Chapter 3 - Boundary Lines
by Michael Rochester
Robert Frost said "Good fences make good neighbors". How true that was then and it is still relevant today. With high timber values and higher land prices, good boundary lines are even more important today. Good boundary lines can help avoid timber harvest trespasses or help you to prevail in any court cases if a trespass occurs on your land. As a licensed forester who works in the woods, I have seen too many woodlots that do not have any boundary lines established. This is very troublesome and can lead to problems down the road.
When you purchase land, you are given a deed from the seller. The deed will be recorded with the Registry of Deeds in the proper jurisdiction. The deed should indicate the state, county, and town where the property is located. The deed should list the name of the seller, buyer, and witnesses of the transfer. The deed should also give a description of the boundaries and their location. The buyer must ensure that the deed gets filed with the Registry of Deeds. It is possible for you to lose your legal title if it is not filed. If you lose your copy of the deed, you can go to the Registry of Deeds office and get another copy. They will have recorded it and place it in a book. They will also have a computerized record of the deed. A small fee will be charged for a copy. It is also possible to trace your property back through the different ownerships that have occurred over the years at the Registry of Deeds. You should keep your deed in a safe place.
Deeds should describe where your boundaries are located. After having read hundreds of deeds, I can say that many are poorly written with little or no description. Others are written with references that are now missing or changed. Some references that I have seen in deeds include stone walls, trees, stone bounds, roads, fences, streams, corner poles or pins, and blazed lines. Blazed lines and stone walls will probably still be evident. Fences may have disappeared. Stone bounds may have been moved or got covered up. Roads and streams may have changed locations. The highway department may change roads and this may affect where your boundary is now located and the acreage involved. Streams change course sometimes due to environmental factors and beavers. Most people honor a stone wall because they were made when the land was first cleared and farmed. The farmers placed the stones on the boundary line so they could farm as much land as possible. Corner posts are located at a point at which two or more boundary lines meet. There are various forms of corner posts. They can be made of granite, iron pipes or rods, or even wood. I have found many wooden corner poles that have rotted away at the ground level but are still there laying on the ground. Their accuracy may come into question in cases like this.
If you do not know where your boundary lines are, then you may need some assistance. If the corner posts are evident and there are still some marks on the trees, a licensed forester can help you reestablish you boundaries. If you cannot find any sign of your boundaries, then you should consult with a surveyor. Surveyors are licensed with the state and they can establish your boundaries and record their survey with the Registry of Deeds. If your boundaries are not accurate, then you are still responsible for your actions if you stray onto a neighbor's property. It is very important to accurately know where your boundaries are located.
If you know where your boundaries are located and want to paint your lines, follow these guidelines.
1. Boundaries should be painted with high grade, durable paint. Use a color such as red, yellow, orange or blue, these colors are easily seen and visible for long distances. Paints specifically formulated for marking boundaries are available from forestry supply companies. I use and prefer an oil based paint. It is brighter and lasts longer. I also use orange or red because it is highly visible. Paint trees only when the bark is warm and dry. Paint witness trees at the point where the boundary line intersects the tree.
2. In blazing and painting trees along the boundary line, the following rule is used (picture example at the end of chapter):
A. If the boundary line passes through the middle of a tree, blaze and paint on both sides of that tree where the line passes through it.
B. Where the line passes adjacent to the tree, blaze and paint one point only, immediately adjacent to the line.
C. Be sure to blaze and paint both sides of the line so that it can be seen from either side. This will help prevent accidental trespass.
D. If you do not want to blaze the trees, you can just paint them. You may have to use an ax or hatchet to clear away branches so you can paint the tree.
3. Avoid blazing well-formed, large or valuable trees. Blazing the tree may allow the entrance of bacteria and fungi causing decay. Blazes should be about 4 to 5 inches in diameter and located about five feet above the ground. Blaze often enough so that it is possible to see the next blaze easily. I do not blaze the trees. I will remove the branches using a hatchet so that I can get to the tree and removing the branches helps identify the tree in the future. I will also smooth the bark on trees with rough bark such as hardwood trees. If you blaze trees, the material underneath will be wet and paint will not stick very well. If you want to blaze the trees, blaze one year and paint the blazes the following year when the marks have had a chance to heal and dry.
4. Boundary lines can be cleaned/brushed out for easy traveling and locating. Cut the trees and leave the stubs flat. I have seen many lines with the trees cut at an angle and that is dangerous. There are little spears sticking up everywhere and you would not want to fall on them or for someone else to. Pruning limbs to head height and cutting small trees along the line will help. Cutting any vegetation on another’s property requires permission. Check with the adjoining landowner before proceeding.
5. Corner posts should be of some permanent material, with the adjoining trees (witnesses) marked for easy locating. With the exception of cedar, wood makes a poor corner post as in a few years it will rot and fall to the ground. Iron pipe is long lasting, easily transported and inexpensive, and is easily driven into the ground. Where available, pile small stones around corner posts. Paint the stones and the corner post.
6. High quality paint, properly applied, should last up to ten years in the woods; ax blazes should last longer. Lines should be checked and maintained annually or periodically. Lines and corners should be shown to family members so they can locate them in the future.
If you feel that someone has cut timber on your property, or trespassed for other reasons, contact the Maine Forest Service, or the forest service in your state. They will investigate your complaint and mitigate your damages through an agreement or they will take the case to court. Maine has very strong laws that help protect your interests and the Maine Forest Service does not charge for this type of services. If you need someone to assess how much timber was removed, contact a consulting forester. This person can measure the stumps and give expert testimony if the case has to go to court. A judge will order the trespasser to pay those fees in the settlement. A judge may also order the defendant to pay all legal fees including a survey for your property.
Timber Harvesting and Boundaries (The Law -State of Maine Fact Sheet)
Maine law protects abutting landowners from timber trespass and damages that occur during timber harvesting operations. If you are considering harvesting timber, you should know and observe the laws governing timber harvesting near property lines, timber trespass, and slash disposal.
1. Anyone who authorizes timber harvesting, or in fact harvests timber shall clearly mark with flagging or other temporary and visible means any established property lines within 200 feet of an area to be harvested. The marking of property lines must be completed prior to commencing timber harvesting. Parcels less than 5 acres are exempt. (17 MRSA § 2511 sub-§ 3.D). Failure to clearly mark property lines may also make the person who authorized the cutting liable for double damages to an abutter if a timber trespass occurs (14 MRSA § 7552-A).
2. Slash left from any cutting operations of forest growth must be disposed of according to the following regulations: (12 MRSA § 9331-9336).
A. Along highways, slash must not be left in the right-of-way or within 50 feet of the nearer side of the right-of-way of a public highway.
B. Along railroads and utility lines (pipeline, electric, telephone, telegraph, or cable) slash must be removed from in the right-of-way or within 25 feet of the nearer side of the right-of-way.
C. Slash that might constitute a fire hazard shall not be allowed to remain on the ground within 25 feet of the property line of land belonging to another.
In summary, the best thing to do is do your homework before you buy land, install boundaries, or harvest timber. Before you buy land, consult with a local attorney who is knowledgeable about deeds and purchasing land in your area. If you buy a woodlot, make sure to file the deed with the Registry of Deeds. Know where your boundaries are located and hire a surveyor if necessary. You can also ask the seller of the land to have the boundaries surveyed before you purchase the land. Find out who your neighbors are and go and meet with them. You can find out this information at the Registry of Deeds or at the town office using the tax records. Form an agreement with your neighbor about boundary line locations and come to an agreement about any planned timber harvesting. Leaving a buffer along the line is a good idea and can help prevent problems. It will also help protect the line from blowing over or getting damaged. Check all of the current laws before you harvest timber. If you are not knowledgeable about the laws, and contractors, hire a consultant forester to handle the timber harvest for you. The consultant forester is on your side and will look out for your best interests.
MFS Fact Sheet # 4 has information about boundary lines.