Lawmakers propose bill to arm Maine forest rangers

Maine lawmakers have proposed a bill that would permit Maine Forest Service Rangers to carry guns while on duty.

The bill, LD 8, was introduced by Rep. William Tuell on Tuesday and has drawn support from law enforcement and opposition from large landowners and Maine governor Paul LePage, the Portland Press Herald reports.

Similar bills have failed four years in a row, but this bill aims to cut costs by allowing rangers to carry their own personal firearms, instead of having Maine taxpayers foot the bill for state-issued sidearms.

Tuell said Maine’s forest rangers issued more than 500 summonses and 800 warnings last year, often in very remote locations, and deserve to be able to protect themselves while doing their job.

“Maine forest rangers are law enforcement officers,” Tuell told representatives in the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “They should be treated like their brothers and sisters in Marine Patrol, Fish and Game, the state police, county sheriffs and local police departments around the state.”

Along with performing duties such as enforcing Maine’s forestry and conservation laws, fighting fires and developing timber harvesting plans with landowners, the roughly 50 forest rangers have also been tasked with investigating criminal activity and are often the only law enforcement officers in certain remote areas.

The Press Herald reports rangers can carry pepper spray and have been provided bullet proof vests, but many say that is not enough. While no rangers have recently been killed by hostile acts, a ranger was shot in 1989 and others have been assaulted.

“Guns are part of this business,” said David Trahan, a former state senator. “I don’t want forest rangers to have to become law enforcement, but the people in the Legislature have given them the responsibility. And with that comes the responsibility of making them safe.”

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration again expressed opposition to the current bill, saying they are concerned with liability costs and lack of training for the rangers, though Tuell responded with a proposed amendment to include police-level firearms training.

It remains unclear if the legislation will garner enough support to overcome LePage’s opposition.