MONTPELIER (AP) - The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is implementing a new rule that will expand options for landowners who want to restrict who can use their land to hunt, fish or trap.
Wildlife officials hope that by adding the option of "hunting by permission only" to the regulations governing the posting of land against hunting, fishing and trapping, more private land will be opened up to sportsmen.
"To me, it's fostering the old Vermont tradition of being neighborly," said Mark Scott, the Department of Fish and Wildlife's director of wildlife. "Some landowners would like to send a message that my land's posted, but come and talk to me."
The department is holding a public hearing on the new rule from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Pavilion office building in Montpelier. The plan is to have the rules in place for the fall hunting season.
Evan Hughes, a vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said his organization supports the change because members frequently complain about lack of access to land.
"It's a real problem," Hughes said. "Unfortunately, it's something that can lead to our folks going elsewhere, outside of Vermont, to pursue their activities because there's more access available."
Previously, landowners could only prohibit people from using their land. The law didn't provide an option for landowners to decide who could use it.
In Waterbury Center, landowner Felix Callan has used unofficial hunting-by-permission-only signs on his land at the base of the Mount Hunger range of mountains. About a half dozen hunters a year asked him for permission.
"They use good judgment," Callan said. "And when I stop by the road and ask them if they've caught anything, they're pleasant to talk to and respectful." He said he didn't know whether he'd formally register his land as hunting by permission only once the new law takes effect.
Unlike most states, the Vermont Constitution enshrines the right "to hunt and fowl" on private lands "not inclosed."
Anyone is free to put up no-trespassing signs or hunting-by-permission-only signs, but under the old system, violators would be treated as trespassers. Under the new regulations, when land is legally posted, offenders would be violating a law of the Department of Fish and Game, and punishment would be harsher. In some cases, violators can lose their hunting licenses.
"One of the biggest complaints with our outdoors folks is access to land," Hughes said. "They don't want to be denied access that might be possible if alternative ways of keeping people that the landowners want off the land can be achieved."