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Public recreational use of private property

In New Hampshire we have a unique expectation of access onto property owned by others that is unknown in other states. This expectation is a very New Hampshire concept, an extension of our motto "Live Free or Die". In fact, in many states, land open for public use is posted with signs that say so because the land use expectation is NO TRESPASSING.

Many of us feel as if that freedom of access is our right, but the truth is more accurately said that it is a cherished New Hampshire tradition. The use of any private property, whether enrolled in current use or not, is a privilege. Not all land uses are compatible, and it is the landowner’s right to decide how they want to use their land.

Is Posting necessary?
It has been argued that land enrolled in current use should be required to allow public access. The truth is that not all current use land uses are compatible with all public access uses. For example, agricultural industries would not be economically possible without the Current Use Assessment. Taxed at ad valorum (as house lots) they would be taxed out of existence.

Yet farmers must utilize posting out of necessity. Farmers want people to stay off their crops and keep motorized vehicles out of their hayfields. Many of the things that the public takes for granted, like hayfields, to a farmer mean financial investment and livelihood. The hunter in the cow pasture doesn’t intend to shoot at any of the cows, but the farmer has understandable concern for the safety of his expensive livestock. To minimize crop and livestock damage and loss, the farmer may resort to posting the land.

Posting is also a necessary safety tool for logging operations. While the overwhelming majority of private forestland is open for public access, posting is often used in areas with active logging. It may be your favorite hunting spot, but if the land is being logged, you may be in the way, not to mention in danger! Loggers themselves also prefer to work in a safety zone, free from stray bullets.

The bottom line is that the taxpaying landowner may have current use compatible land uses that unlimited public access could disrupt or harm. It is their right to manage their land in any way they choose–and that includes posting it.

Critics have claimed that current use landowners should be made to allow public access in exchange for the tax treatment the land receives. However, numerous Cost of Community Services* studies have demonstrated that current use land pays more in taxes than it costs the town in services. In other words, despite the reduced assessment, and corresponding lower property taxes, current use land pays its fair share. Land use decisions should remain where they belong, with the landowner.

(*Cost of Community Services studies compare taxes paid to the services required in a given town for a specific year. For more information visit the American Farmland Trust website at

Why does a landowner decide to post their land?
There are two common reasons. First, they just purchased the property and they are worried about liability, or of what might happen if they didn’t post. Second, they have had trouble with others using their land. In the first instance, the liability of landowners that allow free public access is limited. New Hampshire has recognized the value of public access with a statute protecting those generous enough to share their land.

Although problems with the public’s use of private property are real and do occur, landowners should not let the possibility of these events influence their decision to post their land. The majority of landowners never experience any problems with others using their land. The likelihood of having any problems is very small.

What sort of problems do landowners who allow public access have?
The good news is the majority of landowners never experience any problems with others using their land. Unfortunately, however, problems with the public’s use of private property do occur. Grafton County Forester Nory Parr identifies the dumping of trash and the rutting of roads, trails and landings by wheeled vehicles as the most common landowner complaints. While trash is annoying and undeserved, it can readily be remedied. On the other hand, wheeled vehicle damage can be difficult and sometimes costly to repair. Erosion and damage to environmentally sensitive areas are possible consequences of misuse. Other problems stem from conflicting uses of the same land.

Who do I call if I have problems with others use of my land?
You can call local law enforcement for any trespass or misuse issues.

If you see snowmobiles, mountain bikes or ATV’s using property they shouldn’t be, or find evidence of such misuse on your land, call:
New Hampshire Fish & Game Law Enforcement Dispatch 271-3361.

If you’ve decided to post your land…
Once a landowner has experienced difficulties and has decided to post their land, the best approach is to try using positive language, such as "Welcome—Foot Traffic Only" or "Please, No Trash". Or consider posting "Land Use by Permission Only".

Another potential remedy for landowners who have had problems with the public’s use of their land is the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department sign program. The idea behind the Landowner Relations Program is to post only against select activities as necessary, and encourage landowners not to post against all public uses. A Conservation Officer will visit the site to determine eligibility and signage needs, and enroll the landowner in the program. A variety of signs with the respected New Hampshire Fish & Game logo on them, suited for different land uses and situations, are available to the enrolled landowner free of charge.
To enroll in the program, call:
New Hampshire Fish & Game's Landowner Relations Program (603) 271-3511.

New Hampshire Fish and Game Operation Land Share
Fish and Game and its Operation Land Share partners hereby extend their sincere appreciation to current use landowners for their generosity in sharing their land with hunters.   In New Hampshire, hunting and fishing are based upon the tradition of allowing access to private lands, which is a privilege granted through your generosity.  Without the access that you and other landowners provide, the opportunity to hunt would not be available to most New Hampshire hunters.
Operation Land Share was developed by Fish and Game’s Landowner Relations Program to assist landowners with issues experienced in sharing land with hunters and other outdoor users. Through Operation Land Share access management signage specifically designed to address the most common issues landowners experience is available free of charge. 
signsFurther information on Operation Land Share and assistance available from Fish and Game’s Landowner Relations Program can be found at or by contacting Chuck Miner, Administrator of Fish and Game’s Landowner Relations Program at or at 603-271-3511.
  Many landowners (current use and non-current use) do not realize that if you do not display the proper signage, hunters may and will access your property. Remember too, it’s not always what you say, but how you say it!

What posting your land may say to the neighbors…
Landowners should be aware of the negative message "NO TRESPASSING" signs send, especially to the neighbors. The signs themselves can trigger angry responses, such as destruction of signs, littering and unkind remarks in the community. It is not the best way to meet the neighbors!

If you decide to post your land, talking about your decision to your neighbors can go a long way in preventing misunderstandings. Neighbors can be a valuable resource, particularly in rural areas. They may observe people using your land, or have pertinent information about your property. Try to keep the lines of communication open.

What can I do about land I used to enjoy, but now is posted?
If land you like to use has been posted, get in touch with the landowner and ask their permission to use their land. Often posted land is used by many. Landowners may post against all trespassing, but are really only interested in restricting certain uses or discouraging strangers.

What are the alternatives to wholesale "NO TRESPASSING" posting?
1. If it is only one activity that you wish to restrict, consider posting for that activity alone. "No Hunting" or "No Wheeled Vehicles" etc.

2. If you are not comfortable with just anyone walking around on your land, consider posting "Land Use by Permission Only", with your phone number on the bottom of the sign. Most people, especially the neighbors, will be glad your land is not off limits, and will be happy to comply.

3. If there have been problems with others use of your land in the past, consider posting for "Land Use By Permission Only" as this may help resolve the situation. If someone should call about using your land, be sure to mention past problems you've had that you would like to avoid. " I've been having some problems with people leaving trash, and I'd appreciate it if you could take out anything you bring with you."

4. If your current use land is adjacent to your home and safety during hunting season concerns you, consider posting the safety zone around your home. This can be reassuring to both landowners and hunters, particularly if your house is surrounded by forest and not very visible, or was built within the past few years. 300 feet from your residence is New Hampshire State law.


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