Recreational activities such as hunting, four-wheeling, and even timber harvesting are common throughout the fall season. Though these recreational activities may seem harmless, they can lead to property or vegetation damage which farmers and land owners have to contend to. From tearing up hayfields, loss of corn and bean corps, tree damage, and unregulated timber removal are just a few examples.
Ohio enacted a law known as Code (ORC) Section 901.51 or the “reckless destruction of vegetation law” in 1953 in response to these incidences. In 1974, Ohio legislation revisited this law to enforce stronger penalty provisions in an effort to reform Ohio’s criminal laws. The law states: “No person, without privilege to do so, shall recklessly cut down, destroy, girdle, or otherwise injure a vine, bush, shrub, sapling, tree or crop standing and growing on the land of another or upon public land.”
Behaving “recklessly” is a person that disregards the risk of his or her actions that result to harm or injury. For instance, if someone is driving fast on their four-wheeler through a hayfield without being careful and harms a crop is considered reckless behavior. Or a timber harvester takes trees on the other side of the property line without permission or permits is also reckless.
Violating the destruction of vegetation law is a fourth-degree criminal misdemeanor which results to a $250 fine and 30 days in jail. Another advantage of the law includes the “treble damages” provision which allows landowners to collect three times the value of damaged property. In other words, if $500 worth of hay was damaged by a four-wheeler, then the landowners would receive $1500 for the loss.
The reckless destruction of vegetation law also doesn’t depend on law enforcement to bring a criminal charge against an offender. Instead, the party claiming criminal charges and has proper evidence can go to the Ohio Courts to take care of the matter.
While the law is meant to assist landowners in vegetation loses, it’s also an important reminder for recreationists to be respectful. If you are not sure if a specific area allows recreational activities, get permission to be on the property and avoid areas that have “No Trespassing” signs. And of course, avoid damaging land and vegetation. It’s better to be aware of how and where you can enjoy your outdoor adventures without getting a criminal charge.