The privilege of access to private lands is almost unique to Maine. Unless landowners post their land, putting up signs denying us access, we can access those lands without permission. Too many Mainers abuse that privilege.
In the last few weeks, on land owned by others, I have enjoyed birding, hunted turkeys, picked fiddleheads, and accessed the water to kayak and fish. And I appreciated those opportunities. Except for the birding on Monhegan Island, I had permission from the landowners for all of my activities — even though the land was not posted.
And everywhere I went, I picked up trash, thoughtlessly tossed there by slobs. The primary reason landowners post their property is the illegal dumping of trash. Shame on us.
For your recreational future, if this privilege is to continue, you must practice good landowner relations. That means always asking permission, thanking landowners on a regular basis, and treating that land respectfully. When I am successful hunting, I always share the meat with the landowner. If you picked fiddleheads recently, or will pick mushrooms soon, offer some to the landowner. And don’t forget to say thank you.
While we use private land for a lot of our outdoor fun, we also ask a lot more from landowners. Our demands for habitat range from songbirds to deer, and often conflict. For many years I’ve been advocating — along with forest landowners — for a comprehensive, multi-species management plan from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Right now every critter gets its own plan, and that makes it supremely difficult for landowners to meet our demands. We want grouse habitat — open forestland — but we also want deer wintering areas — closed canopies. The habitat needed for the endangered Canadian lynx is much different than the habitat we desire for the cottontail rabbit. And we want all of this for free.
Let’s use deer — the animal that drives our hunting economy — as an example.
If deer had value for private landowners, we’d have all the deer we desire. Unfortunately, deer not only have no value for landowners, they are a liability. And the tension between the demands of sportsmen and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for protection of deer yards and the landowners on whose property those deer yards exist has always been a problem.
In 2011, Gov. Paul LePage presented Maine’s game plan for deer, focused on increasing the deer herd in northern, eastern, and western Maine. To the department’s credit, the plan tackles the issues of expectations and tensions.
In a section titled “Setting Realistic Expectations,” the plan notes that “it can be argued quite reasonably that â€¦ society will bear no responsibility or cost itself to maintain the current (deer) population. â€¦ It is this reality that has led to the dramatic decline in â€¦ deer numbers. This is the root cause of the sporting public’s dissatisfaction and frustration with the â€¦ deer population decline.
“There is a tension that develops when society asks a private landowner to manage his or her forest lands for the benefit of a publicly-owned resource — deer,” noted the plan.
That’s putting it mildly.
It’s been my privilege to work over the years with the two major groups representing private forest landowners in Maine: the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine and the Maine Forest Products Council. While some of the issues are the same no matter how much land you own, others are specific to large or small landowners. To put it simply, SWOAM represents small landowners, the MFPC the larger landowners.
As the owner of a 150-acre woodlot, I am a SWOAM member. The programs, projects, and information I receive from SWOAM are exceptionally valuable. The group’s newsletter is probably the best in the state. And I enjoy collaborating with SWOAM’s very capable executive director, Tom Doak, who once served as the state’s forest service director.
One thing I have learned through my association with SWOAM is that the public often doesn’t recognize a well-managed forest. We get bent out of shape when a woodlot we enjoy gets harvested and no longer looks the same.
I remember so well a poll taken about 15 years ago in which we discovered that many people didn’t realize that trees grow back after they are cut.
Trees are Maine’s top export — $1 out of every $16 of Maine’s gross state product comes from the forest products sector, which provides one of every 20 jobs in the state. And these statistics don’t take into account the value of all the recreation we enjoy on private lands.
It’s time to show more appreciation to private landowners.