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Why we posted our land.

Three years ago our family of four moved to the country from big city life in Texas, looking for a more peaceful and self-sufficient lifestyle. We planned on raising livestock for a living an wanted to avoid city jobs at all costs. immediately we fell into days of cutting firewood, hauling rocks, planting seedling trees and fixing fences. We hiked the rough mountainsides in our spare time. With almost 650 acres to explore, we had discovered the simple beauty of nature.

But I was puzzled. Where were the deer? Surely there must be some around here. There were perfect woodlands and cover for them.

Every evening we would sit and listen to the sounds of the night. So many strange sounds. Surely we must have a rare beast prowling around, maybe even a Big Foot! Someone saw a cougar once and before that it was a bear. But these reports were unconfirmed.

We hear howling dogs, mooing cows, yipping coyotes, and baying hounds. Baying hounds? Where did they come from? There had not been a fox hunt here in over 20 years.

One morning I went down to the barn and opened the top half of the door. When I looked in, two big eyes were looking back. A black and brown hound was snuggled in a bushel basket where I usually gathered eggs. My chickens! I had terrible visions of finding all of them dead or dying from a stray hound's killing spree. Luckily he left them alone.

Thanks to the collar and tags around its neck, I was able to call the owner who was thankful I'd found one of his hunting dogs. He came immediately. "Most people just shoot unfamiliar dogs on their land" he told us. We discovered that at least nine different groups of hunters, mostly neighbors, were hunting on our land.

Questioning our former relatives, we were told they only gave these people permission to go hunting one single time. Obviously they felt that once they asked, it was okay to take advantage of the situation.

After this discovery over two years ago we began to put up signs. Although we used duct tape and wrapped it all the way around the trees to be secured, we would find it a short time later laying on the ground. Upon examination, we found it to be cut neatly with a knife.

The next year we began personally confronting them on our land. We caught almost 10 people during hunting season, admitting they saw all the signs. For some reason they thought it was meant for someone else. We politely, but firmly, restated our position.

This year we had to draw the line. Not only had we never even seen a deer on the entire acreage in the two years we had been here, but our neighbor complained that hunters on our land were shooting towards his house, and he had the holes in his barn to prove it.

Fearing a lawsuit for negligence and the chance of someone getting shot, we called the game warden and the county sheriff. They were more than happy to come out and "police" the area. We gave them a detailed aerial photo and showed them the property lines. It was one week before Thanksgiving, just before hunting season started. We hoped the confrontations with drunk hunters would go well.

Two particular neighbors that hunt with dogs at night with headlights were still running their hounds right through the middle of our property. We turned in their names again to the sheriff, who must have called them and given a verbal warning, because now they hang up when I phone their residence.

Why is it that because I used the law to enforce my own property rights, I have offended someone? Whose property is it, anyway? Now that we have the property to do with as we please and we want to raise cattle and wildlife, for some reason our neighbors feel they have been wronged. Never mind the fact that they killed all the wildlife on their own land. That's not the point--or is it?

If we plan on spending thousands of dollars to stock our land with rare breeds of deer or antelope, should we have to put up with poachers who want another trophy on the wall?

Maybe the deer will come back. I hope so. As a girl, I remember how thrilled I was to see them bounding away over fences and rocks. I can only dream of that day. Maybe if we dream hard enough, our wildlife will have a chance to survive. And so will our children's dreams.

Measures you can take to protect yourself from lawsuits

Is it possible to protect yourself from property-related lawsuits? The answer has to be a very loud no in this age of suing over just about everything and with examples of very large judgments frequently in the press. However, the following ome considerations might help.

-- If you have signs posting your property against trespassing, be sure to not only put them at obvious entry and exit points, but also spaced along your entire boundary. Notify your local appropriate game warden, fish and wildlife office, etc. in writing that your property is off-limits to hunting and fishing. If you see anyone hunting or fishing have the proper authority run them off. This will help document your intent, as would an occasional ad in the general notice section of your local newspaper.

-- If you have a creek or river running through your property which is used by canoeing, rafting or other water-related companies, have your attorney notify these companies your property is posted for swimming, diving, fishing or any other activity and that you require them to relay this to anyone to whom they rent equipment. Should a lawsuit occur, this should at least include them in the suit, possibly as the principal defendant.

-- Even if your dog (or other animal) is the most mild mannered, laid back one which has ever lived, put up at least one noticeable "Beware of..." sign. It might become a neighborhood joke, but...

-- If you hire labor (even occasionally) or have friends or relatives help out, take time to give them a safety briefing beforehand, using some type of written or visual material, such as having them read the safety manual for any equipment they may be operating. This would document your notification of the dangers involved in what they are doing.

-- Consider consent releases prepared by your attorney. For example, if you have people over to swim in a pond, or hunt or fish on your property, it would not be unreasonable to ask them to sign a consent form signifying their understanding of the dangers involved. I know this may become awkward, but within-family lawsuits are not all that uncommon.

-- Arrange for a safety expert from your liability insurance company to visit and give you a written report on their findings. More importantly, act on those recommendations to the extent practical. If you cannot comply due to costs or some other reason, do what you can in coordination with the insurance company. For example, a safety expert may specify putting a cage around a grain bin access ladder. An acceptable compromise may be to require anyone using that ladder to wear a safety harness, with a notice of this requirement posted near the ladder.

-- Take time to learn the causes of the most common agricultural-related accidents, such as tractors failing over sideways or backwards, PTOs or motor belts without safety cages and farm animals. As I recall, horses cause significantly more injuries than bulls.

-- Obtain and follow the safety manual for any equipment you have. If none is available, create your own for reading by anyone else using the equipment.

-- Attend first aid classes and keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. This would help demonstrate your awareness of and preparation for accidents.

-- Carry a large amount of liability insurance as it isn't all that expensive when compared against the risks involved.

Overall, become safety conscious, document that consciousness wherever possible and carry more than adequate liability insurance. I know this may sound paranoid, but the risks involved are simply too great to be Ignored.--Ken Scharabok
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on using signs to protect from lawsuits; no trespassing signs
Author:Dahl, Debbie
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Just do it!
Next Article:Use willow trees for flood control.

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