Posting Under Environmental Conservation Law
Landowners or lawful occupants who want to control access to their property and prevent timber theft may post signs warning people to keep out. This can be done under the Penal Law by posting conspicuous "Keep Out" signs close to and along the boundaries of the area to be closed. All persons are prohibited from entering, remaining unlawfully or engaging in any activity which has been prohibited by posting or written notice. More information regarding Penal Law can be found at The New York State Senate's website.
Trespassing is illegal even on unposted property. Instead of posting, a landowner or other authorized person may issue written notice to another individual informing them that they are prohibited from entering the property. The notice must contain a description of the property, what restrictions apply (hunting, fishing, trapping) and the person or persons prohibited from entry. It should be delivered by certified mail or other processes (ex: legal notice in newspaper) to prove that the person was served. At any time, anyone by the landowner, occupant, or other authorized person to leave the premises (posted or not), must do so immediately.
Trespassing on areas posted against trespass pursuant to the Environmental Conservation Law is punishable by a fine up to $250 and/or up to 15 days in jail.
The entire property doesn't need to be posted against trespass. If desired, only a portion of the property can be posted prohibiting trespassing or restricting activities (i.e. hunting, fishing, trapping). Clearly-worded signs stating which activities are permitted or prohibited should be used to inform the general public of any restriction on the property. When posted under the Environmental Conservation Law, with no specification noted, the signs are posted against all forms of trespass including hunting, trapping, fishing, etc.
It is a violation of the law for any person to post any sign prohibiting or limiting activities on land unless authorized to do so by the owner, lawful occupant or other person or organization having authority to post such lands.
Reporting and Enforcement
Trespassing on areas posted against trespass pursuant to the Environmental Conservation Law is punishable by a fine up to $250 and/or up to 15 days in jail. Furthermore, a person who damages property, posted signs, livestock or other property can be assessed damages, as determined by the court in addition to the aforementioned penalties. If the landowner or lawful occupant witnesses the trespass, they should write down as much information as possible to assist the police in identifying the person. They should then contact an Environmental Conservation Officer or any other police officer for assistance. Environmental Conservation Officers make arrests for, and prosecute trespassers, particularly if it relates to hunting, fishing, trapping or disturbing wildlife.
Information on how to report timber theft on your private land is also available.
Report Poachers and Polluters - 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267)
Hardware and farm supply stores frequently carry signs for posting. Customized signs may also be obtained from local printers. DEC doesn't provide signs to private landowners unless the landowner is a cooperator under the Fish and Wildlife Management Act. In this case, they will be provided with "Safety Zone" signs. Cooperators provide free public access to most of their property in a large cooperative hunting/fishing area.
Signs must be a minimum of 11 inches by 11 inches. They also must bear the name and address of the owner, lawful occupant or other person or organization authorized to post the area. The sign must bear a conspicuous statement which shall either consist of the word "POSTED" or warn against entry for specified purposes or all purposes without the consent of the person whose name appears on the sign. These words must cover a minimum space of 80 square inches (about 9 by 9 inches) of the sign.
At least one sign must be set on each side of the protected area and on each side of all corners that can be reasonably identified. Signs shall be no more than 660 feet apart, set close to or along the boundaries of the protected area. The signs must be conspicuous - they should be high enough, and spaced closely enough to be seen. Illegible or missing signs must be replaced at least once a year.
Money and Liability
Whether the property is posted or not, the General Obligations Law may protect landowners from liability for non-paying recreationalists on their property. This law was enacted to protect private landowners from liability resulting from legal actions filed by those who recreate on their lands. Recreational activities covered include: hunting; fishing; organized gleaning (picking); canoeing; boating; trapping; hiking; cross-country skiing; tobogganing; sledding; speleological (caving) activities; horseback riding; bicycle riding; hang gliding; motorized vehicle operation for recreation; snowmobiling; non-commercial wood cutting or gathering; and dog training. This protection does not apply in cases of willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against dangers.
Landowners may charge for hunting, trapping, or fishing access; however, this practice removes the liability protection granted by the General Obligations Law. To learn more about landowner liability see Cornell University's publication "Recreational Access and Owner Liability".
Timber Theft on Private Land
Timber theft is a concern for all landowners and the forestry community. Theft of timber from forest lands can destroy generations of careful forest stewardship and cause irreparable environmental damage.
The best way to deal with timber theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Landowners can reduce their risk by taking the following steps:
- Landowners should be familiar with their property.
- Be sure you know where your property boundaries are.
- If boundary lines are unclear, a licensed surveyor can help.
- Use and maintain posted signs and paint to mark boundaries.
- Make sure the property is monitored when you are away for long periods.
- Be aware of logging operations and other forest management activities on neighboring properties.
- Inspect your boundaries often.
- Use a professional forester and have a well written contract when conducting timber harvests.
Be aware if you accept money from someone stealing your trees, regardless of the amount, you have received compensation and it may no longer be considered theft.
How to Report Timber Theft on Private Land
DEC's Environmental Conservation Police are experienced at investigating instances of timber theft. To report a suspected timber theft contact your local DEC Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO), or the Report all Poachers and Polluters hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267). Be ready to provide complete information about:
- Who was involved
- What was taken
- Where and when the theft occurred
- Other relevant facts
Additional Theft Prevention Resources
For additional theft prevention information: