Friday, December 13, 2013
Rep. Catherine Nadeau
THOSE WHO WORK to protect Maine ought to feel safe and ought to be equipped to do their jobs.
This year, I've had the pleasure to work with Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-North Anson, on a measure to arm Maine's forest rangers. These law enforcement officers face dangerous situations while protecting the Maine woods and responding to emergencies.
Unlike police officers, forest rangers are not provided with firearms to protect themselves. We believe that those who choose this profession should not have to sacrifice their safety by continuing to work unarmed.
The Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel recently published their opinion that rangers should not be armed. The editorial claimed that rangers encounter danger far less than other law enforcement officers. This simply is not true.
During the public hearing in April, more than half of all Maine's forest rangers attended in support of the bill. Of the 19 rangers who testified, many claimed that they face dangerous situations all too often. While almost always alone, rangers frequently confront illegal marijuana dealers, convicted felons and arsonists.
One ranger said he had been shot at in the line of duty and has been threatened on multiple occasions. There have been reports of death threats and violent intimidation by criminals with firearms, yet rangers have been left without adequate protection.
Facing a dangerous situation alone in the woods just once is one occasion too many.
The Maine Forest Service covers hundreds of towns and unorganized territories in Maine and conducts nearly 4,000 investigations each year. While a police officer is able to get backup for emergency situations within 10 minutes in Maine's more populated communities, it often takes more than an hour for a forest ranger to receive backup.
Maine forest rangers are often the first officers on the scene of a crime in remote, rural settings. They cannot control all aspects of a response. When dealing with a violent criminal or emergency situation, an hour is too long a wait.
The newspaper also argued that if the forest rangers' job description has changed so much, then the state should consider changing the job back to what it was.
Times have changed, and the challenges faced by the state are different from those of the past.
Since 1947, rangers have been located strategically in unit facilities across the state to ensure quick response to emergencies. The mission of the Maine Forest Service has evolved over time to more than protecting trees.
Rangers are now law enforcement officers, and their job includes protecting people. Maine forest rangers should be entitled to the same rights of self-protection as other law enforcement officers in the state.
Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, is serving her first term in the Legislature and represents Winslow and Benton.