The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) has had a landowner relations arm since the mid-1990s. Back then, Game Warden Dave Peppard, with whom I worked, was freed up from most of his law enforcement duties to troubleshoot landowner relations issues and spread the word that posted land hurts the cause of Maine outdoor recreation. His job wasn’t that complicated back then. If he saw a new posting in his travels, he’d find the owner, determine if there were issues and, at the very least, then encourage the landowner to use a state-sanctioned sign that read Hunting By Permission Only.
Warden Peppard took his mission seriously and, for one man, did some good work. Since that time the mantle of landowner relations has varied, and has had mixed results. What we do know is that, over the years, more and more rural open land is being posted. No doubt it is partly responsible for the decline in recreational hunting in Maine.
Two aspects of this issue have been difficult to quantify: 1) How bad is the posting problem? and 2) Has any real progress been made in educating landowners and land users?
In 2005, the Sportsman’s Relations Advisory Board was created by statute as a tool to further good landowner relations in the state. The law gave the IF&W commissioner the authority to appoint board members from the ranks of different stakeholders. Outdoor writer and former SAM director George Smith was appointed to that board. Eventually, Smith quit the board saying that he was “disappointed and disgusted “by its lack of progress. In one of his columns he noted that landowner relations had such a low priority with IF&W that he could find no reference to the new board on IF&W’s website.
Insofar as I can tell, not much has changed since George Smith resigned from the board in disgust. The statute that created the Sportsman’s Relations Advisory Board requires that an annual report be completed. If those reports have been completed they have been well concealed over the years. Bureaucracies may have their place, but Warden Peppard had it right. The battle against posted land requires shoe leather and a lot of door knocking.
Maine’s newly appointed commissioner of MDIF&W, Judy Camuso, was quoted recently on the topic of landowner relations. One of her early goals is to upgrade and invigorate IF&W’s landowner relations program. Smith had some good advice that is still timely. (Install a landowner relations program within the Information & Education Office.) And take a lesson from the Maine Snowmobile Association, which has demonstrated a winning model based on some real know-how in cultivating good relations with landowners.