Guest Editorial: The thorny issue of people on your land

There are more people roaming around rural Canada during the pandemic and that’s increased concerns about trespassing and trash that finds its way onto farms.

We live on a corner property and one of the side roads that runs along our farm is a no-winter maintenance road.

Early in the pandemic it became a magnet for people looking to escape towns and cities. I expect it was mostly people from nearby towns. They know where the no-winter maintenance roads are, likely from experience with teenage parties.

The early-on visitors were fine. They were generally courteous, stuck to the road and we didn’t mind sharing the picturesque road that runs down to the Ausable River.

But pandemic spring No. 2 seems to have brought out more motorized vehicles.

There are more ATVs and side-by-sides than cars now running down the road in front of my parents’ farm farther north. But there’s a rough road through a swamp down the road that is mighty enticing if you’re an off-roader.

My place hasn’t been too bad as far as off-road trespassers. I can usually identify the neighbourhood boys by the sound of their vehicles and I know they’re responsible, and I know what their grandfather would have to say if they were ever caught ripping up crops.

I caught some others ripping through my fields on dirt bikes a few years back. They haven’t returned, even though I didn’t identify them.

Judging by online discussion, there are more issues occurring across the province and country as people run a bit loose with the rules and courtesy to their neighbours. There were some mighty creative ways to deal with the problem suggested for a woman who was having problems with local kids riding dirt bikes in her laneway and back out again.

Calling the police and getting it reported is likely the best suggestion, but not the most creative.

Buckshot was mentioned several times, but I think there’s a bit of risk in that. The same with spike belts and hidden depressions in the road.

Motion sensor lights and trail cameras could help.

My favourite was the suggestion of motion-sensor glitter bombs. I can see that the mostly young male crew wouldn’t be all that excited to go home with their bodies and their bikes covered in shiny glitter.

A chat with parents, if you can identify the culprits, is also effective, as long as you know them well enough to be assured the message will be received.

There’s concern about retribution when that happens, and that’s a legitimate worry. Depending on how well you know the parents, dropping a hint can be enough.

Many provinces are taking the issue of rural trespassing more seriously, and have passed laws aimed at addressing it.

Here in Ontario there’s Bill 156, The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, which is now facing legal challenge.

In Manitoba it’s a pair of bills, one aimed at protecting biosecurity and another that toughens trespassing laws and makes them fairer to the landowner.

Alberta kicked off the trend here in Canada with a 2019 bill that’s drawn some criticism.

I’ve always liked the privacy on my property. It’s a big reason I live here, but a couple of things have made me wonder whether I have to reconsider how much I bristle when I know someone’s been on the property.

We’re doing some direct-to-consumer sales, which means there will be more people around. It makes sense to do that economically, so off we go. We can always stop if it becomes too much of a privacy breach.

New apps have also made me wonder whether Canadians could be more open to having people on their property if they could vet who arrives.

LandPass is a Canadian app that connects farmers with urbanites who would like to visit land outside the city. It is made for those who want to hunt or fish. I could also see it used for people who want to have unique hiking, picnic or camping experiences.

Harvest Hosts is an American app that connects recreational vehicle owners who are looking for a place to stop for a night. Lots of farmers have extra space in their yards. Why not get some revenue out of it? RVs and large camping trailers are pretty much self-sufficient homes on the road.

There are lots of reasons not to do it: biosecurity and concerns about who is arriving in the RV, especially if you have livestock. And do you really want to run a hospitality operation?

But for some it could make sense and be a new revenue stream for farms.

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