By Curt Peterson, Standard Correspondent
Land-posting signs have become part of Vermont over the years, as well as the longstanding debate connected to them.
Town Clerk Clyde Jenne recently posted a list of Hartland landowners who have “registered” posted land. Thirty-five have registered and posted thirty-seven parcels totaling over 3,541 acres, holdings ranging in size from 2 acres to 650 acres.
While that’s a lot of land closed to, or limiting, public access, it’s about 1 ¼ percent of Hartland’s land. In other words, almost 99 percent of the town is unposted.
Land posting is the subject of frequent arguments among Vermonters. As many larger tracts enjoy reduced tax rates through the “Current Use” assessment system, some hunters, trappers and fishermen believe they have paid for access to those properties by subsidizing owners’ lower taxes.
Jenne is on the hunters’ side of that argument – “I personally think that [landowners in Current Use] shouldn’t [prohibit hunting], or [they should] at least allow hunting by permission. People who do post their land may give permission for people to hunt, [and] then they know who is on their land,” he said.
With only a little over 1 percent of Hartland’s 289,280 acres posted, there are more than eighty acres of unposted land available to each man, woman and child among the 3,500 Hartland residents.
Registration of posted land is done through the clerk in the town where one wants to limit public access. The statutory registration fee is $5, which, according to Jenne, covers 12 months starting the day of registration.
A landowner does not have to register his land in order to exercise his or her rights to post and limit access – the Vermont Fish & Wildlife website calls registration “extra assurance.”
“I have seen many a sign beside the road posting land that is not registered here,” Jenne said.
VF& W describes three types of property posting.
“Safety Zone” posting provides a 500-foot buffer zone around any buildings, within which hunting is prohibited. For a Safety Zone, the website says, there is no registration or required fee – the landowner is allowing public access excluding only a reasonable area around the home and outbuildings.
As cited above, registration is optional for “Posted Property,” AKA “Legally Posted,” the second type of posting. To comply with statutes, a sign must describe the limited activity – Hunting, Fishing, Trapping, any one or any combination of those. Signs, at least 11 inches high and 8 ½ inches wide with contrasting lettering and background, must be posted at the corners of the parcel being protected, with signs not more than 400 feet apart on boundaries.
The signs must be maintained, and, if the property is registered, they must indicate the 12 months that the registration and the sign are effective.
A landowner may add “By Permission Only” to his or her signs – which will put the posting in the third category – “By Permission Only Posting.” The purpose of BPO posting is to know who is accessing one’s property, and for what purpose. Some landowners allow access without permission for any activity other than hunting, for example.
And, if permission is granted, the hunter must carry written evidence of permission. VF& W provides a two-part “Landowner Courtesy Card” for the purpose – one part for the hunter to carry, the other as a record for the landowner.
Mary Damon King legally posts and registers her 110-acre parcel on Damon Road, which she started doing over 20 years ago, reacting to abuse by trespassers.
“One day a snowmobiler almost hit me – twice the same day!” she said. “I told myself, this is it! And I’ve been posting ever since.”
King had problems for years before posting, but it hadn’t become so personally hazardous – ATVs, snowmobiles, dirt bikes racing through the woods, tearing up the forest. Interlopers cut down trees to make trails, she said, and left piles of trash around. The signs curtailed a lot of the problem, but not all.
On one occasion a homeowner cut the top off one of her trees to mount an American flag on it.
“He said he wanted to be able to look over from his house and see the flag flying over my hill,” she said.
Also, she caught a trespassing bow hunter on video and sent it to the local game warden, but she never heard any more about it.
VF& W also provides advice for recreationists who access posted land, including finding out where driving and parking are allowed, letting the landowner know who is in your hunting party, giving them identifying information about your vehicle, letting them know when you are going to access the land, and leaving gates as one finds them.
Landowners commonly worry they will be held responsible if someone they allow to hunt on their property is injured. According to the website, as long as the landowner does not charge a fee for the use of his land, he assumes no liability by allowing access.
The risk of hunting accidents is very low – Vermont has 60,000 licensed hunters, and, in the past ten years, there have been fewer than 3 hunter shooting incidents per year, almost all self-inflicted wounds or wounds caused by another hunter in the victim’s party.
Always be careful to wear orange when out and about during hunting season. It’s a good idea, but VF& W points out only “a handful [of hunters shooting non-hunters incidents] have occurred in the last fifty years,” none in the last ten.
This article first appeared in the November 30, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.