By Tom Doak, Executive Director of Maine Woodland Owners

The pace of action at the State House is picking up. While many bills have yet to be printed, a number of those of interest to woodland owners have been dealt with, or are pending. Here are some of the issues we’ve been dealing with:

Sunday hunting.

Originally, there were two proposals. One was withdrawn by the sponsor before it was printed, and cannot be brought back. The second bill, LD 1179, would have allowed Sunday hunting for coyotes. There was strong opposition – we opposed the bill – and the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee voted unanimously against the bill, killing it for this session.

Tree Growth Tax Law. There are always bills before the Legislature regarding the Tree Growth program. This session there are two. LD 452 would – among other changes – have required any landowner in the program to notify the municipality before conveying the land, and require the person acquiring the land to notify the municipality whether or not
they intend to stay in the program; there are currently no such requirements. If the new owner did not notify the municipality before the sale, the land would be automatically withdrawn from Tree Growth and full penalties assessed against the seller. The Taxation
Committee unanimously opposed the bill, killing it. We opposed the bill. The second Tree Growth bill is largely driven by a singular situation. LD 1150 would remove any land

from the program where public access is restricted in any way – and subject the landowner to full penalties. The bill was brought forward in response to an ATV club in northern Maine failing to convince a landowner in the Tree Growth Tax Law program to allow an ATV trail to cross 780 feet of the landowner’s property. The landowner is not required to, but voluntarily allows, free open public access for all uses except ATVs. If enacted, this would be an extraordinary change; landowners who do not provide unrestricted public access would have to pay substantial penalties to withdraw their land. None of the more than 10,000 landowners now enrolled, face the requirement to provide unfettered public access.

Tree Growth is designed to tax woodland at its “current use” value instead of potential development value, and recognizes the long-term nature of growing trees; it generally takes 40 years just to get a tree to merchantable size. It’s the primary program allowing woodland to stay as woodland instead of being carved up into smaller and smaller parcels for development.

We strongly oppose this legislation. At the bill’s hearing, no one spoke in favor except the sponsor.  Taxation Committee members are clearly wary. It seems unlikely the bill will advance, but as I write this, it is still alive. If it does advance, we’ll send out an alert to members and all Tree Growth owners, asking you to contact your legislators.

Landowner Relations Program. We brought forward a bill, LD 321, to provide ongoing annual funding of $150,000 for this program within the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It aims to reduce conflicts between land users and landowners by assisting woodland owners with any adverse issue caused by public use. The program receives no General
Fund support, and has depended on the sportsman’s license plate and Outdoor Partners program where people voluntarily contribute. That’s not enough funding. Gov. Mills’s budget recommends the full $150,000, and the IF&W Committee unanimously endorsed funding.  While the outcome will be determined by the final budget results, it seems likely these funds will be provided.

ATVs. There are several bills regarding ATVs. The one most important to woodland owners is LD 1109, which would clarify the definition of an ATV and eliminate the ability to put
tracks on a truck or other motor vehicle and register it as an ATV – yes, it does happen. It also would explicitly provide that anyone riding an ATV larger or heavier than a landowner allows is committing a violation. Operating an ATV on land of another already requires permission; this change would allow for enforcement of weight and size limits when a landowner grants
permission. Finally, it would limit the size of ATVs that can be registered. At this writing, there are several amendments being considered, but the likely outcome is favorable. We support this bill.

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