March 27, 2013

Maine bill would ban fiddlehead, mushroom foraging without OK

Clarke Canfield / The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Fiddlehead and mushroom foragers in Maine would need permission from landowners under a proposal to make it illegal to take any natural resource from private property without written approval.

The bill would make it a civil violation to take plants, minerals or anything else that exists naturally from private property without approval.

Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, said he introduced the bill at the request of a forest ranger who knew of people taking stones from stone walls and blueberry sod -- sod with blueberry plants in it -- without the landowners' approval.

He even has heard of people taking decorative moss from private property.

"If you don't have permission to take it from somebody's property, you're stealing," Kumiega said. "That's all there is to it."

David Spahr, a mushroom forager and farmer from Washington, said the bill isn't needed and is an example of a "solution desperately seeking a problem."

"I can't understand, when we already have private property laws, trespassing laws and theft laws, why laying another regulation on this is necessary at all," Spahr said.

Maine has a long history of public access to private land for hunting, fishing and other recreation.

But the use of private property has extended beyond recreation. People hunting for fiddlehead ferns, an early spring delicacy in Maine, and mushrooms often do their foraging on private property.

Spahr said he always asks for permission, and has never been turned down, when he's mushroom hunting on private land. And he's not concerned if people pick mushrooms or berries on his 95-acre property.

Requiring written permission is anti-business and anti-poor and will hurt people who hunt for mushrooms or fiddleheads to make a few bucks, Spahr said. "This is an economy killer," he said.

Kumiega said his bill is modeled after a state law that prohibits people from taking evergreen boughs or Christmas trees from private property without written permission. In parts of rural Maine each fall, people make good money selling boughs to wreath makers.

Under Kumiega's bill, violators would face fines of no less than $100. The bill was referred to the Legislature's Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry this week.

A public hearing has not been scheduled.

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