Posting Information for Landowners, Boaters, Fishermen and Hunters
Q. What is posting under the Environmental Conservation Law?
A. People who want to control access to their property without personally seeing everyone who enters may post signs warning people to keep out. This may be done with simple "Keep Out" signs under the Penal Law, but for rural properties with many possible points of entry, a few signs may not be effective. Where activities such as hunting, fishing and trapping are concerned, the Environmental Conservation Law provides more specific guidelines which make posting more effective.
Q. How does one post property against trespass according to the Environmental Conservation Law?
A. By placing conspicuous signs close to and along the boundaries of the area to be closed.
Q. Who may post property?
A. The owner or lawful occupant, or other person or organization authorized by them to post. 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.
Q. What is the effect of posting pursuant to the Environmental Conservation Law?
A. All persons are prohibited from entering, remaining unlawfully, or engaging in any activity which has been prohibited by posting or written notice.
Q. Must I post to keep people off my property?
A. No. Trespassing is illegal even on unposted property, unless it is unimproved, apparently unused and unfenced (or not otherwise enclosed to exclude intruders.) Even on vacant land, a written notice delivered in person (or by certified mail with a signed receipt, etc.) to any person, in the name of the landowner or authorized party, containing a description of the premises and a warning of restrictions which apply has the same effect, for that person, as if the land were posted with those restrictions. Likewise, anyone asked to leave the premises, posted or not, by the landowner, occupant or other authorized person, must do so immediately.
Use of Posted Property - Making Exceptions
Q. May only part of the property be posted against trespass?
Q. May the property be posted against some activity but not others?
A. Yes, by having the wording on the signs indicate which activities are allowed or prohibited.
Q. When lands and waters are posted under the Environmental Conservation Law, are they posted against all forms of trespass or only hunting, trapping and fishing?
A. They are posted against all forms of trespass unless otherwise specified on the poster.
ASK Permission Sticker
Q. If I post, can I give permission to some people to use the property?
A. Yes. Permission may be granted to specific individuals. For the landowner's convenience, the Department provides, free of charge, small "ASK permission symbols" which can be attached to posted signs to provide a visual indicator that permission for access may be granted.
Q. Is written permission from the person posting necessary?
A. No, but written permission bars prosecution of trespass. Some landowners find written permission a convenient way to get to know guests, and to keep track of them. They write simple notes or make homemade forms. DEC also provides free blank Landowner Permission Record forms for granting permission.
ASK Permission stickers, a brochure explaining the program, Landowner Permission forms, and information about fish and wildlife conservation are available free from DEC regional Wildlife offices, or NYSDEC, Albany, NY 12233-4754
Q. Is it legal to hunt, fish or trap adjacent to posted property?
Q. May a hunter who has wounded game pursue it onto posted property?
A. Only if permission has been granted by the posting party.
Q. May a person travel in a boat or canoe on a waterway which is posted?
A. The answer to this question depends in part on whether the waterway is subject to the tides. Waterways that are affected by the tides are considered to be "navigable in law" and the public automatically has a right to navigate on these waters, regardless of who owns the bed or if the waterway is posted.
The issue of whether the public has a right to navigate on freshwater waterways not affected by the tides is more complex. The public has a right to navigate on freshwater waterways that are publicly owned, but has a right to navigate on freshwater waterways crossing private property only if the waterway is "navigable in fact." The courts have held that a waterway is navigable in fact if, in its natural state and ordinary volume of water, it has practical utility to the public as a highway for trade, travel or transport. Both utility for commercial use and capacity for recreational use can be considered in determining whether a waterway has such practical utility. If a waterway satisfies this test, it is navigable in fact regardless of whether a court has ever made a finding on the issue, and regardless of whether the property owner posts no trespassing signs on the waterway.
A waterway may be navigable in fact even if it is not capable of being navigated against its current and even if the capacity of the waterway for supporting navigation is not continuous over time, as long as the capacity necessary to support navigation continues for a sufficient length of time to make the waterway useful as a highway for trade, travel or transport. A waterway may also be navigable in fact even where it contains occasional rapids, falls, dams or other natural or manmade obstructions so long as it nonetheless is useful as a highway for trade, travel or transport. If a waterway is navigable in fact, the right to public navigation authorizes a boater to get out of the boat to pull it around obstacles or to get around obstacles by portaging over private property, so long as the portage is by the most direct and least intrusive safe route possible. The right to navigation does not authorize the public to go on private land for purposes not directly related to navigation, such as camping, hunting, or hiking. Also, the public may not cross private property for the purpose of accessing or leaving a navigable waterway.
Q. If I have a right to navigate on a waterway, do I also have the right to fish from my boat on that waterway?
A. It is clear that the public has a right to fish in tidal waterways and publicly owned non-tidal waterways. However, the fact that a particular freshwater waterway on private property is navigable in fact does not by itself mean that the public has a right to fish in the waterway. The right to fish on a privately owned, navigable in fact waterway depends on several factors, including: deeded rights of the property owner; whether the State has acquired public fishing rights from the land owner; and whether the public has acquired the right to fish as a result of a history of fishing without landowner permission. A 1997 New York Court of Appeals ruling found that the public did not have a right to wade in the water to fish, or anchor a vessel to fish, in the navigable in fact freshwater Salmon River where it crossed property owned by Douglaston Manor.
Wherever fishing is permitted, you must remember to acquire any necessary permit and comply with all applicable laws and regulations.
Conclusion: The issues of whether particular freshwater waterways are navigable in fact and whether the public has a right to fish in privately-owned waterways that are navigable in fact can be complex. When in doubt, the prudent paddler or angler will consult with the landowner and, if that does not result in a satisfactory resolution, Department of Environmental Conservation personnel.
For Landowners: The Rules About Posted Signs
Q. Does the Department of Environmental Conservation provide signs for posting private lands?
A. No. Only cases where the owner is a cooperator under the Fish and Wildlife Management Act, does the Department provide "Safety Zone" signs. Cooperators provide free public access to most of their property in a large cooperative hunting/fishing area.
Q. Where can I get signs to post my property?
A. Hardware and farm supply stores frequently carry signs. Customized signs may be obtained from local printers.
Q. Must signs be a specific size?
A. Notices must be a minimum of 11 inches by 11 inches.
Q. Is any particular wording required?
A. Signs 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.
Q. How many signs must be used in posting lands and how close together must they be set?
A. 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, close to or along the boundaries of the protected area. Since the signs must be conspicuous, they should be high enough, and spaced closely enough to be seen. Please don't turn your property into an eyesore by using more signs than are necessary.
Q. How frequently must signs be maintained?
A. Illegible or missing signs must be replaced at least once a year.
Money and Liability
Q. Is posting required to protect landowners from liability?
A. No. Whether the property is posted or not, the General Obligations Law protects landowners from liability for non-paying recreationalists on their property. Because of this protection, recreational liability lawsuits against rural landowners are uncommon. 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.
Q. May the owner or lessee charge for hunting, fishing, or trapping on the posted property?
A. Yes, but charging for access removes the liability protection granted to the landowner by the General Obligations Law. To learn more about landowner liability see the link for Cornell University's publication "Recreational Access and Owner Liability" under Links Leaving DEC's Website in the right hand column at the top of this page.
Q. Is it an offense to trespass on areas posted against trespass pursuant to the Environmental Conservation law?
A. Yes, it is a violation, punishable by a fine up to $250 and/or up to 15 days in jail.
Q. Is it illegal to tear down someone else's posted sign?
A. Yes. A person who, while hunting, fishing, or trapping, damages property, posted signs, livestock or other property can be assessed damages, as determined by the court in addition to the penalties described above.
Q. How should the owner or lessee of posted property go about prosecuting a person for trespass?
A. If they witnessed 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.
Report Poachers and Polluters - 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267)
When People Ask
Q. Why allow others on your property?
A. Most people who want to enjoy outdoor recreation are not troublemakers. They are people much like you who respect property, people, and the environment. Responsible guests can help you care for your property. DEC relies on hunting as one of the tools of wildlife management. Regulated hunting and trapping help control wildlife populations to avoid diseases, unhealthy wildlife, environmental damage, crop and ornamental plant damage, and highway accidents.