posted on October 02, 2014 by Willingham & Cote
by Troy Clarke, Criminal Law, Real Estate
All hunters should be familiar with the provisions of the Michigan Recreational Trespass Act (“RTA”). The RTA is not complicated. However, penalties for violation of the RTA have increased, effective this year, and a quick refresher wouldn’t hurt.
First and foremost, the RTA says that hunters are not allowed to enter property that (1) they have previously been prohibited from entering, (2) is fenced or (3) is posted with signs that prohibit entry. So, pay attention to those signs that say “POSTED: No Trespassing.” Even where there is no fence, you ignore those signs at your own peril.
Additionally, hunters are not allowed to enter farm property or wooded areas adjoining farm property regardless of whether the property is fenced or posted. Farms produce everything from crops to dairy products to honey and, thus, this category of property is potentially quite broad.
There Are Always Exceptions
An exception contained in the RTA allows a person to enter property for the sole purpose of retrieving a hunting dog, but even this exception is riddled with exclusions. The person entering the property cannot be armed, cannot have been previously prohibited from entering the property and must not stay on the property longer than reasonably necessary to get the dog.
A first violation of the RTA is still punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a fine of $100-$500. Those convicted may be ordered to pay the costs of prosecution and will likely be required to forfeit any animal taken while in violation of the RTA and to pay restitution for the illegally taken animal. The amount of restitution was increased significantly this year for antlered white-tailed deer. The minimum amount is $2000 for a deer with antlers, and additional $500 per point for deer between eight and ten points, and $750 per point for deer with eleven or more points.
With the changes adopted this year, the fine for a second or subsequent offense under the RTA, however, was increased from $100-$1000 to $500-$1500. A new misdemeanor offense was also created making it a crime to kill any protected animal, game or fish while in violation of the RTA. This new misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $250-$750 fine and can be charged in addition to the RTA violation.
Finally, the civil penalty that a property owner can recover was increased from $250 to $750 in cases where no actual property damages occur. In civil actions, the property owner can also be awarded attorney fees, which will often dwarf the actual damages to the property owner.
Ask Permission Not Forgiveness
Given the limited protection given to hunters by the RTA, the best course is always to approach property owners for permission to hunt on their land. While permission can be given orally or in writing, let’s be honest, talk is cheap and the fines, costs and attorney fees for an RTA violation can easily reach the thousands. Get written permission, if possible, and have it available while you are in the field in case the issue ever arises.