Lesson Five - Legal Issues

This lesson looks briefly at the issues of access, safety and liability for small woodlot owners. More complete details are available by reading the various acts mentioned below.


What are your rights as a woodlot owner to limit access to your land? Generally, the landowner has a right to control any use made of his or her land, including prohibiting entry on the land. Enforcing that right involves either the application of the Protection of Property Act or a private legal action.

Under the Protection of property Act, it an offense to enter certain lands such as a lawn, garden, orchard, vineyard, golf course, agricultural area, tree plantation or Christmas tree management area without permission.

Landowners may also post signs prohibiting entry or certain activities on lands without permission. If a member of the public violates this Act, you may ask for assistance from the local police in enforcing the Act.

The Act does not apply to forested or noncommercial areas where recreational activities are taking place. As a landowner, you still have the right to control activities on your forested or non-commercial areas but you must enforce that right in a civil court.

Recent changes to the Wildlife Act will also allow landowners to post their forested or noncommercial lands to control trapping on their lands. You can obtain the assistance of conservation officers of the Department of Natural Resources in enforcing these provisions on your lands.


Woodlot owners can be held responsible accidents in some cases. You can reduce the possibility of accidents by following certain guidelines. "An ounce prevention is worth pound of cure." So before examining liability let's first look at improving safety.

Some safety guidelines have already been discussed in previous lessons. They include:

You may have a sense of some of the potential recreational safety hazards on your woodlot. If not, contact outdoor organizations for advice.


Liability means the responsibility you have as a landowner for loss or injury to users of your property. Under the law, the occupier has different liabilities toward different users as outlined below. The occupier is not necessarily only the landowner but can include whoever is responsible for the condition of the woodlot.

Table 2: Occupiers responsibilities to visitors

Visitor Occupier's responsibility
On the property without permission
Must not act to intentionally cause harm to visitor or act with reckless disregard for the safety of the visitor.
On the property with permission but no benefit to occupier
Must take reasonable measures to protect visitor from hidden or unusual dangers that occupier knows of.
On the property with permission and of benefit to land owner
Same as above plus dangers occupier ought to know of.

Example One:
A group has asked to hike on your land. You know of a large hole in the trail that may be unstable around the edges. Before the group comes, you set up a barricade around this hole that still allows passage along the trail. You discuss the problem with the group when they arrive. In this way, you have fulfilled your responsibility toward licensees.

If a licensee or invitee is breaking the law, such as deer jacking, then your liability is reduced to that given a trespasser.

These obligations will change when a trespasser or licensee is on your land while on a motorized vehicle. Under the Occupiers of Land Liability Act, the occupier must not create a danger with the deliberate intent of doing harm or damage to the trespasser or licensee.

You may be held liable if you fail in your responsibility as an occupier. Asking users to sign a voluntary assumption of risk or to absolve you of any responsibility may limit your liability to some extent although these do not always stand up in court.

Another option is to have a trail on your property designated under the Trail Act. The trail is then managed by government or municipal groups and users assume all risk. Additional details on this Act are provided in Notes from the Trail Development Workshop manual.