On Sunday, just a few hours after I’d spent time cleaning up some woodland dumpsites with Maine game wardens Jim Fahey and Rick LaFlamme, a hunting buddy and I headed farther afield, revisiting some of our favorite deer hunting spots.
As we drove down a familiar old dirt road — one that comes within a mile of my family’s camp — I took stock of the things I’d seen earlier in the day, the conversations I’d had, and the sad reality that was staring me in the face: There, on a tree that leads into our favorite deer woods, hung a sign.
Acreage for sale.
In fact, the parcel that’s up for grabs includes all of the acreage that we’ve been allowed to hunt, thanks to generous landowners, for years.
Alas, the price tag is too steep for my hunting buddy and me, though we’d like nothing more than to buy the entire 800-acre parcel, knowing that we’d then have guaranteed hunting access for life.
Barring a major lottery windfall, that’s not in the books. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t spend a few minutes the other day talking about what we’d do with the land, if the lottery gods plucked our numbers out of the ether.
We’d build a small hunting camp, likely down on the edge of a pond. Since we’d be mega-rich, we’d hire wildlife biologists to manage the property for healthy ecosystems that would allow deer and moose and ruffed grouse to thrive.
And we’d close off access to everyone else.Just kidding. (Kind of). After a lot of discussion, we decided that it wouldn’t be very sporting of us to shut off the same kind of access that we appreciate so much.
But when we drove past the boat that someone had discarded in the woods, and remembered the other debris that had been dumped there over the years — a recliner, the remains of what must have been an epic lobster feed, assorted trash bags full of plastic and paper — I began to ponder an age-old question.
What would it take for me to shut off access to my own woodlot (if, that is, I actually had one)?
The truth is, finding the boat dumped on my own land might have pushed me over the top. Or maybe the fenced in marijuana-growing operation down near the swamp might have done the trick. Either way, I think we’re lucky that hunting and fishing access is still allowed, given past transgressions that have been committed by others on the property.
Earlier in the day, near a property boundary line in Old Town, Fahey and I had cleaned up a site that someone had used as a personal dump. Nearby, a fresh “Posted, No Trespassing” sign seemed to signal the abutting landowner’s disgust.
Later, after letting that landowner know that we’d done some cleaning up, Fahey told me that wasn’t the case in this situation: The landowner hadn’t posted the land in reaction to the dumpsite. He just wanted people to stay off his land in a spot he planned to build a house.
But if that had been the case, and if the landowner had simply had enough of illegal dumping, it would have been hard to criticize a decision to post the land.
And when land changes hands, there’s no guarantee that the new owners are as willing to put up with the land abuse as the last ones were.
Some time in the next year, or two, or three, the land my hunting buddies and I have spent so many enjoyable hours on will change hands.
Barring a miracle, we’ll not be the ones who purchase it.
We’ll continue to be good neighbors, and to ask for permission to use the land. We’ll strive to treat it as if it were our own … or better. If, that is, the new owners say, “Yes.”
But I know that acting responsibly and gratefully might not be enough. We’ll also largely be dependent on the actions of others if that access is to continue.
Here’s hoping the ethic that Sunday’s Landowner Appreciation Cleanup Day promotes continues to spread, and that landowners continue to reward us for treating their land as they’d like.
So, how close to the breaking point are you? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts for use in a future column. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org