September 16, 2019

Land Access: “There Ought to be a Law!”

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A few years back, while speaking to a group of elk breeders in Iowa at their national convention, I began my talk by asking for a show of hands from any and all who ever made the exclamation, there ought to be a law. Most raised their hands. The rest were lying…LOL.

In our post-normal existence we have eagerly created, without supporting evidence we reactively rush toward the creation of more limits, bans, and regulations falsely believing such actions will actually alter human behavior and make for a better, safer life. Does it? Do the majority of Americans heed such laws intended to make our world a better place to live?

Not exactly! Have you been out on the highways lately? This is but one example of how laws, intended to make things safer, are failing at breakneck speed. Everyone is speeding. Everyone is running stop signs and traffic lights. Everyone is tailgating. Everyone is passing on the wrong side. Everyone is texting. These are examples of laws intended to make the highways safer to be on and yet the proof is in what you see…total disregard of the laws. So, why do we insist more laws will work?

Does this same thumbing of the nose happen with all other laws? Of course it does and yet, we, in our programmed reactionary behavior insist on making more laws, limits, and bans anytime something happens that we think could have been avoided…especially if we had more laws.

A tragedy occurred in Maine two years ago when a young woman was on her own land during deer hunting season and was shot an killed. The shooter admitted he failed to follow the “rule of law” that demands a hunter identify his/her target before pulling the trigger. While this law is more of an educational reminder of the ultimate responsibility of the one with the gun in their hand, it does not prevent mistakes nor will it stop anyone intent on killing for whatever the reasons.

The editorial board of the Bangor Daily News suggests that Maine needs to review its hunter land access laws and consider a requirement that all hunters seek written permission from a landowner before hunting on that person’s land.

A land owner should be able to control who and how anyone accesses their land. They presently have that control at their fingertips by utilizing an existing law of posting signs of no or limited access. Yes, the onus is placed on the landowner to spend the money for signs and put the signs out. Perhaps there are better ways to assist a landowner in accomplishing this task.

The bottom line is this, will posting the land keep people off the property and will it prevent a tragedy like the one that happened two years ago? It will not stop the person who is intent on entering someone’s land whether it’s posted or not. Unless land is posted all the way around, what is to stop anyone from accessing partially posted land?

The question here is whether or not making or changing the law that would require written permission to access land would have prevented a killing like the one in Maine two years ago? We might be creating ourselves a false sense of security, causing the landowner, who may falsely believe their land is 100% safe to be on during hunting season. In actuality, a new law may be making things worse.

One could argue that it is the hunters’ responsibility to know where boundary lines are regardless of what the access laws and restrictions may be. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to know where every boundary is and if you cross, even a well-marked property line, whose it is. If I unknowingly cross a poorly marked property line, would I be in violation of the law?

Hunting is a very safe activity. It is not fool proof. To err is human as the old expression goes. We will never correct that regardless of how many laws are made.

So, let’s consider the problems that will mount if Maine decided to enact a law that would require written permission before access…for any reason. Which brings us to another question about such a proposed law. Would such a law discriminate against hunters and be in effect only during hunting seasons? Assuming a new law requiring written permission would be permanent and year-round, what kind of mess is this going to create for the outdoorsman, the landowner, businesses geared toward outdoor recreation, and law enforcement? Will this new law be such that it places the landowner in a situation where they are constantly being asked for written permission? Will this form of harassment cause the landowner to avoid such and simply post their land, which they might not have done anyway – an added expense for the landowner.

Consider the large landowners of Maine – Irving, Pingree, Liberty Media Corp. (John Malone, who is based in Colorado). How are they going to handle a law where they have to hand out written permission for anyone to access their land? Or are they just going to shut it all down to avoid having to have another paid position to handle just dishing out land access permission slips?

How is law enforcement supposed to handle this new law? Is it even enforceable? Is what exists now really broken?

I own land. It’s not posted. If I go on my land during hunting season, I dress the same way as if I was hunting – with hunter orange. I never assume because I’m on my own land I am safe. Mistakes happen.

I don’t believe anyone is capable of grasping the extent of how Maine would change if the laws were changed that would require written permission to access private land. What economic impact will such a move have on Maine’s economy? One can argue that it might make it safer but such laws will not stop human error. Most all accidents happen due to human error. In that case, more and better education might limit and reduce those errors.

Before we make more laws to restrict land access, let’s first consider other ways to educate and remind hunters of their responsibility and to remind the people of Maine when hunting seasons are underway. Perhaps Maine could invest in public service announcements that would remind people about hunting seasons.

Let’s be practicably responsible and not create a bigger mess that may do little to make things safer.

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