(Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Fake ‘No Trespassing’ Sign Bill One Step Closer To Law After Committee Approval

in News/Legislature/public land

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Posting false “no trespassing” signs should amount to hunter harassment, according to a bill that came one step closer to becoming Wyoming law Thursday. 

House Bill 147 got unanimous approval from the Senate Travel, Recreation Wildlife And Cultural Resources Committee to move forward to the full Senate, having already passed the House.  

Trust GPS?

The bill was prompted by a problem Wyoming hunters say they’re increasingly facing – “no trespassing” falsely posted on public land, said its main sponsor, Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie. 

“You’re following your onX hunt map, so you know where you can be and should be, and all of the sudden you run into a ‘no trespassing’ sign,” she told the committee. Most hunters “will not pass that sign because they’re trying to be conservative and not break the law.”

She was referring to onX, a GPS mobile app that is popular among outdoors enthusiast and is supposed to show where public land and private property are relative to users’ locations.

However, GPS isn’t always completely accurate, Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo – who owns a ranch – told the committee. 

He said he was once got a call from the Bureau of Land Management that one of his “no trespassing” signs was in the wrong place. 

But when a BLM agent met him on his property and they double-checked the GPS coordinates, it turned out that the agency’s GPS records of the area hadn’t been updated, Crago said. 

Provenza and others supporting the bill said it would leave room for GPS glitches or honest mistakes on the part of landowners. Instead, it would target people who deliberately try to lay false claim to public land, even after being warned by authorities. 

And it’s not only bad landowners to blame, said committee member Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer. 

“It’s not always landowners who do this,” he said. “Sometimes it’s other hunters” who are trying to claim to a prime public land hunting area all to themselves.

Same As Hunter Harassment

Hunting and fishing are rights under the Wyoming Constitution, Provenza said. So HB 147 would put falsely marking land against trespassing under the same general violation of those rights as exiting statutes forbidding hunter harassment.

Like hunter harassment, false posting amounts to unlawfully hindering or stopping the lawful taking of wildlife by hunters and anglers, and would be subject to the same punishment, she said. That includes a fine of up to $10,000 for the first offence and up to $50,000 for each subsequent offence. 

Who Is A Peace Officer?

The bill would require investigation by or ignoring a warning from a “peace officer.” 

That led to a discussion over who qualifies as a “peace officer” under Wyoming statute and what the implications could be for federal lands, such as those overseen by the BLM or U.S. Forest Service. 

The BLM and Forest Service have law enforcement officers, but they have jurisdiction only over their respective federal lands, dealing with violations of federal law, said Wyoming Game and Fish department Chief Game Warden Rick King. Violations of state statutes related to hunting and fishing would have to be investigated by Game and Fish. 

Byron Oedekoven, executive director for the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, agreed that things could get murky on federal lands\ because federal officers can’t enforce state laws. So, a “peace officer” in relation to HB 147 would mostly likely mean either a Game and Fish warden or county sheriff’s deputy. 

Game Wardens More Responsive 

Outdoorsman Levi Jensen of Gillette said he’s “run into a couple of signage problems” while hunting. 

“Clearly, those signs were put there to restrict access” to land that should have been open to the public, he said. 

He said he called the BLM regarding one of the signs, but the agency has only one law enforcement officer for the entire region, so he doesn’t know if there ever was a response. 

Game and Fish wardens could probably better serve the public to enforce the “no trespassing” sign law, he said. 

“Game and Fish, they’re out there patrolling during the hunting season, so they could be out there in a matter of hours,” he said. 

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