Governor Quinn Signs Law to Increase Public Access on Privately-held Conservation Lands

At a press conference on Friday, 23 August 2013, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed SB1042 into law as Public Act 98-0522 (also see this pdf).  As the Illinois Environmental Council reported that day:

This new law will give private landowners that open their land to the public for recreation, conservation, and education liability protections.  The Governor was joined by representatives from Openlands, The Nature Conservancy, the Illinois Environmental Council, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and many other land and conservation organizations.  We commend the Governor, the staff in the Governor’s office, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for their support and hard work to enact this important law.

The SB1042 signing ceremony was held at McCormick Place Bird Sanctuary along Chicago’s lakefront
(photo: IL Env Council)

Lenore- Beyer Clow, policy director at Openlands and IEC board president summarized the imprtance of this bill, “Openlands worked with its partners for 7 years to reinstate protections for generous private landowners who open their land to the public for recreation. We are excited that this law will offer new opportunities for people to connect to nature and enjoy Illinois beautiful open spaces.”

Liability protections are a critical incentive for private landowners to allow the public on to their property.  Private landowners can include non-profit organizations, land trusts, residential landowners, and even businesses.  Without these protections, a landowner could potentially be threatened with a lawsuit. For many non-profits and individuals, the cost of a lawsuit could be financially devastating.  We want to encourage people to pursue outdoor activities of all sorts safely.  

The consequences of the removal of this incentive in 2005 were real.  Groups like the Illinois Paddling Council found that access to several Illinois waterways was cut off by landowners afraid of opening lands to the public.  Land conservancies stopped or decided not to open natural areas to the public.  Non-profit organizations bought expensive insurance to continue to offer natural experiences to the public. Governmental properties such as the state parks or park districts were also impacted.  Often trails are connected by land that goes through private property or neighboring lands utilized by parks.  

“The Nature Conservancy has always provided the public access to our property and we are pleased that this new law will encourage more land owners to do so by limiting liability. We want the public to come to our sites and enjoy nature,” said Susan Donovan, TNC Director of Government Relations.

A bill to restore these protections has been introduced ever year since 2006.  And every year, negotiations stalled. . . . This bill passed the legislature almost completely during the last week of session.  Senate sponsor Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) worked hard to negotiate an agreed to bill that fully restored these protections and House sponsor Representative Ann Williams (D-Chicago) fought to get deadlines waived and leadership to pay attention so that this bill could be passed this year.

The bill that has passed is an important incentive to private landowners to open land to the public for recreation, conservation, and education.  This incentive comes at no cost to taxpayers and with tremendous benefit for our state.  We are hopeful that this law will inspire new organizations, businesses, and landowners to open up natural areas to the public to enjoy.

About these ads
This entry was posted in conservation, Illinois, news, parks and public land, policy. Bookmark the permalink.