This week, instead of documenting a recent adventure I embarked on, I’d like to take the liberty of someone in my position to raise awareness on a proposed bill in the state Legislature that, if passed, will change Maine forever as well as our rights as a recreational citizen.
The bill, Sec. 1.17 MRSA §2513, states the following, “A person may not take, remove or possess a natural resource from the property of another without written permission from the owner of the property. For purposes of this section, “natural resource” means any element, material, object, plant, mineral or organism that exists naturally and is not made, fabricated or created by a human being and includes any natural element, material, object, plant, mineral or organism that has been grown, bred, nurtured, collected, sown or manipulated by a human being.”
At first, people might not see the extremity of the bill and the way it is worded. Before I go on, just so everybody gets a grasp of what is going on, I’d like to share a list I put together of things that we will no longer be able to do in the Maine on unposted land without an exhausting list of signatures from landowners who would probably prefer not to be bothered, having already chosen not to post their land in the first place:
Seeking out antler shedings with a dog
Foraging for herbs
Hunting for funky dry hay and fallen tree limbs for home décor
Collecting cool stones
Making leaf scrap books
Finding bugs and butterflies for an insect collection
Using dead tree limbs/parts for firewood
Of course, probably the most upset this will cause within our local communities is its affect on hunting. By specifying “organisms” in the bill, it seems a hunter will no longer be able to gear up with buddies and head off to a remote section of hardwoods and harvest a few rabbits or a deer without becoming a target for wardens and state police. All of the untouched, seemingly forgotten woods of Maine will instantly become off limits until all private landowners are identified, contacted, and hassled for their permission on a slip of paper. Seeking unposted land will no longer be enough for the law-abiding hunter; the local sportsman will have to do pre-season office work, collecting and consolidating the dozens of documents he will have to have in his possession in order to avoid becoming a criminal in the upcoming season. Does this sound like Maine?
Personally, I’d rather not be obligated to pull the burdock off my coat and scrape the mud from my boots before hopping back into my truck after exploring some new land. Heater-hunting, enjoyed by many and the only option for some, would never be the same. The only advantage of hunting from a vehicle is the amount of ground you can cover, theoretically, requiring a hand-written permit for each parcel of land you cross if you plan on taking an animal when you happen across it.
However, it’s not just about the hunting; this bill directly affects the wonderfully diverse recreational side of Maine. You can’t bring the children to a place outside of town and go on scavenger hunts through the woods; and your dog can’t bring his favorite stick back home from a hike the two of you just went on. Do you enjoy picking wildflowers? Sorry! Dozens of outdoor activities will be affected by this bill, activities that used to be innocent here in Maine, activities that used to add to our colorful heritage.
I got a pretty big kick out of George Smith’s recent article in the Morning Sentinel, “Private landowners getting robbed by commercial harvesters” where he goes on about criminals who rob landowners of their mushrooms and fiddleheads, sometimes on a commercial scale. I found it particularly odd that an entire article is written about these “felons,” yet not one instance of it actually happening in Maine was even mentioned. I don’t doubt that it has actually happened in the past, and I certainly do not agree with, nor condone, any commercial fiddleheaders or mushroomers that might harvest without the landowner’s permission, but in any reported occasion I would seriously question the efforts of the landowners and their ability to properly manage/regulate their own property.
One thing can be said about Maine: it is made up of compassionate and capable people. In most cases, we’d like to allow others onto our land in order to enjoy it like we do, but we have to at least act like responsible landowners, which includes marking our own property with any guidelines we want followed if we sense we are being taken advantage of. There may be times when we are forced to take our own individual action when something is taking place on the property that we don’t agree with, whether it’s dumping trash, poaching animals, or picking some ferns. If you do have a problem, then hey, post your land, right? If the signs aren’t heeded, then action can be taken in court. It’s hard for me to believe that we are all a helpless, lazy bunch that would rather have all of Maine’s private land restricted from public use just so we don’t have to visit the land we own and put a few disclaimers up.
On a final note, I’d like to clear up any landowner-liability rumors concerning recreationalists getting injured on your property. Whether the land is posted or not, whether or not you give the people permission to be on your property, you can not be sued if an injury takes place (with one exception): Maine.gov says that only a “’malicious’ failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition” can provide the grounds of a lawsuit against the landowner. This isn’t referring to a slippery slope or steep climb, this condition is “usually man-made” and presents a situation where the landowner “[knows] that people are likely to get hurt.” So breathe easy, landowners, we have an extremely strict liability law here in Maine, and since it has taken effect, not one landowner has been held responsible for an injury!
The important thing is, as Mainers, we have the option of restricting our land and natural resources from others; we don’t require a law that makes the decision for us and automatically forbids others from our land until all the appropriate papers are signed. Usually I don’t root for signs that announce limited or no access, but it sure does beat having this bill get passed and watching all of Maine’s private land become off-limits to the activities we have come to love and enjoy.