About a decade ago, while working my way through a stack of old Field & Stream magazines that had once belonged to a friend’s father, I found a letter to the editor that rang true, a generation after it had been written.
In that 1959 copy of the venerable outdoor magazine, a reader warned of the disaster he thought might be coming.
“There has got to be some courtesy and cooperation; otherwise, there will be no place left for hunters,” the letter concluded.
Today, some 58 years later, things haven’t changed all that much: Many outdoor recreationists are still dependent upon landowners for the access that make their chosen pursuits possible … and some of those recreationists still haven’t figured out how to show courtesy, cooperation and respect for those same landowners.
The potential result: Landowners may choose to post their land, and to refuse to allow hunters, hikers, skiers and anglers access.
A week ago, after participating in another successful Landowner Appreciation Cleanup Day, I asked readers a question: What would it take for you to shut down access to your own woodlot?
Some readers responded via email. Others posted comments in my blog. And one woman reached out to tell me that her husband shares my fear of being shut out of hunting land that he has come to appreciate and depend upon.
A few responses, edited for space and clarity:
From Roy Cornell Gutfinski, commenting on the blog post: “What would it take? In my case, what did it take? Many years of cleaning up trash, old TV’s, tires, and every manner of broken glass, etc. Also, many years of dealing with so-called sportsmen with an attitude of entitlement fostered by the Maine Legislature and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Numerous instances of vandalism, illegally kindled fires, and theft of property. Many years of increasingly intrusive restrictions on use of my own land by State regulations. That’s what it took for me to make my property off limits. What would it take for you to do the same?”
From commenter Sharon Smith: “Finding a few hundred pounds of very dead and rotting chickens sure made me mad. I didn’t close it off, though. Just fumed for a while. A second example of idiocy would have had me posting signs for sure.”
From commenter Stan Moody: “I’ve tramped through hundreds of miles of Maine woodlands without seeing this kind of abuse, but then, I didn’t have anyone along with whom to commiserate while my days of tramping were tick-tocking away. I’ve just been very thankful for those who have made their land available for recreational use … By and large, I have found sportsmen and women to be incredibly respectful of land rights – yahoos not so much! But then, I don’t hunt or fish in Yahooland, so what do I know?”
Alas, there are a few yahoos out there, and all it takes is a few to ruin things for the rest of us. That was the fear back in 1959, and that’s still the case today.
Most alarming: Among the messages I received were two from readers on opposite sides of the state who checked in to tell me their tales of woe. Each demanded that I not make their tales public, nor name them.
The reason: Both were scared that the people who had previously abused their land — forcing the posting and closure of access — would target their property yet again if they learned that the landowners were telling others their tale.
Let me repeat that: They were too scared to complain.
In both cases, the problem revolved around the actions of land-users who refused to respect the landowner’s wishes. When the landowners posted “No Trespassing” signs, those signs were promptly torn down and ignored.
Courtesy? Cooperation? Respect?
Not even close.
In some circles in these parts, it’s been fairly common to discount the opinions of those who choose to post their land. You’ve likely heard it. So have I. Those who find themselves without access often blame landowners they say are “flatlanders,” or “out-of-staters,” for not understanding how Maine operates.
The sooner all of us recognize that our own access rights balance on a razor’s edge, the better chance we have of turning this tide.
And challenge your friends and relatives who aren’t doing the same thing.
Will that change the situation overnight? Of course not.
But it’ll at least be a start.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke