Maine landowners oppose lawsuit to eliminate ban on Sunday hunting

Published: May. 5, 2022 at 7:14 AM EDT
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PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) - Maine’s largest group of private landowners opposes the lawsuit to lift the state’s ban on Sunday hunting.

The suit was filed last week in Augusta District Court.

The plaintiffs argue the ban violates the new “right to food” added to the state constitution by referendum last November.

But Tom Doak, executive director of Maine Woodland Owners, said in an interview his members just want one day to themselves after opening their land at no cost six days a week to hunters, hikers, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

“That’s an extraordinary benefit that very few places have, and in return, the landowners have been kind of granted this idea that on Sunday, don’t worry, you can enjoy your property completely, you know, unbothered,” Doak said.

Maine landowners typically receive no remuneration for allowing recreational access to their land, and 90% of Maine land is privately owned.

“They believe it’s the right thing to do. There’s a long tradition in Maine of sharing land,” Doak said. “Everything sits on that balance.”

The 2,500 members of Maine Woodland Owners collectively own half-a-million acres, while the organization itself controls 8,000.

The state collects $26 a year from Maine residents who obtain a required hunting license and $115 from out-of-state hunters.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued 226,000 licenses last year.

MDIFW also charges residents annual fees for hunting permits that range from $4 for coyotes at night to $10 for bear and $52 for moose.

“This is not an anti-hunting issue at all. My organization also owns 8,000 acres of land. It’s all open for hunting. We encourage people to hunt, and, you know, we’re trying to work to keep that tradition alive at the same time respecting the rights of owners -- of landowners -- and farmers,” Doak said.

Doak counts 39 legislative attempts in the past century to repeal Sunday hunting as having failed.

“The outdoor economy is based on this access to private land. So, show me the evidence that the state is really suffering in the long run for not having Sunday hunting,” he said.

Maine’s Attorney General is defending the lawsuit, which names MDIFW and Commissioner Judy Camuso as defendants.

A February report by MDIFW found 62% of landowners in the North/East regions of the state and 61% in the Central Region oppose Sunday hunting, while 81% in South Region oppose it.

Doak predicts a backlash with landowners deeming their property off-limits for hunting and other recreation if the lawsuit is successful.

“You’re going to have a massive posting of private land,” he said.

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