LD 837 which would finalize the merger between the departments of Conservation and Agriculture has received initial approval from the Legislature and seems headed for passage.  You might remember that the two departments were put together in name (the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry) during last session, but the Legislature required that a detailed plan be submitted and approved by the Legislature or the consolidated department would spilt back into two departments at the end of 2014.  The original plan put forth had very little detail.  The legislature held numerous work sessions on the bill and eventually voted in committee 11-2 on a plan to finalize the merger.  Maine Woodland Owners supported the revised merger plan.  A very last minute furious lobbying effort by a few organizations to defeat the merger, led to a lot of discussions but ultimately failed to derail the merger.  This bill is waiting final approval, which is all but assured.

LD 714 is a Maine Woodland Owners sponsored bill that would give the Maine Forest Service rulemaking authority to order the removal or destruction of trees found to be harbor a serious quarantined pest like Asian long horned beetle or emerald ash borer as a way to control its spread.  The bill was waiting final votes when I wrote about the bill last month.  I am happy to say the bill passed and has become law.  I expect the Forest Service to initiate rulemaking soon, as they need to have the authority in place if a pest is found.

On a less positive note, another Maine Woodland Owners sponsored bill LD 421, would have required anyone commercially harvest wild mushrooms or fiddleheads have written permission of the landowner.  We only focused on commercially harvesting and as I report last month, some people make $100/day collecting wild mushrooms.  Given the state plans to licensed mushroom foragers, this seemed like a pretty simple bill.  It turned out to be anything but simple.  It seems that despite the fact these products are owned by the landowner and there is theft occurring, the fact that it is “just stuff that grows in the woods”, there was little support to take any actions.  Only five members of the Committee that considered the bill supported our bill.  Those five, who deserve our thanks, were Representative Russell Black (who sponsored the bill for us), Representative Bill Noon, Representative Jeff Timberlake, Representative Dean Cray and Senator Jim Boyle.  I am sure the bill will be back in some form in a future legislature.

As expected, the bill that would authorize the arming of Forest Rangers, LD 297, was held over to be considered again when the Legislature reconvenes in January.  In the meantime, the Governor issued an Executive Order establishing a group to develop a recommendation on the arming of rangers as well as considering ways to more effectively coordinate activities between other natural resource enforcement entities.  While appointments to the group have not yet been made, one of the ten slots is designated as a small woodland owner.

One really interesting bill is LD 1040 “An Act To Prohibit the Placement of Cameras and Electronic Surveillance Equipment on Private Property without the Written Permission of the Landowner”.  Just as the title indicates, it would prohibit anyone from putting up items like trail cameras on someone else’s property without their permission.  The Judiciary Committee members were sympathetic to the idea that a person on their own land deserves privacy protection.  The Committee gave initial unanimous approval to the bill and in addition to permission, added that the person putting up a camera would have to label it similarly to the existing labeling requirement for tree stands.  However, before the bill left the Committee, some law enforcement personnel raised objections about the provisions of the bill that would require them to have the permission of the landowner or court authorization before placing cameras.  When the dust settled, six Committee members stuck with their original vote but the other seven voted for a new version.  That new version provided an exemption for law enforcement officers. Unfortunately the new version would allow law enforcement officers to install surveillance equipment on private woodland indefinitely without notifying the landowner or a court authorization if they have a hunch that wrongdoing is taking place or is going to take place.  Additionally, it includes an odd provision that appears to prohibit a landowner who finds a camera placed by a law enforcement officer from removing or disabling it, even if it is attached to a tree on the landowner’s property.  This was viewed by many as an extreme response and a lively debate along the lines of balancing the rights of citizens (including woodland owners)  to privacy with public safety and law enforcement concerns ensued.  The Legislature passed the version which requires labeling and permission from the landowner before placing surveillance equipment on private land without an exemption for law enforcement.  This means law enforcement officials would have to have landowner permission or a court order.  The bill awaits action by the Governor.

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