WILTON — Foot by foot, year after year, Mark Collins’ cattle grazing fence expanded onto a town owned plot that will one day be a cemetery.

For the last seven years, Collins used about 2 acres of the town land off U.S. Route 2 for grazing. In the spring, the rope and post fence moved a little more.

Now town officials say Collins has until Jan. 1 to move his fence back and keep his cows on his own land.

Collins was a third of the way toward gaining the lands by adverse possession under a principle of property law applied in Maine that effectively allows squatters to gain title to land after 20 uninterrupted years if they meet a list of criteria demonstrating the land owner knew about the squatter, but didn’t act on the knowledge for more than two decades.

Maine’s adverse possession law, sometimes called squatter’s rights, is a property law that provides a defense against being removed from a parcel of land if it is used continuously by someone other than the legal owner for more than 20 years and the occupier of the land can prove it was done in a way that was actual, open, visible, notorious, hostile, under a claim of right, continuous and exclusive.

After learning about the grazing in the spring, selectmen tried to lease the land to Collins for a $1 per year, but negotiations unexpectedly fell apart at a recent meeting, when Town Manager Rhonda Irish let the board know that while they assumed Collins was insured, he does not have farmer’s insurance.

Irish said later that week that the town was not willing to lease the land without the insurance because of the liability involved.

“So in the event something happened like the cows got out of the fence and onto the road, the town would be insured,” she said.

Selectman Tom Saviello said if they couldn’t come to a lease agreement, they needed to evict Collins back to his own grazing grounds or risk appearing that they approved of him on the land.

“We turn this down and he still pastures his cow there. He’s going to have to get his cows out because then we’d be tacitly approving him using that field,” Saviello said. “If we vote this down tonight, he needs to get off the land.”

The board agreed they were not willing to take on that liability and to stop negotiations with Collins and write him a letter saying he had until the end of the year to move his cows and fence.

Collins said when he looked at the cost of farmer’s insurance, it would have added about $350 to $400 to his insurance, which was more than he was willing to shell out for the strip of land.

“It’s not feasible to pay that much for what little was there,” he said.

He said the cemetery lands were used by the past landowner before he bought the property 20 years ago. He said around six or seven years ago, he expanded the fence and then drew the attention of a selectman when he expanded the fenceline this spring.

“I know where the property lines are, but I’ve also been taking care of it and bush hogging and mowing it. Now I’m not going to do that any more so they’ll have to find someone else to mow it,” he said.

Collins said he had four beef cows this year and currently only has two left. As the weather gets colder, he said he will bring the cows in and will move the fence back (to its location) prior to the deadline.

“It’s no big deal,” he said.