Josh Grant recalled a recent elk hunt with his son in the central part of Wyoming.
Despite being in an area they knew was public land, they came across a post with a “no trespassing” sign on it in the middle of a two-track access road.
They decided to ignore the sign and hunt there anyway.
“We knew we were on public land because of Onyx and GPS,” Grant told the Wyoming House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, just as they were closing to within “ethical shooting distance” some elk they’d found, an adjoining landowner came speeding over to them on an ATV, Grant said.
The landowner chased the elk onto his property so the hunters couldn’t get to them, then came after the hunters.
“He was violently screaming at us, just trying to be absurd about the whole situation,” Grant told the committee.
Grant was testifying in favor of House Bill 147, which would crack down on people who falsely mark public lands with “no trespassing” signs or harass hunters using that land.
Hunter harassment is punishable by fines of up to $10,00 for the first offense, and up to $50,000 for subsequent offenses.
Other hunters recounted similar stories of being harassed or even threatened by people trying to lay false claims to public lands.
Buzz Hettick of Laramie said that a few years ago an adjacent landowner tried to push the matter regarding a parcel of public land where Hettick was hunting near the Natrona/Converse county line.
Hettick, co-chair of the Wyoming chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said the landowner backed down when the sheriff got involved.
The sheriff told the landowner that he could either pay to have a road he claimed had shifted onto his property re-surveyed or remove a fence post with a “no trespassing” sign he’d placed in the middle of the two-track.
“He removed the post,” Hettick said.
‘Giving Good Landowners A Bad Name’
Most people in Wyoming, landowners and hunters alike, respect both private property and the right of hunters to access public lands, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie.
“A few people who are trying to intentionally claim that public land is their private land are giving good landowners a bad name,” she said.
Hunting is a right under the Wyoming Constitution, and any attempt to keep people from lawfully taking wildlife on public land should be treated as hunter harassment, she said.
There could be some concern over landowners being penalized in areas where property lines are unclear, said committee member Rep. Donald Burkhart Jr., R-Rawlins.
Particularly in the eastern Wyoming, which was settled first, some homesteaders might have “taken some extra 100 yards or so,” and some of those fence lines remain to this day.
So, Burkhart said he wouldn’t want to see a situation where a landowner might have to move an entire fence line.
“The last time I built fence, it cost about $10,000 per mile,” he said.
Provenza said the bill would target only blatantly egregious instances of people trying to falsely post public land, or chase hunters off it.
The committee took no action on the matter and will take the bill up again Thursday.