December 11, 2017
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Lawmaker still wants to regulate foraging but drops support for wild picker law

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff
Updated:
BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — The lawmaker who introduced a controversial bill to regulate foraging in Maine said he has asked the committee of jurisdiction to effectively kill his proposal, but not because he has changed his mind about the need for restrictions on the foraging of fiddleheads, mushrooms and other wild foods on private land.

Instead, Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Wilton) said Tuesday that after reviewing state laws already on the books and learning that such harvesting already is largely prohibited, he decided that there is no need for another law. A work session was held on the bill late Tuesday afternoon by the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, with a majority of lawmakers voting “ought not to pass.” The Senate has to accept the “ought not to pass” report before it can be called “dead.”

Saviello said earlier Tuesday that he wanted to give fellow lawmakers the opportunity to “have the bill go away.”

“It’s already illegal,” Saviello said. “I’m recommending that the bill be killed, because we don’t need the law … we already have a law on the books that says [foragers] are stealing, and can be charged with theft. I hope landowners now may realize that they can take [foragers] to court.”

His bill, LD 128, An Act to Prohibit Foraging on Private Land Without Permission, originally prohibited the harvesting of any edible wild food, Christmas trees or evergreen boughs from another person’s land without permission. Last month, though, the lawmaker said he really had his sights on commercial foragers and that he wasn’t trying to crack down on the people who gather smaller amounts of wild foods for their own use. He said that he would modify the bill so that it only affects commercial foragers, and expected to put a 40-pound limit on foods like fiddleheads, ramps and mushrooms.

Many wild pickers weren’t satisfied with the proposed modification, saying that the bill was a legislative overreach that was both unnecessary and hard to enforce. Many fans of foraging said this week that they are relieved that Saviello is going to call for his bill not to pass. Maine has a robust tradition of so-called “permissive trespass,” which means that landowners who don’t post their land essentially give informal permission to people to access it. Beneficiaries of the permissive trespass tradition have included hunters, hikers, snowmobilers, canoers, fishermen and foragers.

“I’m glad it’s going away,” John Gibbs, a Belfast police officer and avid forager, said.

He believes that if landowners don’t want people to forage on their land, they can post it, and if they don’t want to go to the trouble of posting their land, perhaps they could put a sign by a patch of fiddleheads saying not to pick them.

“Most people are pretty courteous,” he said.

Tom Seymour of Waldo, a foraging expert, also is pleased that the bill likely will die.

“That’s good news,” he said. “I’m overjoyed. It’s nice this all-inclusive bill is not moving forward.”

Seymour said that he is aware of the existing laws that regulate wild harvesting. But, he said, they are not often enforced — and never for those who are picking just a small amount of food for their own use.

“Yes, there’s a law on the books, but for insignificant quantities of things that people pick, no one has ever bothered them,” he said.

Saviello said that he was discouraged that the modification he had proposed to his bill did not mollify angry foragers and wild pickers, who weren’t shy about sharing their thoughts with him.

“Those who go on people’s land and steal are against the bill. They had the attitude that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine,” he said. “If we define theft as taking something that belongs to someone else … I’m going to encourage landowners to find out who did it, and take whatever action is necessary.”

Saviello said that with the increasing use of game cameras, it is not implausible to think that landowners could keep a digital eye on their fiddlehead patch at all hours. That’s what he would do, he said, if he was worried that harvesters would clean out something he valued.

Both Saviello and Seymour agree that fiddleheads and other wild foods have more tangible value than they used to have, which is the reason for a lot of the friction between wild harvesters and landowners.

“A lot of these quote-unquote ‘upscale’ restaurants have come around, and they buy foraged foods from commercial harvesters,” Seymour said. “I’m pretty much against it. I would much rather teach people and instruct them to find things on their own.”

Saviello said that ultimately, he is afraid that landowners will get tired of aggressive foragers coming to their land and decide to post the land, putting it off limits to all users.

“The ownership of Maine’s land is changing, and the tradition of openness is changing,” the lawmaker said. “What I’m worried about is the posting signs will go up, and people will lose all rights to that land.”


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