Foraging on private land without permission is illegal

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 The debate has been brutal. And we’ve learned a lot.

Turns out it’s already illegal to forage on private land without permission. So Senator Tom Saviello pulled the bill he sponsored at my request. LD 128 would have required landowner permission before we pick their mushrooms, fiddleheads, or other crops.

The bill drew a strong and angry response from people who feel entitled to do this without permission, along with news stories from London to the Wall Street Journal.

Along the way, we learned that current law prohibits foraging on public lands and in state parks, but a policy allows it on public lands, while it remains illegal in state parks.

Most recently, we were all surprised to discover that foraging is already illegal on private land without permission. You’ll find that law in Title 14, Part 7, Chapter 739, Subchapter 2: Trespass. Here’s what it says:

Without permission of the owner a person may not cut down, destroy, damage or carry away any forest products, ornamental or fruit tree, agricultural produce, stones, ore, goods or property of any kind from land not that person’s own.

Later on in the statute, you’ll find a definition of “substantive offenses” including “Property – means anything of value, including but not limited to real estate and things growing thereon, affixed to our found therein.” Yes, it says “things growing thereon.” The penalties for doing this are severe.

And there’s more. Another section defines theft as obtaining control over the property of another with intent to deprive the other person of the property. Yup. That property could be fiddleheads or mushrooms.

Some sportsmen attacked Tom and me, suggesting that our law would apply to hunters if they nibbled on a few blackberries while hunting on private land. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine objected on these grounds, and published columns in various newspapers and sporting magazines raising the alarm about this issue.

Boy, are they going to be surprised to learn that they’re already in big trouble if they do this. The theft law specifies that a person with a dangerous weapon at the time of the offense is guilty of a Class C felony, with fines up to $10,000.

Just as my advice has always been to ask permission before you hunt or fish on someone’s private property, I’d include a new recommendation to ask permission if you intend to nibble your way along.

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