The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee tackled land access bills Monday morning (March 28) and, as they did on March 21 for their public hearing, the bills drew a room full of participants to the work session. Most came from the guides and trappers community with a sprinkling of farmers in the audience. You can read my report on that contentious hearing in my March 22 blog post.
LDs 223 and 559 were the bills in contention and the committee quickly killed, unanimously, LD 223 that would have required sportsmen to have written permission to access cropland, pastures, or orchards. The bill was submitted by the Maine Farm Bureau.
LD 559 would require hunters using dogs to pursue coyotes and bears or placing bait for coyotes to obtain landowner permission. The hearing was ugly but today’s work session provided a soft landing for this very controversial proposal. One minor provision of the bill would change the opportunity for posting land using silver paint to an opportunity to post land using purple paint.
The committee conducted a fascinating discussion of the laws governing hunting dogs and land access and peppered Colonel Joel Wilkinson with questions, including how trespass laws were applied to dogs and those who hunt with them. There is an obvious need to explore this in much more detail and I will tackle that assignment at a later date. It was obvious from the discussion that there is great confusion about this issue.
There is a lot of concern amongst sportsmen and some members of the IFW Committee that DIF&W’s plan to aggressively pursue coyotes would be harmed if laws governing permission to access private land or hunt coyotes are changed – with the exception that there seemed to be plenty of support for banning the hunting of coyotes at night with dogs. It’s unclear if this is actually legal – or done anywhere in the state.
“A lot of people behind these bills are against hunting of coyotes. Just look at the website of Project Coyote,” said Skip Trask, lobbyists for the Maine Professional Guides Association and Maine Trappers Association who was invited to address the committee and answer questions during the work session while dozens of members of those two groups sat in the audience behind him.
Trask surprised some in the audience by supporting a requirement that the permission of landowners be required for the placement of bait. “Prior approval to place bait on private land probably makes sense,” said Trask, urging that this be limited to verbal permission, and not become a requirement for written permission.
A similar bill was defeated last session, but I think Trask is right that the times are changing and landowners ought to know who is placing bait on their property. As a woodland owner myself, I certainly would expect to be contacted before someone starts dumping anything on my land.
After about an hour of discussion, the committee tabled LD 559, hoping to continue gathering information about problems in the field between landowners and hounds hunters, as well as specific ideas for an amended bill.
While this bill generated a lot of angst and anger around the state, the legislative process is working, allowing a close examination of the problems and potential solutions, and turning down the temperature so that a sensible proposal can be created for the consideration of the full legislature and governor.
Special praise today goes to Colonel Joel Wilkinson who answered many questions on the issues of dogs and trespass in a very professional manner, while mourning the death of warden pilot Daryl Gordon and preparing for Daryl’s memorial service scheduled for Wednesday (March 30) at 1 pm at the Augusta Civic Center.