Respect posted lands, ask permission

Posted Nov. 24, 2009, at 6:02 p.m.

The column by John Holyoke titled “Hunters need to respect landowners” (BDN, Nov. 10) was right on message to the current problems that landowners are facing.

A lack of respect for landowners by many people is rapidly causing a loss of access for many outdoor recreational activities. I witness it on a weekly basis with the calls and e-mails that I receive as the director of Recreational Access and Landowner Relations for the state of Maine. The long-held tradition in Maine of open access could be history that future generations will read about and wonder what happened.

I find that the majority of users are respectful and treat the land as their own, and appreciate the privilege. The few that show a total disregard will be the first ones to complain when the next time they go to their favorite place for recreation and are surprised that new signs or gates have been put in place by the landowner.

The problems are not limited to any one area of the state or to just one activity. I receive complaints about trespass problems; damage to trees; dumping of appliances, furniture or trash; environmental damage to cropland and stream crossings; and ruts in roads. These abuse problems are done by people doing various activities with 4X4 trucks, jeeps, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, motor bikes, cutting or inserting objects into trees and installing hunting stands.

In recent weeks, I’ve dealt with what caused the posting of land because someone forgot that they were a guest on land not belonging to them. All of these incidents have taken more land out of open access, and each landowner in these recent cases was very reluctant to close their lands because they all had strong opinions in the open concept of allowing use.

There was the loss of 600 acres in Franklin County; 600 acres in York County; 140 acres in Penobscot County; 45 acres in Waldo County; and smaller parcels in Kennebec and Piscataquis counties. These were all related to hunting issues; one closing was caused by hunters who put up two tree stands without the permission that is required by law and for inserting objects into large prime oak trees.

Another potential loss of access to 10,400 acres in Somerset County because of 4X4 trucks doing environmental damage and dumping of trash. After more communication, the land manager for the landowner will hold off posting the land, but only if the situation doesn’t happen again.

All these landowners did agree to use the “Access by Permission Only” signs rather than “No Trespassing” in hopes that people will still ask to use the land in a respectful way. The old saying, “It is better to ask first than being asked to leave later,” should be step one before entering land that is not your own. You would be surprised that if you ask permission, even when posted no hunting or no trespassing, that many landowners will grant you the privilege because you asked.

I personally hunt on land that has had “Access by Permission Only” signs for 10 years because a few abused the property by dumping trash and making ruts in a woods road that the owner needs to use to get his firewood.

The total number of the “Access by Permission Only” signs requested in the last four years is more than 15,000. This confirms that thousands of acres have been lost to open use usually because someone has shown a lack of respect and appreciation. Many other signs that are not requested through the state also get used.

Please check out the landowner relations Web site at www.maine.gov/lor for information on recreational access and landowner relations. Remember that “access is a privilege and not a right”

Bob Duplessie is the director of Recreational Access and Landowner Relations at the Maine Department of Conservation.

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