Did you pick fiddleheads recently on someone else’s land? Walk through a neighbor’s woodlot looking at birds? Hunt turkeys on someone’s farm? Walk across private property to get to a brook or stream to fish?
If you did, I hope you asked for permission. Because for landowners, it’s all about respect and that means asking permission to use their land, even if it is not posted “No Trespassing.” More land gets posted every year because outdoor recreationists and others do not respect private property.
Over the last three weeks, I have filled dozens of bags with garbage, tossed alongside my woodlot and road. Road slobs infuriate me.
And I’m frustrated that, after 10 years of effort, we’ve been unable to create a comprehensive landowner relations program at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife — or anywhere else. Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, a strong advocate for private landowners, sponsored a bill at my request this session to expand DIF&W’s landowner relations program. That bill, L.D. 1321, was amended slightly last week by the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, and is now on its way to the House and Senate, and eventually the governor, for enactment. I’ve got my fingers crossed. All the major groups representing landowners and sportsmen testified in favor of the bill.
Espling, in presenting the bill, said, “I want to see more outdoor recreational opportunities because I think that is the Maine brand. That is why I think the most important program within IFW is the landowner relations program.” I agree.
Tom Doak, executive director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, reported that, “In a survey of Maine landowners, 29 percent said they now restrict public access or plan to, another 29 percent said they are thinking about restricting access. … That means almost 60 percent will or are considering restricting public access. … That could profoundly impact public outdoor recreation opportunities.” Boy, Doak got that right. And those statistics are scary.
I took the IFW Committee through the long, sad history of the last 10 years of studies, recommendations, conferences and task forces, all of which resulted in lots of good suggestions for a comprehensive landowner relations program, and almost none of which have, as yet, been implemented and accomplished.
I especially like the proposal in our bill for a Keep Maine Clean program, run by a partnership of DIF&W staff and groups representing outdoor recreationists, to encourage each of us to pick up litter as we walk, hike, hunt, fish, birdwatch and enjoy the outdoors. The program would recruit volunteers for the program and encourage participation in a number of ways including a newsletter and contests for the most unique item picked up that month.