Maine Landowners Being Heard Loud and Clear
Submitted by George Smith on Mon, 05/02/2011 - 1:20pm.
Private landowners are being heard loud and clear this legislative session, on a host of issues from vernal pools to coyote baiting.
The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee endured a lengthy hearing on two controversial bills that pitted private landowners against hunters, but the final result won the support of both.
LD 223, proposed by the Maine Farm Bureau, would have required sportsmen to have written permission to access cropland, pastureland, and orchards. It was killed unanimously by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.
LD 559, sponsored by Rep. Andy O’Brien, turned out to be the vehicle of compromise. Andy’s bill initially required that a hunter get written permission from the landowners when baiting any animal, hunting coyotes and bobcats with dogs, and hunting coyotes or bears.
Because it's impossible to keep dogs off posted land when they are pursuing a game animal, the original version of LD 559 would have effectively ended the hunting of coyotes and bobcats with dogs.
Skip Trask, the seasoned lobbyist for the Maine Professional Guides Association and Maine Trappers Association, played a significant role in the amended version of O’Brien’s bill that received its final review and approval on May 2.
Trask initially spoke strongly against both bills. But during a work session, he reported that he could support a requirement that the permission of landowners be secured before placing bait for any animal on private property. Just two years ago, sportsmen’s groups defeated a similar proposal.
Here’s what the final amended bill includes, as it heads to the full House and Senate.
1) a person may not place bait without oral or written permission of the landowner or the landowner’s agent and the bait site is plainly labeled with a two-inch-by-four-inch tag identifying the name and address of the person establishing the bait site.
2) A person may not hunt with a dog in pursuit of bear, coyote, or bobcat unless the dog has a collar that legibly provides the name, telephone number, and address of the owner of that dog.
3) A person may not, while either hunting alone or hunting with other persons, use more than six dogs at any one time to hunt coyotes.
4) A person may not use a dog to hunt a coyote thirty minutes after sunset to thirty minutes before sunrise.
All of these requirements are new except for the labeling of bait sites.
The bill makes one more change in the law. Currently landowners can post their property using silver paint markings. The bill directs the Bureau of Forestry to adopt rules to determine the color and type of paint to be used to post property.
During the public hearings on these bills, it was obvious that many are confused about the laws governing hunting dogs. Perhaps we can clear up some of the confusion with these facts:
No hunter has a right to enter posted property without permission. Period. No exceptions. Hunters are actually held to a higher standard. Trespass by a hunter is a criminal offense, while it is a civil offense for others.
The law governing dogs at large provides an exception for hunting dogs: “It is unlawful for any dog, licensed or unlicensed, to be at large, except when used for hunting.”
The trespass law applies to people, not animals. Hounds may hunt on or through posted land, but their hunters may not.
If any dog, hunting or not, attacks you or your domestic animals, you may act. This is the law: “Any person may lawfully kill a dog if necessary to protect that person, another person or a domesticated animal during the course of a sudden, unprovoked assault.”
Any law enforcement officer can enforce these laws. Local animal control officers may be your best choice, because every town has one and the law actually makes it a civil violation if they fail to enforce the animal control laws. Game wardens, spread thinly across the state, will respond when they can and are a good choice when dealing with hunters and hunting dogs (particularly if the problem is on-going).
Game wardens are dispatched through the Public Safety Division using the following toll-free numbers: Augusta 1-800-452-4664, Gray 1-800-228-0857, Houlton 1-800-924-2261, Orono 1-800-432-7381.
Ethical hunters expect to be held to the highest standards. We seek permission whenever and wherever possible. We don’t hunt where we aren’t wanted. We spend a lot of money on dogs we love and we don’t put them in jeopardy.
On the other hand, hunting dogs pursue wild game wherever that game leads them, over hill and dale and sometimes on and across posted land. The support of landowners for this great tradition and heritage is essential and appreciated.
And that’s why LD 559 is on its way to enactment.