With the increasing likelihood that any Tom, Dick or Harry has a handgun stuck in his belt, we support arming Maine’s Forest Rangers as an unfortunate but necessary step to protect their safety.

A bill to do so was sidetracked during the last legislative session when Gov. Paul LePage appointed a 10-person task force to examine the issue.

That was a good idea, since the task force may also find ways to accomplish this with maximum efficiency.

A similar bill allowing rangers to carry handguns was approved by the Legislature in 1999 but was never funded and was revoked in 2000.

This time around, about 20 rangers told the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Safety Committee they feel unsafe working in places that may be hours from law-enforcement backup.

Indeed, in June the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management reported a 38 percent increase in the number of assaults and threats made against federal park rangers and police.


It cited conflicts over land-management policies, growing use of public lands for meth labs and marijuana plantations and deeper penetration of remote backcountry areas by off-road vehicles, according to The Associated Press.

Critics say this authority would dramatically change the primary role of forest rangers, to monitor and protect Maine’s vast natural treasure, our forests.

Years ago, the rangers were mainly tasked with preventing, detecting and fighting forest fires.

But they gradually have assumed a range of law-enforcement activities, including enforcing burning ordinances and conducting investigations of forest arson, timber theft, logging-equipment vandalism, dumping and damage to forestlands and roads.

While all law-enforcement personnel are trained to defuse tense situations, any one of these duties can quickly put a forest ranger’s safety in danger at any time.

How many of us can honestly say that about our jobs?


What’s more, rangers never know when they might catch law breakers — such as marijuana growers or winter-timber thieves — in the act.

These days, rangers might be confronted by people high on drugs, crazed by bath salts or just plain drunk.

Maine is the most heavily forested state in the U.S., with 18 million acres of timber, 44 percent of which is located in the unorganized territories with scant law-enforcement presence.

The proposal to arm the rangers has received significant opposition, including that of Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service, and Tim Doak, director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine.

Doak told the Criminal Justice and Safety Committee earlier this year that rangers already have big jobs, and arming them could automatically draw them into other law-enforcement situations and away from their primary responsibilities.

But those concerns could be addressed in official protocols established among the Forest Service, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, State Police and local sheriffs.


Then there’s the cost, about $200,000 to get the program going and an estimated $175,000 per year in annual training.

Landowners who operate more than 500 acres already pay a tax to help operate the Forest Service. The cost of arming and training the rangers would come to pennies when spread across millions of acres.

If the rangers are on the front lines of enforcing laws, then they deserve to have adequate personal protection while doing so.


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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