In the Field: The Cooperative Watch

By Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator
My husband and I have been looking for a plot of land to live, hunt, and dream on - and we seem to have found “the one!” As a soon-to-be private landowner, there is so much information I am trying to take in about how to manage the habitat, be strategic in my hunting, play nicely with my neighbors, and how to protect my property from unwanted activity from the local trespasser. Fortunately, my position here at MUCC puts me in a prime situation for expanding my knowledge in these areas. I was invited to Newcosta Quality Deer Cooperative’s meeting on Saturday, and was able to listen to a local Conservation Officer talk to the cooperative about dealing with trespass issues and how to be prepared to protect your property.
The Conservation Officer started the conversation by warning Newcosta Quality Deer Cooperative that as they become successful, they will draw attention to area poachers and trespassers. Cooperatives tend to understand that the fruit of their labors will be noticed by fellow landowners and hunters, but this same news that attracts more members also brings in unwanted interest. Officer Wells went on to explain that while there will be an increase of unwanted activity, the cooperative as a group can fight against it by banning together and hitting the issue head on.
There are several ways cooperatives can work to reduce recreational trespass and poaching activity on their properties. The first thing to realize is that by being part of a cooperative, you are also part of a network of individuals who are motivated to protect their property and the wildlife that utilize that land. It is vital to utilize this network and communicate with your neighbors any activity that is out of character. I advise that you begin to see yourselves as a “cooperative watch.” It is important that along with your reputation being a group that grows healthier and bigger deer, or pheasants, you also cultivate a reputation of being a cooperative that reports illegal activity. If you want to handle the situation neighborly, feel free to try that first. If that does not resolve the issue, play hard and report the situation to a Conservation Officer.
Last year the Michigan Legislature passed a set of bills that increased penalties for poaching trophy bucks and recreational trespass. These bills started as a member-introduced resolution at MUCC. The poaching penalty includes steeper fees for larger antlered deer, as well as increases in harshness with repeat offenders. Recreational trespass penalty fees are now weighed in increasing amounts based on the activity and damage done on the property. Laws like these are in place because MUCC partners with conservation organizations and people to protect our hunting and recreation heritage.
To make it clear that your land is private and not available for general access, the property perimeter must be marked. Many cooperatives have signs that mark their property as belonging to a cooperative. For these signs to also fit the requirements for legal boundary marking, make sure these signs are at least 50 square inches, and include the wording “NO TRESPASSING” in one inch tall lettering. Cooperative signs and simple “NO TRESPASSING” signs must be visible from any entry point on the perimeter of your property. Without these signs, prosecution for trespassing becomes very difficult. Even if you are surrounded by good neighbors, post your property and explain to your neighbors the intent is simply to keep out unwanted travelers, and equip you with the power to prosecute trespassers.
Another thing you can do to increase the likelihood of trespass/poaching prosecution is to be an observer, not an active participant in pursuit. When you see a poaching/trespass situation, do what you can to make the individual feel that you are ok with the situation. Say “nice buck” or “what a great blind location.” The last thing you want to do is scare them off before an Officer can come and handle the situation.
The Conservation Officer told a story about a guy who heard a gunshot on his road after sunset. He got into his truck to get get a license plate number, and continued to chase the guy down. While he was able to get the license plate number, he also scared the guy away before he actually loaded the deer into his truck. While this individual was trying to do a good thing, he put himself in danger, broke speeding laws chasing the guy, and in the end, prosecution was not able to be made because there was not solid evidence connecting these guys to the poaching incident since the deer was not transported.
Part of the license fee increase and package changes fund more conservation officers on the ground. Over 20 new cadets graduated last June, with nearly 30 more graduating this June. These Officers are here to uphold the conservation and recreational trespass laws. Your hunter dollars are paying for them to protect your rights. Report all poaching and trespass activity to the RAP Hotline: 1-800-292-7800.
While being part of a cooperative increases awareness and visibility to your property, take comfort that that same attention can build a reputation of a group that will not tolerate trespassing and poaching. I know that once we have ownership of our property, we will talk to our neighbors, explain the importance of property marking, and we will post our land. We will build relationships with our neighbors in hopes to cultivate a community that puts their foot down on recreational trespass and poaching. I hope you will join me.

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