SHERMAN, Maine — An official with Maine’s agricultural department confirmed Saturday that agents with his department will be in southern Aroostook County on Tuesday to investigate allegations of illegally or improperly disposed animal carcasses.
“We will have boots on the ground Tuesday morning,” Matthew Randall, agriculture compliance supervisor with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said Saturday morning. “We will be there to look at it from a compliance perspective.”
What Randall’s staff is looking at are parts from what could be several dead cows — including at least two cow heads placed high in a tree — overlooking the Cold Brook Road property of Warren and Vicki Lea Wilson, owners of Wilsons Berry Patch and Farm in Sherman.
While Vicki Wilson said the dead cow parts have been an issue for her and her family for several weeks, the matter only came to the attention of Randall’s department on Friday through social media.
“This is a situation that unfortunately went from Maine to California and back to us on Facebook,” Randall said. “But we are glad we are now aware of it and can respond quickly.”
Wilson said she posted the photos of the dismembered cow on social media after she claims local law enforcement officials told her there was nothing they could do about the carcasses she says are near or on her property line.
“They were very nice, but told us it was a civil matter,” she said.
The Wilsons, who bought the 69-acre farm in 2011, only began living on the farm full time last year.
“When we moved here we did not see huge piles of dead animals,” Wilson said. “But several weeks ago my husband warned me not to go up near the property line [because] of the dead cows there.”
Two weeks later, she said, more carcasses and cow parts were added to the pile and a week ago she said two cow heads were placed facing the Wilson property up in a tree.
“We took photos,” Wilson said. “Because now it appeared to be a habit.”
Dead livestock, according to Randall, must be disposed of in a manner spelled out by state statute, what he called “Chapter 211.”
“These rules take into account what people should do if they have [animal] renderings after they have slaughtered animals or if they have livestock-sized animals that pass away for various reasons,” he said. “Ultimately the two most popular ways to dispose of these types of materials are composting or burial.”
The only exceptions, Randall said, are cases which fall under Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife rules governing the use of dead animals as coyote bait.
“Even then there are stipulations on setbacks, limits on how much bait can be used, how sizable the pile can be and how long it can be out there,” he said.
That is among the things his staff will work to determine on Tuesday, Randall said.
“We have seen [Wilson’s] photos and now we go through the process,” Randall said. “But when we first saw those particular photos it did not picture what we would have in our heads of what we would see of a slaughter or in a bait pile.”
Randall said his staff will meet with all involved and attempt to work with the parties responsible to bring any violations into compliance.
“What we tend to see are large operations know what they have to do,” he said. “Smaller operations are often removed from the regulatory side and may not be as familiar with the regulations and need to be made aware of what they need to do so they are in compliance.”
If the landowner is found to be in noncompliance and is unwilling to take steps to correct the situation, Randall said, he can be facing fines of $500 a day up to $50,000 if it is deemed a health issue and $1,000 for the first day of violations and $250 for every day thereafter for violating the “right to farm law.”
Any enforcement activity, Randall said, will be turned over to the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
For her part, Wilson wants the matter resolved one way or the other as soon as possible, and has no wish to engage in a feud with a neighboring landowner.
“We did not have a beef with this guy,” she said. “We really don’t talk to him [and] it’s not something we provoked, but now I have to look at [cow] heads in a tree.”