One of the biggest misconceptions that has emerged from their research is that out-of-state landowners are more likely to post their land. In fact, just the opposite is true.
“People from away don’t always come up here in the fall, so they don’t see the hunters on their land,” Leahy says. “There’s this idea that we’ve got new landowners coming in and buying off the land and shutting down access, but that’s not the case. It’s the Mainers.”
Another misconception is that ATV riders cause more damage than other recreational users. Leahy found that littering, tree damage and gate damage topped the list of complaints.
“Despite everyone wanting to blame ATV riders, it was hunter behavior that was more severe,” Leahy says.
She attributes part of this to a shift in ATV laws in 2004–05 that increased penalties. But one rule-breaker who causes a landowner to shut down access to his or her land can ruin it for a whole group of rule-followers — especially when Maine’s extensive network of ATV trails is heavily dependent on the cooperation of private landowners.
To address that divide, Leahy and graduate student Marilynne Mann conducted extensive research with ATV riders. Many talked about riding as a family activity that was accessible to everyone, despite age or physical ability. Some saw it as a way to get out into nature in a way they normally wouldn’t.
“We didn’t see it as a family cohesion kind of thing,” Leahy says. “And certain ATV clubs don’t frame what they do as a family activity, but communities and landowners may be more supportive if they understand that aspect.”
A greater understanding by stakeholders is what Leahy’s work is all about. According to Doak and others, research like this that goes beyond traditional forest resource work and gets to the relationships and traditions behind the issues is more important than ever.
“This is a great role for the university because we’re doing conflict resolution as part of the research,” Leahy says.
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