Alleged assault enrages sportsmen in Maine

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Sunday, November 18, 2001

Alleged assault enrages sportsmen

By GLENN ADAMS, Associated Press Writer

THORNDIKE — Along the edges of woods and fields in this rural Waldo County town, the bright orange and yellow signs are popping up everywhere: No hunting.

It wasn't always that way.

"We've never posted our land. It's all posted now, all 300 acres of it," said William Johnson, whose family has owned property in the area for four generations.

The new keep-off signs started showing up on trees and fenceposts across the rolling countryside after Johnson's brother, Richard, was assaulted after asking a group of hunters to leave his property in Jackson, a tiny town bordering Thorndike.

Johnson, 58, was upset that the Rhode Island men had not asked permission to use his land and were in an area near homes with children, said his brother.

"Over the years, we've never had trouble with hunters," William Johnson said. "We all hunt."

Richard Johnson was still recovering from his injuries last week and declined to be interviewed, but his family confirmed the police account of the Nov. 7 incident.

Johnson blew the horn of a pickup truck belonging to the hunters, then propped a stick against it so it sounded continuously. There was a confrontation and one of the hunters knocked off Johnson's hat.

When Johnson bent over he was attacked. His face was pounded until it was black and blue, and his teeth were broken. He crawled into his house dazed and bleeding, and passed out. He was out of work until last Wednesday.

A hunter from Foster, R.I., Vincent DeCarlo, is free on bail pending a Dec. 18 hearing in Belfast District Court on a charge of aggravated assault, police said. DeCarlo's phone number was not listed and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

The incident has not gone by unnoticed by Maine hunters, who have been calling and e-mailing the 13,000-member Sportsman's Alliance of Maine to express their outrage, according to SAM Executive Director George Smith.

Some say the offenders should never be allowed to hunt in Maine again. Others fear that the incident will put more Maine land off-limits to hunters. Smith believes the incident was "very unusual."

"To me, it's not a hunting accident or incident," Smith said. "It's a plain crime."

Sen. Marge Kilkelly, a Wiscasset Democrat who is a member of the legislative committee that oversees hunting issues, agreed.

"This is an aberration by people who were irresponsible," said Kilkelly. "This isn't about hunting. It's about assault."

The incident occurred as Maine's deer season was getting under way amid upbeat pronouncements that the herd was healthy and larger than it's been in about a half century.

It also came at a sensitive time for the state's hunting establishment, which is struggling to build trust with property owners so more land is not closed off.

The state Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department acknowledges that private land has been placed off-limits to hunters over the years, but spokesman Mark Latti had no specifics on how much.

In some cases, hunters find properties they have visited for years closed off.

"A lot of out-of-staters come up and take over our land," said Tim Abbott, a neighbor of Richard Johnson's. "They buy land and they post it."

Latti said he has seen no evidence that the Nov. 7 attack will prompt more landowners to kick hunters off their properties. The attack did not trigger a surge of complaints to game officials or inquiries about posting land.

But that's not the case in Thorndike.

William Johnson estimated that 800 to 1,000 acres have been posted since Nov. 7, adding to the roughly 2,000 acres already closed off locally.

When Dorothy Johnson returned to work at the Hampden post office after her husband's beating, outraged co-workers told her they were posting their properties too.

"Everyone's totally upset about this whole thing," she said.

William Johnson said the attack on his brother has not soured him on all out-of-state hunters.

He said people from away have been hunting on local land for generations, and even have a club, the Buckhorn Lodge. They get landowners' permission before setting foot on their property, and every July throw a big bash for the local folks.

"They're the nicest people on earth," said Johnson.

But he also believes that all nonresident hunters should be required to hire registered guides and that all private land should be posted so owners have better control over who uses it.

Maine law permits hunting on private property unless the owner posts it off-limits with signs, a letter or verbally. Still, the state and hunting activists strongly encourage hunters to get permission before venturing onto someone's land.

A series of accidental shootings by hunters, including one that claimed a landowner's life, led to a "reverse posting" proposal a few years ago. Reverse posting would bar hunting except on land specifically posted to allow it.

In recent years, the Legislature strengthened penalties for trespassing on posted land.

The state in 1995 created a landowner relations program funded with voluntary $15 license surcharges. The money pays for educational programs and signs available to landowners which specify which activities are allowed or prohibited.

As of this fall, nearly 145,000 acres in the state were marked to allow such uses as hunting, trapping, snowmobiling and hiking.

The most popular signs distributed by the state are those that say access is allowed by permission only, said Latti.
 
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