These days, it seems that everybody wants a piece of America’s public lands all to themselves. But the strategists behind the land transfer movement aren’t the only ones creating confusion to keep you from your public lands.
This fall, we received the following inquiry from a hunter in Oregon.
Q: What should I do when I find a “no trespassing” sign on public lands?
To whom it may concern,
I have a question regarding the posting of ‘No Trespassing’ signs on public land. I hunt late-season blacktails on public land in the Soda Mountain Wilderness of southern Oregon. The wilderness is adjacent to BLM lands and private lands.
I use the OnXMaps mapping service on my phone, and I always make sure to stay off of private land while I’m hunting, so I thought it was weird when I saw ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted within the wilderness boundaries. Even though I assumed the signs were incorrectly placed, I stayed off of the so-called private property and headed down the hill to my truck. At the trailhead, there was a landowner trying to find who had been hunting on his property. He threatened to have the trailhead closed and to prosecute the alleged trespasser to the maximum extent of the law. He wasn’t specifically accusing me, but was heavily insinuating it.
I pursued the issue and looked up BLM and wilderness maps online; they all showed that the landowner had placed ‘No Trespassing’ signs well into public lands.
It seems like there should be a significant penalty for this misconduct, but I cannot find any information regarding this issue.
Any tips or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your time.
Coos Bay, OR
We thought it was an excellent question because, as in the fight against state takeover of national public lands, we don’t believe the hunting and fishing public should get locked out so that a select few can benefit.
A: Let officials know, and be courteous.
From my point of view as a fellow Oregon public lands hunter, I can understand why you’d want to avoid this kind of confrontation and get to the bottom of things. It’s hard to say whether this landowner truly was mistaken about his property line or putting on an aggressive show. I reached out to Sean Carothers, a former BLM law enforcement officer in central Oregon, for his take on what to do next.
“I would contact the appropriate BLM district—I believe that’s the Medford District—and ask to speak with the law enforcement staff there,” says Carothers. “The BLM has regulations about ‘Interfering with Lawful Use’ and posting public lands as private is a classic example of that.
“At the very least, a ranger will go out and remove the signs. If it’s possible to identify the person who put the signs up, they will contact them and clear up any confusion about where the boundaries are and document the conversation so if it happens again, there’s a record for future enforcement. It could be a simple misunderstanding or it could be someone claiming public lands as his own. Either way, if the land truly is public, the signs are illegal and the district should do something,” he says.
The way I see it, in these vast landscapes interwoven with public and private lands, the improved mobile mapping technology we have at our disposal is now more accurate than what we had decades ago, but that doesn’t make them flawless. Fences or ‘No Trespassing’ signs may be misplaced, but we as sportsmen need to be respectful, and give the landowners the benefit of the doubt.
If you have any question, please take the higher ground and heed Sean’s advice: Call the BLM and let their law enforcement experts handle it. Be sure to take note of the precise location as well. Screenshots of your maps, pictures of the fences or signs, as well as the coordinates of your whereabouts are all good to pass on. The BLM can take it from there.
Part of being public lands proud and an original conservationist is being a good steward of the land—this includes respect for both public and private boundaries, even when you’re in the right and someone else might be mistaken. Someday you might need to knock on that landowner’s door to ask his permission to retrieve lawfully taken game that crossed onto his accurately marked property.
It’s important to remember that we’re all doing PR for hunting and fishing, in every social media post and every interaction with a non-sportsman. And we’ll come to rely on the image and relationships we’ve built as we work to uphold Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy and our country’s rich history of public lands access.