Peninsula park rangers make last grab for gun access

Even though wild animal attacks are rare on the Peninsula, rangers patrolling more than 50,000 acres of open land from Pacifica to Santa Cruz are making a last bid to arm themselves with rifles.

The Peace Officers Association of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District claim that an attack from a wild animal is inevitable and having unarmed rangers leaves the public in danger of attacks from beasts such as coyotes, mountain lions and bobcats.

The district’s board of directors is expected to vote tonight on whether to supply each of its two offices, housing 17 rangers, with a rifle. The board unanimously denied the peace officers associations’ request to be armed in December, but rangers have submitted a proposal that would allow supervisors access to the arsenal. The district’s staff has recommended to the board to deny that request.

The gun would likely be locked inside a field office and not accessible to each of the district’s rangers, said district Operations Manager David Sanguinetti.

“The chance of actually having the gun at the time it would be needed would be rare,” Sanguinetti said. “We don’t feel it’s worth the risk of bringing a gun into the situation.”

Attacks on humans are rare, said Anthony Correia, vice president of the association, but he said local police and Fish and Game officers once spent upwards of 45 minutes to respond to the report of an attack by a mountain lion.

The problem was most glaring, Association President and ranger Kerry Carlson said, in the mid-1990s when a coyote dragged a young boy at the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. The boy’s older brother beat off the coyote with a stick. The child survived but he was “torn up pretty bad,” Carlson said.

“Those rangers weren’t capable of doing anything because we weren’t armed,” Carlson said.

The district staff has researched eight parks and open-space districts throughout the state and found that rangers there do no use firearms for animal control.

The most common use for guns would not be for safety purposes but rather to kill wounded animals, Carlson said. Rangers have had to use axes to kill injured deer, skunks and other animals on rural roadways because other law enforcement is often too far away, he said.

mrosenberg@examiner.com  

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