AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Should Maine's forest rangers be allowed to carry guns? The Legislature and the Governor will have to decide. But Rangers say they all want to be armed, and have wanted that protection for many years.
Forest Rangers are hired to protect the woods from fire and other threats, and to enforce forestry laws. But rangers say they're often faced with difficult people who could pose a physical threat, and that's why they want to be able to carry guns - just as game wardens and state troopers do.
Last spring, the Legislature's Criminal Justice Committee supported the idea, but the bill ran into problems in the full Legislature. Governor Paul LePage appointed a special task force to study the issue. That Task Force has acknowledged there are times when rangers are potentially placed in harm's way. So it has recommended a "go slow" approach, by training and arming a few rangers at first, then having them handle cases where they could be faced with threatening people.
Several forest industry groups support that idea, and say they want rangers to focus on protecting the forest, not on being police officers. The rangers, however, say training and arming just a few people isn't a good idea, and several legislators agree.
The Legislative committee took no vote today. Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland), co-chairman of the committee, says a majority of the members support the idea of arming rangers. In the Legislature, though, that isn't the only issue. Dion says there is a question of how to pay for training and arming the rangers and where the money will come from.
The Maine Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture and Conservation, and another committee oversees that department. Dion says the two committees will have to get together and figure out how to handle the firearms issue. He says that will happen in early January. There's no word yet if Gov. LePage will support arming the rangers.