There’s someone you probably are forgetting this Christmas: the person who owns the land where you picked fiddleheads or mushrooms, hiked, birdwatched, snowshoed or rode your snowmobile or ATV, hunted or accessed the water in 2011.
Everything we do outdoors in Maine would be diminished and more difficult to enjoy without the welcoming tradition of private landowners who allow us to traipse all over their land and use it as if it were our own.
It isn’t, and this would be a great time to let these landowners know how much we appreciate them and the use of their land. Most would be thrilled to receive a simple card of thanks. Others might like a bottle of wine, some homemade salsa or a platter of cookies. It’s the thought that counts.
Let me offer you my perspective as the owner of 160 unposted acres. Ten acres surround our house, and 150 acres are up the road in our woodlot.
Most landowners like me are abused by thoughtless individuals such as the following.
• The guy who walked across our lawn to fish the brook and pond behind our house, and left two empty soda cans and a worm container along the brook.
• The group that shot a deer behind our house, left empty beer bottles next to the deer’s innards and dragged the deer through our yard so they could drive in and toss it in the truck, leaving a trail of blood but nary a note or goodbye wave.
• The fast food addicts who tossed dozens of bags of coffee cups, burger wrappers, and more out the window as they passed my Route 41 woodlot.
• The person who, to save the $2 disposal fee, left me two tires last week, right beside an empty beer bottle. Could the two be connected? My first thought was: can we get DNA off that bottle and nail this guy?
Wishful thinking. And that’s all most landowners get. Enforcement of littering laws is nearly impossible. My solution, if anyone were ever caught, would be make him eat whatever he dumped. OK, I know that’s a very inappropriate thought for the Christmas season. I was just kidding.
Lots of landowners feel the burden of protecting the habitat of all the wild critters you love, without compensation. We landowners pay the property taxes, suffer the restrictions on our property, and get little recognition when we do a good job of habitat management and protection. Mostly, we get rules and restrictions and uncompensated demands.
This grievance is ascendant in Augusta these days. The Legislature is poised to roll back protection of waterfowl nesting habitat, rules that seriously aggravate many landowners. The Land Use Regulation Commission, despised by large landowners in the unorganized territories, may get broken up. There’s even a task force proposal to pay landowners if environmental rules reduce the value of their property by 50 percent or more.
Some of this undoubtedly goes too far. Most landowners would be happy to receive a little respect, and some bit of reasonableness when it comes to restrictions on our property. Emphasis on “our property.”
While you are busy getting out those thank-you notes and Christmas cards to landowners, consider one more recipient: Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
This beleaguered underfunded agency manages a lot of our public land and looks out for the state’s wild critters and fish, from ducks to deer, bald eagles to brook trout. It does it without any public support or funding — sportsmen pay all the bills. This perhaps shocks you. Many Mainers think some of their tax money goes to this agency. Nope. Nada. If you’d like to enclose a small donation with that thank- you card to DIF&W, the agency sure could use it.
I can’t say how much longer I will resist the temptation to post “No Trespassing” signs on my property. I hate those signs and the message they convey. I want to be a good neighbor. I want to welcome you onto my property — property that I paid a lot of money to own and purchased specifically so I could keep it undeveloped, protect and enhance its wildlife habitat and hunt there.
You probably share my goals. So why don’t you respect my property? And why aren’t I — and all other private landowners in our state — getting thank-you notes or Christmas cards this season? The next one I do receive from someone who used my land this year will be the first — ever. Merry Christmas. And thank you.
See, it’s not that hard.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.