Judiciary committee approves trespass tickets
Cheyenne – The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee met Nov. 10 to continue its interim work, hear testimony and consider multiple draft bills.
A draft bill prohibiting travel across private land for hunting purposes was discussed by attendees and passed by committee members, forwarding the bill before the legislature during its 2023 session.
Bill outline and WGFD perspective
Under Wyoming law, hunting trespass and criminal trespass are treated as separate offenses. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) can currently cite individuals who are actively hunting, fishing, trapping or collecting sheds on private property without permission.
Crossing or being on private property is a criminal trespass offense and can currently only be cited by law enforcement.
The draft bill would allow WGFD wardens the ability to cite individuals illegally passing through private property to get to public land with the intent to hunt or fish, etc., and to return back through public property.
“The genesis of this bill is really from frustration of landowners with trespassing scenarios occurring on their property which could be handled by WGFD wardens when they are out performing their conservation law enforcement efforts. Some of those trespass activities result in obvious foot, horse or ATV tracks on deeded-private property as a result of hunting, fishing or trapping activity,” shared WGFD Chief Game Warden Rick King. “The intent of this legislation is to clarify what activity should be included in WGFD trespassing offenses and give WGFD wardens the ability to resolve issues when they are out working.”
“While I don’t feel this current draft bill language is perfect, I do think it’s a good step towards resolving the issue and frustration occurring at multiple levels, whether in the court room, with officers in the field, county attorney or landowner,” he added.
General trespass issues and public comments
For many ranchers across the state, private property rights are what sets the U.S. apart from other countries, and many don’t want unauthorized people traveling through their land.
“The bill more explicitly states the current expectation as a rancher – I want to know who is on my property and I want to grant those people permission or deny them in each and every instance,” explained Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP) Executive Director Bryon Oedekoven. “This bill helps with the standpoint hunters have to have permission to travel through private property and, as we discuss amendments, to include to return from.”
“From the WASCOP perspective, having clarity in the bill is important,” he shared.
Crook County Attorney Joseph Baron offered his viewpoint on the bill.
“I’m generally in favor of this bill,” he stated. “I think it actually takes care of an issue existing out in the field where the game wardens end up having to call the sheriff to help them out.”
He noted, in most cases, these trespassing scenarios don’t happen in the presence of the game warden, but the landowner. The game warden is typically called to investigate.
Representing the hunting nonprofit Mountain Pursuit, Hoback hunter Rob Schaul shared his thoughts on the bill in terms of corner crossing cases.
“This issue does need to be addressed in order to protect landowners,” he said. “Our concern with this bill is it may be used to prohibit or fight corner crossing or flow fishing in the future. We ask this to be specifically addressed in the bill – to make it clear the intent of this act is not to address corner crossing or flow fishing in any way.”
During the meeting, committee members clarified the bill’s language so it wouldn’t become entangled with cases surrounding corner crossings. A key component of the bill was making the text of the draft concise in defining “traveling through” as “physically touching or driving on the surface of the private property.” This also includes language about traveling back through private property.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.