Maine Forest Rangers were last allowed to carry guns back in the late 1990′s. But that could be changing. A report issued by a 10 person task force convened by Governor LePage gave their final recommendation earlier this week. That recommendation is to begin arming Maine Forest Rangers incrementally over the next several years.
During the last legislative session, a hotly contested bill that would have allowed Maine Forest Rangers to carry guns was stalled. LePage charged the task force with examining the safety concerns and the cost of taking that step. The task force was also tasked with finding efficiencies within the state’s Natural Resource Law Enforcement agencies.
The task force presented its final report to the governor Monday, recommending that Maine Forest Rangers be armed on an incremental basis as opposed to all at once, to help ease the cost burden associated with making the move.
“This is the first step,” said Public Safety Commissioner John Morris, who also chaired the task force. “It was very successful first step. We had very productive meetings. We’ve made our report to the governor. The report is now public.”
The bill, LD 297, generated a great deal of debate with some in opposition questioning whether Forest Rangers needed to carry guns while others questioned the cost. According to the Maine Forest Service website, the mission of the Maine Forest Service is “to protect Maine’s forest resources and homes from wildfire, respond to disasters and emergencies and to enhance the safe, sound, and responsible management of the forest for this and future generations.”
According to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, in 2013, Maine Forest Rangers investigated 42 arson related wildfires that burned 260.4 acres. In all, Maine Forest Rangers responded to 394 wildfires that burned 701 acres.
In the report the task force concluded that “Maine Forest Rangers are placed in harms way during the normal course of their duties.” But the report also notes that “Maine Forest Rangers have not submitted a workers compensation claim for an injury caused by a physical assault with another person.”
How much it will ultimately cost to arm Maine Forest Rangers is still uncertain. The task force estimates the total cost could potentially be as low as $142,837 or climb to as much as $2,120,495. A big part of that cost would be the firearms training required in order for rangers to be allowed to carry a gun.
“Most of them have some law enforcement training which certifies them to be law enforcement but all of them would have to go through firearms training and be certified by the academy and by the Board of Trustees at the academy.”
Now that the task force has weighed in, the bill’s co-sponsor Catherine Nadeau a Winslow Demcorat, says lawmakers will most likely take up the measure again during the upcoming session in January.
“I have been told this will be heard this session coming up. Now when that falls on the agenda I don’t know. There were a lot of carry-over bills,” Nadeau said Friday.
If the bill passes, some Maine Forest Rangers could be carrying guns within months. But it could take years before they’re all armed. For now, it’s in the hands of lawmakers.
“This is just the first step in a long process. What falls out at the other end still remains to be seen,” Morris said.
Members of the task force included:
Department of Public Safety: Commissioner John Morris (Chairman)
Inland Fisheries & Wildlife: Commissioner Chandler Woodcock
Maine Warden Service: Colonel Joel Wilkinson
Departmen of Agr. Cons. & For. Commissioner Walt Whitcomb
Maine Forest Service Chief Bill Hamilton
Maine Forest Service Regional Ranger Jeff Currier
Department of Marine Res. Commissioner Patrick Keliher
Maine Marine Patrol Colonel Jo Fessenden
Small Landowner Group John Caswell III
Large Landowner Group Mark Doty