After posting three columns about the sad state of landowner relations in Maine, it’s time to start telling the stories of some long-suffering private landowners. After reading the initial columns in this series on landowner relations, Pam Wells emailed me her story.
Pam and her husband Bryan are members of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine. Pam is also a very talented photographer. I’m including a few of her recent photos with this column, to brighten up what is otherwise a very distressing story. Here it is, just as Pam sent it to me.
My name is Pam Wells and my husband (Bryan) and I own around 1000 acres of forested property in the Milford/Greenfield area. The Sunkhaze stream runs through the center of it and into Sunkhaze Meadows NWR. As you can imagine, we have a lot of people who like to use our property. As a rule, we allow people to hunt, walk, fish, and enjoy our property, but it becomes more difficult each year.
In the last few years, we have experienced a lot of problems by allowing people in. We used to allow target practice but after I picked up a contractor bag of casings, computer parts, and a variety of other junk, I decided that allowing target practice wasn’t a good plan. No more of that.
Two years ago, I was sitting in my blind waiting to obtain a bobcat photo and a young couple walked by our “Access by Permission Only” sign, hung up a milk carton, and began shooting in the direction of my blind. I didn’t dare get out of my blind until I could get my husband out there to stop them. Because they were college students, we didn’t press charges but instead made them walk our property for several hours and hear us talk about the importance of it for wildlife and public use. They won’t forget that lesson.
In addition, we have had bedroom sets, kitchen sets, and shingles dropped on our property; usually at places where we can drive in. At least the chairs on the kitchen set were taken after we left them lined up on the road. As they say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
And then there was the day that we drove in and discovered that guy lying nude on a rubber mat. At least he had put the cable at the gate up behind him. I told him he could stay but I was still going to pick my blackberries. Funny…he jumped in his SUV and raced out to Stud Mill, then disappeared.
We love people to use our property. This last year, I began taking forestry classes at UMaine and our goal is to create a demonstration forest. We want other small woodlot owners to learn about how to manage their forest while keeping it sustainable for both tree production and wildlife and traditional activities like hunting and fishing. But sometimes it is challenging. This coming year, we will be installing three gates so that people can’t randomly drive in and engage in “mudding” with their trucks or drop unwanted trash all over the place.
So what is the solution with Landowner relations? Who should be in charge? I would love to see some kind of collaborative effort. A team that involves the Warden Service, the Maine Forest Service, the money side of the equation, and a landowner who can give some perspective. Why the money side? People love to use my property but guess who pays for all the roadwork to get in and the taxes on the property. It’s not the visitors; it is my husband and I. And with 1000 acres, that gets very pricey.
Like I said, we really want to allow access but it can be frustrating and costly. It’s going to take more than just one agency. And it’s going to take more people. All of those departments have limited staff but we are a state that promotes the outdoors. Why wouldn’t we put some resources on an area that generates more revenue for our state?
I’ve got several possible topics for the next column in this series on landowner relations. But you’ll probably get one more story from a landowner. And you will find it quite astonishing.