — unlike at a national park — there are no solid data on the numbers of people using the park, Collins said an obvious reason for the increase is the increase in Adirondack use. “If you have twice as many people in the woods, you’re going to have twice as many calls,” he said.
But the data also suggest that the users of the park are older and perhaps not as agile on the trails. “There are more retirees who live in and around the park,” Collins said. “They may overexert themselves and become fatigued, which makes them more prone to slip and fall.”
The park also attracts neophytes, who are more likely to be unprepared, or become lost in the woods, he said.
The report conducted a deeper analysis of the years 2015 and 2016, in which there were 528 search-and-rescue operations involving 638 people. Hiking was the most common activity requiring a search-and-rescue mission, followed by snowmobiling, camping, hunting and climbing. Fifty-seven percent of those needing help were male, and the most common age group was from those 45 to 65 years old, a segment that made up 30 percent of the calls.
The greatest percentage of calls (42 percent) came from those who were lost, with 24 percent needing help with an injury.
Slipping and falling led to 43 percent of the injuries, with another 19 percent owing to incapacitated hikers who bit off more than they could chew. Another 9 percent had a specific medical event such as a heart attack. Over the two years studied, there were 26 reported fatalities, including six drownings, five suicides, four killed in a plane crash, three falls, two due to exposure, two due to a previous medical diagnosis, two “other” and one each due to exceeding their ability and snowmobiling.
Collins said his and other studies have indicated that education and training appear to be the best bet for reducing backcountry rescues. A preventative plan focusing on education and preparedness was instituted in the Grand Canyon in 1997, and it’s helped reduce the numbers of lost or injured hikers, the report indicates. The program includes formal checklists for hiker safety, and has since been implemented at Yosemite and Delaware Water Gap.