Comprehensive Statewide Landowner Relations Program

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“I have hunted my whole life on someone else’s land. Why do landowners allow this?”

Bill Vail, former Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife 

Comprehensive Statewide Landowner Relations Plan

Written by George Smith, January 12, 2011

Seventy five people from the recreation and landowner communities and state agencies convened for a landowner relations conference on December 9, 2010. The Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine and Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine hosted the event, with funding help from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Environmental Funders Network. Edie Smith of Maine Directions in Winthrop organized and moderated the event held at SAM’s Augusta conference center.

The conference was organized to gather ideas for a comprehensive statewide landowner relations initiative and program.

SWOAM is in the second year of a major initiative to figure out what is needed to keep private land available for public recreation. At this conference, Professor Jessica Leahy offered the fascinating results of a survey of landowners taken as part of SWOAM’s initiative. Members of the audience also illuminated the problems today’s landowners are encountering.

None were new to us or surprising, including a complexity of laws and rules, abuses by ATV riders and other recreational users, illegal waste dumping, a general lack of appreciation by users of the privilege of private land access, and a changing culture among landowners who are no longer as willing to provide the access to their land that has been a Maine tradition.

Any comprehensive plan that resolves landowner and access problems must be centered on each and every one of us who recreates on someone else’s land. No state agency or organization can effectively get this job done, although our plan will offer many ways that agencies and organizations can help educate and motivate recreationists to practice good landowner relations.

Two things are essential to good landowner relations: ask permission to use private land, and thank landowners after using their land.

These components emerged as important to a comprehensive effective landowner relations plan. 

1)      Utilize market solutions to “incentivize” landowners to provide what recreationists and the public wants from private landowners including access and wildlife habitat.

2)      Create an educated and motivated group of recreationists who work with landowners to resolve problems (from the woodlot to the State House), improve wildlife habitat, and maintain on-going relationships.

3)      Constantly educate land users about good behavior including asking permission and thanking afterwards.

4)      Educate landowners about their rights, protections, and the traditional privilege of public recreation on and access to their land, and provide information about the law enforcement response that is available to them when they have a problem.

5)      Provide quick and effective law enforcement when a landowner has a complaint or problem, and suitable punishment for those who abuse private land.

6)      Reduce and simplify the regulatory burdens faced by landowners today. 

Elements of a Comprehensive Landowner Relations Plan

Requirements

Respect private landowners and their property.

Recognize and understand the privilege of access to private land.

Ask landowners for permission to use their land.

Thank landowners after using their land.

Principle Elements

Responsibility for creating positive relationships with private landowners who allow public access to and use of their land must rest with the individuals who benefit. We seek private solutions that deliver public benefits, rather than reliance of state government to solve our problems. 

State agencies that license activities enjoyed on private land and encourage the use of private land for outdoor recreation have a responsibility to practice and promote good landowner relations. All state government staff who access private land, for other than law enforcement purposes, should adhere to the requirements above.

Nonprofit organizations that represent outdoor recreationists, advocate for good habitat management on private land, and advertise and promote outdoor recreation in Maine, have a responsibility to practice and promote good landowner relations, including offering and funding landowner relations programs.

Funding for this plan must come from all recreationists.

State government’s landowner relations program must be consolidated in and directed by one state agency, with all state conservation and natural resource agencies contributing staff and other resources.

Delivery of services must occur primarily at the grassroots through clubs and other organizations (ATV, Snowmobile, Fish and Game, Birding), and participating clubs and organizations should receive most of the money collected by the state for this program

Services must include information and education (for resident and nonresident landowners and recreationists), enforcement of laws and rules governing users and the use of private land, and assistance to landowners who encounter problems or have questions.

 

A free 800 telephone number should also be established for landowners with questions or problems and a website should be created and maintained with up-to-date comprehensive information for both landowners and land users, and television and print ads should be used seasonally to educate both and encourage good landowner relations.

 

Elements of the program should have measurable results that can be tracked and reported regularly, including landowner complaints to and responses by the Maine Warden Service and other law enforcement agencies.

 

Bad behavior on private land should be severely punished and that punishment must be widely publicized. Landowners should never face fines or out-of-pocket expenses to repair damage caused by recreationists.

 

Incentives including the private market, public payments, and tax reductions should be utilized to encourage private landowners to provide the benefits desired by the public including good wildlife habitat, expanded populations of fish and game, and access to land and water.

 

A certification system should be created by a Maine nonprofit organization that qualifies recreationists for recognition in the private landowner community and for special privileges on and access to private land. Certification would require annual good deeds by the recreationists such as cleaning up an illegal dump site on private land or working with a private landowner to improve wildlife habitat, along with the practice of the very best landowner relations based on the key elements listed above. Private landowners including those who have posted their land would be encouraged to allow certified recreationists to use their land.

 

We must recognize that private land is being leased for recreational use and that such private leasing will grow in Maine, and make sure there is enough public and private land available for recreationists who cannot afford to pay for access to private land.

 

Maine must create a statewide system of waste disposal that eliminates fees and rules that result in illegal dumping of waste on private land.

 

All Maine law enforcement agencies should respond to landowner complaints and enforce laws governing the use of private land by recreationists.

 

 

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