Red Flags for Landowners
Before we delve into the risks that landowners face, let’s define the phrase “security risks for landowners.” I define security risks for landowners as anything that will adversely impact the productivity, profitability, or aesthetics of the land. This broad definition includes risks like dumping, drug production, trespassing, fire, timber theft, and other resource theft. Each of these risks brings with it different challenges to the landowner, but luckily for us, a watchful eye for red flags can alert us to areas where we have exposure to these risks.
Here are some areas where landowners specifically should be attentive:
- Illegal dumping – To bypass landfill fees some will bypass the waste disposal system and dump material in the most convenient, out of the way place…your land. In years past one of the ways to combat this was to actually dig through the trash looking for a clue to who dumped it. Today, some dumps are created by drug production and the by-products are lethal. Be especially diligent if you see plastic pots, fertilizer bags, propane tanks, starter fluid cans and cold relief packages. Instead of digging through the dump, report fresh dumps to local law enforcement that are properly trained in identifying the trash.
- Unlocked gates – These are not only an indicator that there may have been trespassers on the property but could also be a precursor to someone’s intention to use the property illegally in the future. In either case it can also result in an open invitation for future visitors to enter.
- Heavy traffic patterns across property – Heavy traffic may be a precursor to illegal property use and trespass. This is especially a problem if there is high activity of unidentified cars coming to the property at strange hours. Thieves and drug dealers oftentimes check out the property first before making their move. Normally you can recognize the local traffic. When you don’t, there is a red flag to pay attention to other indicators and potential problems.
- Signs of Trespassers – Trespassing comes in many forms from people fishing your pond to the use of your property for the manufacture of illegal drugs. Signs that someone else is using your property are new paths into the property, paths around your gates, strange vehicles parked on your property, trash dumps, marking tape you didn’t put there, and maybe even fishing line hung in the bushes around your pond that you didn’t put there.
- Adjacent landowners, especially those who are also in the forest industry who you don’t know very well or who don’t know you — Neighbors with adjoining properties can have easy access to your property without your even knowing it. Timber theft is one of the chief concerns of many landowners. Timber theft can include the theft of individual “high grade” logs, the theft of hardwood pulpwood for firewood, theft of unmarked trees, or the theft of entire tracts. Absentee landowners are most at risk here.
- Tracts located a long distance from your residence, office or working operations – Be especially diligent about checking orphan tracts that are geographically remote where your access is difficult, and you seldom visit. These can be ideal locations for drug activities that seek remote locations to hide their work or timber theft.
- Theft of other resources – Other resources found on the land are also at risk of theft if the product found on your land has value in the marketplace. Keep in mind the marketplace doesn’t have to be in your surrounding geographical area. Resources at risk for theft include clay, field stone, decorative rocks, gravel, sand, topsoil, exotics (e.g., Paulownia trees), roots, mushrooms, and pine straw.
- Posted signs or no trespassing signs that shouldn’t be posted or which you didn’t post could be an indicator someone has “taken over” your property.
- Travel trailers, tents or small mobile homes in out of the way locations – These could be adventurers seeking the wild and wonderful natural experience or a drug manufacturer that has been brewing his “potion” all day and is now high and usually armed to the teeth.
- Distinctive, obnoxious odors – STAY AWAY.
A landowner’s primary goal is to make the best use of the land to yield the highest return for his/her effort and investment. Keeping a watchful eye out for red flags can provide alerts to activities that undermine that goal.
- Clearly mark and maintain your property lines. It avoids real or claimed misunderstandings and can be valuable documentation in case of litigation. Post your boundaries to communicate your property line and that you don’t welcome trespassers.
- Limit access to your property. Install good, sturdy gates on roads or rights of way entering your property. Make the gate highly visible.
- Conduct periodic, unscheduled, and unannounced tract inspections.
- Pay attention to “out of the ordinary” things. Hidden logs in the woods, unusual traffic patterns on tract, pockets of uncut timber…any signs of trespass.
- Know your neighbors and make a note of any who are living beyond their means. Consider leasing access to your property to hunter, farmers, recreational users, beekeepers, etc. This is an excellent way to expand your eyes and ears on the property and to add additional income. Create a specifically written contract.
- Clean up old dump sites now. A small dump invariably becomes a large one. If you catch someone dumping be willing to prosecute. Nothing says “stay clear” to others as well as a notice in the local paper of an individual charged with cleaning up a dump.
- Utilize a theft and fraud hotline.
- Contact authorities if you suspect drug traffickers.
- Review your risks with your land in mind or hire someone to help you review your risks. Each situation is different.