July 13, 2013

Experts: Maine's open access tradition doesn't trump checking with landowners

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Maine has a tradition of open access for hunters, but authorities still advise hunters to check with property owners before hunting on private land, even if it is not posted, said Jessica Leahy, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Forest Resources.

Leahy cited the Great Ponds Act, which dates to the 1600s and allows crossing undeveloped private property by foot for the purpose of hunting and fishing on bodies of water 10 acres or more. That's the root of the open access tradition in Maine, she said.

"It was originally intended for sustenance, with the idea that you can't keep people away from a resource they need for food. Over time it morphed to include recreational hunting," said Leahy.

Leahy said that among landowners in Maine, rights of access are the second most common concern following illegal dumping. That includes hunting and riding all-terrain vehicles on private property.

By checking with landowners, hunters can make themselves aware of other hunters in the area as well as how close they might be to camps or homes, she said. Leahy said she would advise hunters to adhere to the wishes of land owners.

"It's good practice to check in with a landowner and even to thank them. Hunting on private property is a privilege, not a right," she said.

Tom Doak, executive director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, a nonprofit organization that helps small property owners protect and preserve their land, said that all recreational land users should follow the same guidelines, including ATV and snowmobile riders and campers.

Doak said based on complaints his organization hears, disputes between landowners and those using the land happen more often than is reported to law enforcement.

According to the most recent statistics from the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, there was one hunting related fatality in Maine in 2011 and seven non-fatal injuries.

Doug Rafferty, spokesman for the department, said there haven't been significant fluctuations in those numbers over recent years.

The number of hunting licenses, meanwhile, has slightly declined over the last decade, from 211,055 in 2001 to 203,638 in 2011, according to the department.

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