The DNR will work with legislators, landowners, and conservation and recreation groups in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session to clear up trespass issues on private property.
"It is our intent to support a change in law that will in large part include those lands that are set aside long-term for conservation purposes in the definition of agricultural lands under the trespass law," said Tim Bremicker, director of the DNR Division of Wildlife. "The key will be to adopt a policy that will be clear, readily recognizable, and enforceable for landowners and hunters alike.
"Although details need to be worked out in the legislative process, we anticipate that grass and hay grown for conservation purposes should be included in the definition of agricultural lands."
The desire to change the law next session stems from a 1999 court case in Rice County in which a judge interpreted the definition of agricultural land to exclude Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and Reinvest In Minnesota conservation lands. As a result, at least for this year, CRP, CREP and RIM lands need to be posted if the landowner intends to keep others from entering it and in order for the DNR to be able to enforce the trespass law.
According to DNR Enforcement Capt. Randy Evans at New Ulm, that court decision required the DNR to change how it would have to enforce the trespass law on conservation lands this fall. "The only way we (DNR) could effectively enforce the trespass law on these lands this year would be if landowners posted no trespassing signs," he said.
It is important to note that the change in the agricultural land definition this year does not result in giving the public access to a person's private property, Evans stated. "Landowners still have the authority to enforce trespass on their property regardless if it is in CRP, CREP or RIM whether it is posted or not," added Evans. Any person who does not leave private land after being asked to do so by the landowner, lessee or landlord can be charged with a gross misdemeanor.
Evans acknowledged that some landowners have been upset by the change in the posting requirements. "I can understand that," Evans said. "In retrospect, I wish we had been more aggressive in getting the word out sooner about the change."
Wayne Edgerton, DNR agricultural police director, said that the DNR has always "supported and promoted the need for hunters and others who wish to recreate on private property to make it a practice to ask first, regardless of whether the land is agricultural land or not and regardless of whether it is posted or not.
"We know how important it is to have positive relationships with landowners," Edgerton said, "and if hunters always make it a practice to ask for permission it would go a long way toward maintaining the relationships that exist."
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