Testimony of Representative Craig Hickman for LD 297: An Act To Require Forest Rangers To be Trained in Order To Allow Them To Carry Firearms, Before the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety
April 24, 2013
Good afternoon Senator Gerzofsky, Representative Dion and other distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. My name is Craig Hickman, I represent District 82, Winthrop and Readfield, and I stand before you today in full support of LD 297, “An Act To Require Forest Rangers To be Trained in Order To Allow Them To Carry Firearms.”
On February 17, 2013, I received an email from Mr. Al Godfrey, a constituent of mine. He wrote as follows:
“As you are aware I spend many months each year up in the unorganized territories and encounter the Forest Rangers on a regular basis. Up in the big woods we have very limited law enforcement and arming them would be a major step in the right direction. It makes no sense that I am licensed to carry a firearm via my hunting license and concealed weapon permit and yet they trying to enforce laws aren't allowed to be protected. On a number of occasions I have discussed with them coming upon an illegal bonfire where large amounts of alcohol and illicit drugs are being consumed and they are defenseless to do anything. Also confronting timber theft or breaking and entering private property. They, and us residents up there, deserve this protection. Thanking you in advance for your kind consideration in this regard, I remain...”
I wrote back asking him for a bit of history, and he replied:
“From my recollection the Forest Rangers were allowed to carry protective weapons up until 15 + years ago and the Commissioner of Conservation at that time decided that he didn't want them to do so any longer and had the statute changed. Today's activities in the forest land have changed immensely since then and as I stated in my first email those of us up in the big woods have very little protection and this would help everyone as well as the rangers trying to do the job. Hope this helps.”
So I’m scratching my head wondering what happened. Mr. Godfrey is a well-respected member of my community who’s been around a long time, and this was the first time he contacted me directly about anything. When he asks you to get to the bottom of something, you get to the bottom of it. I was determined to research the issue and gather information, though I wasn’t exactly sure where to begin.
Within days, as though a prayer was being answered, I received an email from a Forest Ranger who believed this legislation would be coming before the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, on which I serve, and so he told me his story. A story which led to extensive conversations. Conversations which led to more stories from other dedicated and hard-working Forest Rangers. A collection of compelling stories that ultimately revealed to me a troubling reality: Forest Rangers, past and present, have had little to no voice in the biggest issues that affect their mission on the ground.
One of our colleagues here in the Maine House said, on microphone during a work session, mind you, that state employees—which, by the way, we all are, whether elected or not—would simply do what we told them to do. That we have no duty as elected public servants to listen to them.
Well, I beg to differ.
When I ran for office, I pledged to be a voice for those who cry in the dark. Imagine my surprise, then, when I became painfully aware that a group of law enforcement officials who protect one of our most valuable resources and face some of the most dangerous situations in the line of duty are among those who cry in the dark. The Forest Protection Unit is understaffed (as of this writing, up to eight candidates who have passed background checks, lie detector tests and other rigorous screenings and training are waiting anxiously to fill the unfilled positions for which the department already has the money), many Forest Rangers feel underappreciated and undervalued and still they absolutely love their work and take great pride in it.
Today, you will hear their voices, loud and clear.
This is Maine. God’s country. Gun country, as some call it. This is Maine. Our law enforcement officials—all of them—need to be armed in order to ensure their safety so they can perform their duties most effectively.
I humbly ask that you vote ought to pass—unanimously—on LD 297. Thank you.