With clarified language, a draft bill that would give Wyoming game wardens more authority to write trespassing tickets has wide support, according to testimony this week before the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee.
The clarified language stipulates that “traveling through” private property in relevant cases means actual ground contact. That clears up previous misgivings that the draft bill might be too vague or that it could become convoluted with a pending “corner-crossing” case.
The bill could provide another way to distinguish between honest hunters and “people I would consider to be poachers,” Luke Weddle of Laramie told the committee Tuesday. He was representing the Wyoming chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
The committee voted to forward the draft bill, which means it will go before the full Legislature during its 2023 session.
Clearing Up Jurisdictional Red Tape
Under Wyoming trespass laws, hunting trespass and criminal trespass are treated as separate offences.
So, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wardens can cite people for trespass only if they’re actively hunting, fishing, trapping or collecting shed antlers on private property without permission.
Merely being on or crossing through private property for other reasons falls under criminal trespass law, and those cases can be cited only by sheriff’s deputies.
That has meant that in many instances, a game warden who caught somebody on private property, but not actively hunting at the time, would have to call the nearest county sheriff’s office. Then the warden, suspect and landowner would have to wait, sometimes for hours, for a deputy to arrive, investigate and possibly issue a citation.
The new draft bill would allow game wardens to cite people illegally passing through private property to get to public land with the intent of hunting, fishing, trapping or shed collecting. People also could also be cited for trespassing by game wardens if they were returning from those activities, but illegally passed through private property along the way.
It would hinge upon proof that the suspect had the intent of being on or passing through the private property to engage in those activities. That shouldn’t be difficult in most cases, Game and Fish chief game warden Rick King told the committee.
‘Traveling Through’ Means Actual Ground Contact
The Judiciary Committee during a meeting in September tabled the bill draft to give more time clarify some of its language, as well as to give hunters, law enforcement officials and others an opportunity to offer opinions.
During testimony before the committee Tuesday, the draft bill got approval from representatives of those groups.
A key component was making it clear in the text of the draft that “traveling through” means actual physical contact with private property where hunters, anglers, trappers or shed hunters don’t have permission from landowners to go.
“Traveling through requires physically touching or driving on the surface of the private property,” the draft bill’s text says.
Wary Of ‘Legal Jiujitsu’
Rob Shaul, a hunter from Hoback, said the bill should serve everyone’s need so long as there isn’t any “legal jiujitsu” in the future that might entangle it with the “corner crossing” controversy.
He was referring to a case stemming from criminal trespassing charges filed against Missouri hunters Bradly Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemens and John Slowensky.
They were accused of trespassing on Iron Bar Ranch land near Elk Mountain while attempting to cross from one corner of public land onto another section of public land in September 2021.
A Carbon County jury later found them innocent of the charges.
Iron Bar Holdings,LLC and its owner, Fred Eshelman of North Carolina, subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against the hunters, claiming they had violated the ranch’s air space when they used a ladder-like device to cross a fence from one piece of public land to another at a checker-boarded property line.
The trial for that lawsuit is scheduled to start June 26, 2023, in Casper.