The landowner relations program at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife got a major boost this year. LD 1391 nearly tripled the program’s funding, recognizing that this program is critically important to all of us who enjoy recreating on private land.
If you need to know why this is so important, please read farmer Clark Granger’s testimony below.
LD 1391 was sponsored by Rep. Ellie Espling at DIF&W’s request. Ellie sponsored a bill last session for me that added the Keep Maine Clean program to IFW’s landowner relations program. That program is designed to build an army of sportsmen and women who pick up trash to keep our woods and waters clean and accessible. Game Warden Rick Laflamme has been the landowner relations program’s director for nearly three years and does a great job. I am hoping the new funding will allow Rick to launch the Keep Maine Clean program.
In addition to significantly expanding the landowner relations program, the legislature enacted a bill sponsored by Rep. Gary Hilliard that revokes the hunting and fishing licenses of anyone convicted of “destroying, tearing down, defacing or otherwise damaging property posting signs.” Do that, and you lose your hunting and fishing license for one year from the date of the conviction. DIF&W also supported that bill as did the Maine Farm Bureau and Maine Woodland Owners.
The original bill only called for revocation of hunting licenses and the Maine Professional Guides Association spoke “neither for nor against” it, suggesting that penalties should apply more broadly than to just hunters. The IFW committee did just that, expanding the revocation to fishing licenses.
Clark Granger’s Testimony
Clark Granger, a farmer from Woolwich, presented particularly compelling testimony.
“I have owned and operated farmland in Maine for almost 50 years,” testified Clark. “When I began farming, I posted none of my land, anxious to share it with others. But years of abuse from ATVs and snowmobiles running over my crops, pickup trucks in fields causing erosion, dumping of trash, hardware inserted into trees used to access tree stands, occasional bullets singing over my head during Christmas tree harvest, and the theft of tools and small equipment from my barns and outbuildings have led me to post much of my land.”
“Once my signs went up,” he continued, “I quickly learned that posting was an affront to many in the recreational community. They reacted in various ways. When confronted, some folks said they didn’t see the signs. Others admitted that they saw the signs but thought the signs didn’t apply to them. Some asserted that they had to right to cross my land to ‘get to the water,’ though there are no great ponds nearby. One asserted that if I prosecuted him it would cost me two dollars for every dollar it cost him.
“But the most egregious threats have come from those in the sporting community who anonymously shoot up my signs. This sort of threat really hits home because it involved the use of a deadly weapon. Not all sign vandalism is the result of firearm use of course, but almost all sign vandalism seems designed to send a message to the landowner.
“Our landowners should not have to put up with this. We don’t post our land to be mean, but out of necessity. It costs us time and money to post land. And even on posted parcels, our land feeds the game species that wander onto other land where hunting is welcomed.
“It is of course true that not all sign vandalism is caused by hunters, and for vandals who are not hunters loss of a hunting license is not consequential. But in my experience most sign vandalism does occur during the hunting season, and passage of this legislation would send a powerful message to all recreational users to respect posting signage. Passage of this legislation would also signal that legislators recognize the importance of good landowner relations and its contribution to the recreational economy of the state.”
Sometime soon, I’ll report on the 2016 Yearly Summary that DIF&W provided to the legislature’s IFW Committee, outlining the landowner relations program achievements, and including all the landowner-relations law violations investigated by game wardens last year.