February 1, 2023

Stay Off My Land You SOB

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Or something like that. This morning I was reading George Smith’s article in which he stated that it was time for the Maine Legislature to enact two new laws. One would make it legal to provide “wild game” dinners and charge money for them.

Probably in this day and age, it is about time. But before Mainers go changing and/or creating more laws, they should understand that this law was first created in conjunction with commercial hunting. Lawmakers at the time believed that allowing commercial establishments to continue selling and serving “wild game” dinners, after the prohibition of commercial hunting, might promote illegal hunting. Perhaps those days are over? I dunno.

The second proposed law would be to make it illegal for people to enter private land and “pick crops on private land, such as mushrooms and fiddleheads.” He also suggests that, “No one else should be able to take those crops from our woodlot, without our permission.” And, “What gave him the idea that this was ok without asking us? Time to stop this bad behavior and show more respect for private landowners.

I’m not disagreeing with Smith’s notions. But is making a law that bans access to private land to “pick crops” the right choice and the direction Maine residents really want to go in? I would think and support an education program to teach people about respect of private land and the benefits all residents have by keeping private land accessible. Learning respect involves the act of seeking permission from a landowner – which is much more common today than ten or more years ago. What exists for education programs is working but more effort and time, and patience, is needed. Whatever is done, it will never stop them all. No law ever does.

Can we conclude that respectful people will seek permission, especially if it involves “taking” something from the land and that those, either ignorant or brazen enough to steal, probably will continue to do it even if a law is passed?

Maine is one of those rare states where private land is considered open to the public unless the landowner legally posts his/her property. This is a benefit to all people of the outdoors, some of whom may not fully understand that benefit, perhaps because they have never experienced locked-up private land. By forcing a law through the Legislature to prohibit access to private land to “pick crops,” steers the state in a direction toward reversal of the existing state of private land access. If a law is passed intended to prevent somebody from stealing mushrooms and fiddleheads, what is to stop the next person from seeking a law to prevent taking a walk, or fishing, etc.?

Outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, will drastically change when private land becomes closed and written permission needed to access it for any reason.

From my perspective, and yes, I am a landowner in Maine, Smith’s proposed law is a bit draconian. There is a difference between simple trespass and theft. There already exists laws on the books that make it illegal to take something that is not yours. What makes Smith believe that a law stating a specific event will make any difference?

Piling laws up on the books has proven to be a waste of time. There are so many laws now, few can or are ever enforced. This is a thoughtless reaction we often hear when someone says, “There ought to be a law!” In this case there doesn’t need to be a law, because there already is one. There needs to be some education that will target the disrespectful, but generally law-abiding people citizens, to learn that taking mushrooms and fiddleheads, apples, potatoes, Christmas trees, or any other privately owned property is already illegal.