Here are the cold hard facts you will need to know when you set off to visit your next waterfall, and any other consequent set of falls. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) has a wonderful page full of questions and answers that will cover almost all of the questions left in your mind after reading this article. You can find it here: Posting Information For Landowners And Hunters
I have listed a couple of the highlights of the page below. These are directly taken from the web site mentioned above. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION!
Posting Information for Landowners and Hunters:
Q. What is posting under the Environmental Conservation Law?
A. People who want to control access to their property without personally seeing everyone who enters may post signs warning people to keep out. This may be done with simple “Keep Out” signs under the Penal Law, but for rural properties with many possible points of entry, a few signs may not be effective. Where activities such as hunting, fishing and trapping are concerned, the Environmental Conservation Law provides more specific guidelines which make posting more effective.
Q. Must I post to keep people off my property?
A. No. Trespassing is illegal even on unposted property, unless it is unimproved, apparently unused and unfenced (or not otherwise enclosed to exclude intruders.) Even on vacant land, a written notice delivered in person (or by certified mail with a signed receipt, etc.) to any person, in the name of the landowner or authorized party, containing a description of the premises and a warning of restrictions which apply has the same effect, for that person, as if the land were posted with those restrictions. Likewise, anyone asked to leave the premises, posted or not, by the landowner, occupant or other authorized person, must do so immediately.
Use of Posted Property – Making Exceptions
Q. Is written permission from the person posting necessary?
A. No, but written permission bars prosecution of trespass. Some landowners find written permission a convenient way to get to know guests, and to keep track of them. They write simple notes or make homemade forms. DEC also provides free blank Landowner Permission Record forms for granting permission.
Click here to download the “Ask Permission Slip”
*(26kb pdf)??ASK Permission stickers, a brochure explaining the program, Landowner Permission forms, and information about fish and wildlife conservation are available free from DEC regional Wildlife offices, or NYSDEC, Albany, NY 12233-4754
Money and Liability
Q. Is posting required to protect landowners from liability?
A. No. Whether the property is posted or not, the General Obligations Law protects landowners from liability for non-paying recreationalists on their property. Because of this protection, recreational liability lawsuits against rural landowners are uncommon. Recreational activities covered include: hunting; fishing; organized gleaning (picking); canoeing; boating; trapping; hiking; cross-country skiing; tobogganing; sledding; speleological (caving) activities; horseback riding; bicycle riding; hang gliding; motorized vehicle operation for recreation; snowmobiling; non-commercial wood cutting or gathering; and dog training. This protection does not apply in cases of willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against dangers.
Q. May the owner or lessee charge for hunting, fishing, or trapping on the posted property?
A. Yes, but charging for access removes the liability protection granted to the landowner by the General Obligations Law. To learn more about landowner liability see the link for Cornell University’s publication “Recreational Access and Owner Liability” under Offsite Links in the right hand column at the top of this page.
Q. Is it an offense to trespass on areas posted against trespass pursuant to the Environmental Conservation law?
A. Yes, it is a violation, punishable by a fine up to $250 and/or up to 15 days in jail.
Q. Is it illegal to tear down someone else’s posted sign?
A. Yes. A person who, while hunting, fishing, or trapping, damages property, posted signs, livestock or other property can be assessed damages, as determined by the court in addition to the penalties described above.
Q. How should the owner or lessee of posted property go about prosecuting a person for trespass?
A. If they witnessed the trespass, they should write down as much information as possible to assist the police in identifying the person. They should then contact an Environmental Conservation Officer or any other police officer for assistance. Environmental Conservation Officers make arrest for, and prosecute trespass, particularly if it relates to hunting, fishing, trapping, or disturbing wildlife.
Link here to a current list of Environmental Conservation Officers
Turn In Poachers & Polluters – Call 1-800-TIPP-DEC
While it may seem as though these laws essentially remove all the rights to a hiker wanting to gain access to any given property, it does not. In fact, the law was created to foster the responsible enjoyment of any given property. Use these laws as a tool in deciding how you spend time enjoying the outdoors. You may find that you pay more attention to your surroundings and what you can do to improve them. And that is a good thing!
Knowing these laws also grants you the responsibility of informing others of them. If you can inform two other people and they inform another two people then, in time, these laws will help create a cleaner, safer outdoors experience for everyone.