Last year, when Gov. LePage established a task force to recommend whether forest rangers should be allowed to carry firearms, we said the state should instead focus on how to make the job safer, by returning the rangers’ focus to forest management and fire suppression.

Now that the task force has returned its findings, that seems all but impossible. Rangers should be armed.

Their duties will continue to include the investigating of timber theft, illegal harvesting, improper burnings and other activities that often involve dangerous people and overlap with other crimes. They also will continue to provide support to other law enforcement agencies. Those parts of the job rightfully have rangers nervous.

The task force ultimately agreed that rangers need protection, recommending that the rangers be armed over a period of several years.

The chief consideration now should be how to fund the initiative, a cost the task force pegged at between $142,837 and $2.1 million, depending on the level of training.

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which is handling L.D. 297 – the proposal to train forest rangers so that they can carry firearms – should get to the bottom of the discrepancy and obtain a true picture of the funding options. Lawmakers should not allow imprecise cost estimates to provide political cover for voting down the bill.

Forest rangers investigate crimes. They are called to the scenes of emergencies and asked to check out reports of criminal activity. They usually work alone and often in rural areas, far from help. They are asked to back up police officers and game wardens.

Rangers, in addition to their forest protection duties, do many of the same things as other law enforcement personnel. Yet they are the only ones asked to do them without the protection of a firearm.

The state should remedy the situation as soon as possible. If the rangers’ ideas on costs and funding are realistic, it should be done immediately.