MFPC members appreciate all the work that the Maine Forest Service and forest rangers do to protect forests, especially in their essential role to prevent and combat fires. According to the Maine Forest Service – Statewide weekly summary 2010, the MFS spent 91,340 hours on fire control efforts and 32,651 on non fire activities.
We strongly support the mission of the MFS Division of Forest Protection, which is “to protect homes and Maine’s forest resources from wildfire, respond to disasters and emergencies and to enhance the safe, sound, and responsible management of the forest for this and future generations.”
The public hearing on LD 297, the bill that would arm Maine’s forest rangers, is set for Wednesday (April 24) at 1 p.m., at the State House, Room 436. We hope MFPC members will testify at the hearing or send their opinions to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
The safety of forest rangers is very important to MFPC, so we have researched this issue thoroughly. We requested statistics and other information from the Maine Forest Service, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Maine Department of Labor and are happy to share them with you. We’ve also reviewed a study by Maine’s Ranger Safety Review Committee, which considered this issue carefully when the Legislature was asked to arm rangers in the late 1990s.
After careful consideration, MFPC will oppose LD 297 because:
- Forest rangers already are armed with good sense, caution and the ability to anticipate when they should enlist back-up from state police, game wardens and local police officers.
- As the Ranger Safety Review Committee concluded in 1998, forest rangers overall risk of serious injury or death is the same with or without guns.
- Equipping, training and retraining rangers to carry guns would divert time and resources from their mission – protecting the forests of Maine.
- Wearing a gun would change the relationship of trust and confidence that exists between Maine’s forest rangers and the public. We would rather change the job to further minimize risk, than see that trust and confidence diminish.
Maine legislators rejected bills to arm rangers by overwhelming margins in 1999, 2000 and 2001. We agree with those legislators and with Ron Lovaglio, former Conservation commissioner and current MFPC member, who opposed arming rangers, saying in 2000, “It’s not our mission to be a strike force. We have been unarmed since our beginning and we have done our job exceedingly well.”