They soon will be armed, thanks to lawmakers who overrode a gubernatorial veto.
Earlier this week, the Maine Legislature overturned Gov. Paul LePage's veto of the bill to arm forest rangers. It has taken several years to make this effort a reality.
"But we thought we'd give it a shot. And it's had more lives than a cat," Rep. Will Tuel, R-East Machias, said.
The bill has an estimated price tag of $150,000 to purchase firearms, ammunition, holsters and lock boxes.
Sen. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, noted that forest rangers often are called upon to help with matters involving the police.
"And, of course, they are not armed," Dill said.
A spokesperson for the Maine Forest Service declined to comment on the fact rangers will begin carrying side arms.
"The department had not signed off on arming them," Tuell said. "It was their contention that they should be more of a firefighting, and not law enforcement" unit.
Dill said that advocates of arming rangers say that in a rural state, it is critical for protection -- and not just from criminals but unexpected encounters with wildlife.
"Not that they wanted to shoot 'em. But they did feel if they'd had a handgun in that situation, they'd have felt a lot safer," Dill said.
The law becomes effective 90 days after the end of the special legislative session. An editorial in the Maine Forest Products Council newsletter opposes the plan to arm rangers, saying it would change the focus of the forest service.
"The forest products council was concerned with what they called 'creep,' meaning now that you're armed, you're going to be kind of moving toward other law enforcements," Dill said.
Tuel said that, ultimately, the mission of the forest service is under the authority of the executive branch.
"It'll probably be many months before Maine's forest rangers are armed as it's going to require much extensive and intensive training before they receive their weapon," he said.
"It's becoming more common for members of the forest service to be threatened, the suspect that they're dealing with drawing a gun. Maybe not pointing at the ranger, but drawing a gun. I've had incidents of a ranger being threatened with his life in other ways," Tuel said.