Letter Re: Property Owning “Refugees” on Adjoining Property

Mr. Rawles,
Thank you for putting so much effort into your blog and your writings. I bought your novel “Patriots” a few years back, dog eared it, and passed it around. To my wife’s consternation (and my to the consternation of my brothers’ wives), you’ve started to make a difference in how we look at life. Your blog is a daily “must read.”
Since I live 200 miles from my brothers in Iowa (my most likely doubling-up partners) I have to consider a retreat farther north in Wisconsin. There are large tracts of federal, state, and county forest, plus the rivers up that way are spawning grounds for the salmon in the Great Lakes. One concern I have is that many of the hunting lots and vacation homes up that way are owned by Illinoisans (Ill and Annoyings) or from southeast Wisconsin (the Milwaukee area). When the balloon goes up, I would expect refugees with cars and trucks loaded to the gunwales, headed to their property to hunker down. It’s not a case of refugees wandering aimlessly; it’s people returning to their own property, however ill-prepared. (“Hurry up and pack…yes, dear, I know there’s no cable up there…At least we can shoot some deer and eat. Where’s my flashlight? Showers? I suppose that somebody will have a working well.”)
I guess my message to the community of “retreaters” is to make sure you know who owns that 40 up the road that was just sold “to the doctor from Illinois.” Use the county [Recorder’s Office] records to track down the owner and send a welcome note. It is better to understand his philosophy and belief system now, than when he shows up with a SUV load of kids, a big-screen television, and his wine collection. Godspeed, and Merry Christmas! – B.H.

JWR Replies: You are correct that most owners of vacation property have the idea kicking around in a dusty corner of their mind that they could use that property as a retreat in the event of an emergency. If we enter an era of deep drama, the legal status of “squatters” versus deeded landholders will be worlds apart: Squatters could and probably will be forced from public or private holdings by your local sheriff’s department or by the BLM or US Forest Service. But for those that occupy land that they legally own–regardless of how poorly provisioned they are–there would be no recourse for the sheriff’s deputies unless or until the newcomers actually started committing thefts or robberies. This is one of the reasons that I place strong emphasis on A.) Storing extra to dispense in charity, and B.) Getting to know all of your neighbors. The latter includes making the effort to introduce yourself to absentee owners that are only there seasonally. (Or, “deer seasonally”–as is the case of one of ours that that has an undeveloped parcel just three miles away. (That is considered practically “next door” by local standards. ) Please make it clear to those folks where you stand. Tell them forthrightly that it takes more than just venison to survive and mention there are just a few folks that are prepared to dispense charity. I suggest that you be intentionally vague about the depth of your own larder. You should strongly and in no uncertain terms encourage them to pre-position food, heating/cooking fuel, foul weather clothing, gardening tools, fencing materials, and so forth if they are considering “bugging out” to their seasonal cabin in the event of a disaster. Yes, I know that this won’t register with some dimwits, but at least you will have a clear conscience, knowing that you warned them. If they don’t have a clue about disaster preparedness, then at least warn them that side roads can become impassable with snow for “many weeks” in a hard winter and that long term power outages are not uncommon in the area. Don’t overlook telling them how many cords of firewood it takes to heat a home for a winter in the area, given your climate. Be sure to say: “Even if there is just the outside chance that you might have to come out here in an emergency, then you must be properly provisioned with an honest one year food and fuel supply.”

In some vacation/resort locales there are people that have nothing more than a RV hookup at their property and a “building site” that they never do anything with. For folks like those—with no on-site storage space–you might even offer to let them leave a 20-foot or 30-foot CONEX on your land for you to “keep an eye on” for them, if they give you their assurance that it will be well-stocked so that they won’t become a burden. Also, think in terms of standardizing logistics. (“Oh, by the way, we nearly all shoot .308 Winchester around here, so it would be in your best interest if you own a rifle in that caliber.”) Also, make provision to coordinate security with them. For example by purchasing a spare military surplus field telephones and a couple of “doughnuts” of WD-1 commo wire.) Don’t underestimate the impact of of “landed refugees.” The good news is that if they can afford to own a vacation cabin, then they can probably also afford to stock it properly. But the bad news is that if they don’t stock their cabins then they will become charity cases at best, or potentially even confrontational armed looters in a “worst case.”