Trail cameras now require landowner permission

Sportsmen got caught up in a blazing battle between police agencies and civil libertarians at the legislature this year. The result requires anyone putting a camera on private land to have the landowner’s written permission or a warrant issued by a Judge.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union had much success in the past legislative session, aggressively fighting for our rights of privacy. Restrictions were achieved on a variety of spying methods, from drones to cameras.

Initially the MCLU won a unanimous vote of the Judiciary Committee for their camera bill, sponsored by Senator Doug Thomas, but after the Maine Warden Service protested, the committee reconsidered the issue and voted against the bill. A minority of committee members stuck with their initial votes, and with a strong lobbying effort by MCLU, the Maine Farm Bureau, and the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, overcame the opposition and got the bill through the House and Senate. It became law without the Governor’s signature. Here’s what it requires.

A person may not place a camera or electronic surveillance equipment that records images or data of any kind while unattended outside on the private property of another without the written consent of the landowners. Without that consent, you will be committing a civil violation for which a fine of $100 can be levied for every day that your camera was in place.

Those who do place cameras on private property with permission or a warrant must label the camera or electronic surveillance equipment with their names and contact information. Violation of this provision is also a civil violation with a maximum fine of $500. Landowners are also permitted to remove or disable a camera placed on their property without permission.

This new law will have a major impact on hunters who place trail cameras before and during hunting seasons. It isn’t always easy to find owners of some of the private property we hunt, and, at least in my experience, private landowners are very reluctant to give written permission to access and use their property. Typically, I hear, “Sure, you can hunt on my land, but I’m not signing anything.”

No word yet on how aggressive the Maine Warden Service intends to be with this new law. Hopefully, they will focus any law enforcement activity on landowner complaints, and not spend their time hunting for cameras on private land.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.