Press Release

Sen. Blakespear Calls on Governor to Support Wildlife Officers and Park Rangers

Signing SB 391 would ensure state wildlife officers and park rangers can receive treatment for skin cancer through workers’ compensation the same as other peace officers

SACRAMENTO – Sen. Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas, joined with Assemblymember Tim Grayson, D-Concord, and wildlife officers, park rangers, family members and conservation advocates on Tuesday to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign legislation to cover medical treatment for skin cancer developed by state wildlife officers and park rangers on the job.

SB 391 would establish a rebuttable presumption that skin cancer developed by California’s wildlife officers and park rangers is associated with excessive exposure to the sun during their employment, thereby removing any barriers to receiving workers’ compensation coverage for skin cancer treatment. The same rebuttable presumption currently exists for lifeguards employed by cities or counties and the state Department of Parks and Recreation and by all other classes of peace officers.

“Park rangers and wildlife officers protect California's beautiful lands, waters, flora and fauna, but their job carries risk,” Blakespear said. “Like other peace officers, every day they put their lives on the line. The risk comes not only from the possibility of dangerous conflict but also from the hazard of spending most of their days outdoors being exposed to harmful UV rays from the sun. They deserve the same protection as every other law enforcement officer and lifeguard.”

“California’s wildlife officers and park rangers protect our state’s natural resources, and it is only fair that California provides them the necessary protections from the risks associated with their service,” said Grayson, who intends to bring the bill up on the Assembly floor today. “I am proud to support SB 391, and am thankful for Senator Blakespear’s leadership on this important issue.”

Authored by Blakespear, SB 391 is co-sponsored by the California State Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) and the California Fish and Game Supervisors and Managers Association (CFGWSMA) and has support from 18 organizations, including the Peace Officers Research Association of California and The Nature Conservancy. There is no known opposition, and the bill has passed the Legislature unanimously so far.

The legislation will eliminate the disparity in coverage experienced by the protectors of our state’s precious natural resources. By signing this bill into law, Newsom can make a significant and positive impact on the lives of California’s 800 state wildlife officers, park rangers and their families.

Newsom vetoed a similar bill in 2022, saying in his veto message that although it was well-intentioned the need for it was not supported by clear and compelling evidence. However, only 50 percent of the workers’ compensation claims for skin cancer treatment for wildlife officers and park rangers are approved. And the science is indisputable – exposure to UV rays they experience on the job creates risk for skin cancer.

Many officers and their families have to fight for workers’ compensation coverage or go years without it, creating more stress and expenses while they are battling cancer.

Occupational medicine experts from UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley James E. McNicholas, Jr. and Gina M. Solomon, prepared a letter for the California Legislature analyzing skin cancer and occupational risk among peace officers within California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Parks and Recreation. Their research and analysis led them to conclude “On the ultimate question of whether the peace officers under consideration sustain enough exposure to merit presumption, our medical opinion is that this is reasonable . . .  that exposure [for wildlife officers and park rangers] is at least as comparable to other law enforcement officer groups [which already are granted this presumption].”

California wildlife officers and state park rangers often work 10 to 12 hours per day, and many of those hours are spent outside in the sun. For career wildlife officers and park rangers, this amounts to decades outside – far more than the average worker.

According to a 2017 article in the international, peer-reviewed journal Occupational Medicine, workers with sun-exposed occupations have almost double the risk of developing cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma and at least a 43 percent higher risk of developing basal cell carcinoma compared with non-exposed workers.

“Park rangers and wildlife officers diagnosed with skin cancer should not spend their time fighting with California’s workers’ compensation system. They should be focused on healing and treatments without worrying their treatment will be covered,” said Rosemary Weingarten, whose husband Alan Weingarten, a wildlife officer, passed away from melanoma. “Fighting for workers’ compensation coverage while my husband fought for his life caused our family undue stress. We hope Governor Newsom will give these officers the same protections their colleagues have.”

Also supporting SB 391 are: Audubon California, Defenders of Wildlife, Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Wildlife Federation, Endangered Habitats League, Oceana, California Waterfowl Association, Mountain Lion Foundation, Planning and Conservation League, California Wildlife Officers Foundation, Friends of Fish and Game, the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, and more than two dozen active and retired California wildlife officers.

Elected in November 2022, Blakespear represents Senate District 38, which covers northern San Diego County and part of inland Orange County. To learn more about the district and Sen. Blakespear, visit her Senate website.