Wyoming game wardens will have to continue to call sheriff’s deputies to issue certain trespassing tickets, but the days might be numbered for people trying to falsely post “no trespassing” signs on public land.
One hunting-related trespass bill, Senate File 56, has died in the Wyoming House Judiciary Committee while Wyoming lawmakers advanced House Bill 147, which prohibits knowingly posting “no trespassing” signs on public lands in an effort to keep hunters out.
And in the case of posting a bogus “no trespassing” sign, those who do so in the future could face huge fines: starting at $750 for individuals; and $10,000 for and organization the first time caught and up to $50,000 for repeat offenses.
Wardens’ Authority Won’t Expand
At least for the foreseeable future, game wardens will have to continue calling sheriff’s deputies in for many trespassing cases.
That’s because the House Judiciary committee killed SF 56 on a 5-4 vote after hearing testimony both for and against the measure this week.
The bill would have given wardens the authority to ticket people who trespass on private land either going to or returning from adjacent public land to hunt, fish, trap or collect shed antlers.
Criminal Vs. Hunting Trespass
Hunting trespass falls under Chapter 23 of Wyoming statutes. Game wardens may ticket people who are actively hunting without permission on private land. Moreover, hunters are responsible for knowing where they are, so landowners aren’t required to post their property with “no hunting” signs.
A person must knowingly pass a “no trespassing” sign and refuse to heed a landowner’s warning to leave to be guilty of a criminal offense, which only sheriff’s deputies can ticket.
That means people merely traveling through private land going to or coming from hunting on public land represented a gray area, proponents of SF 56 argued.
In most cases, landowners and wardens have to call and wait for a sheriff’s deputy to arrive to ticket it as a case of criminal trespass. SF 56 would have allowed game wardens to issue tickets in those cases for hunting trespass rather than waiting for a deputy.
The bill had broad support up until a Monday committee meeting, receiving positive testimony from lobbyists representing agricultural and hunting groups.
However, some hunters expressed doubts that the bill wouldn’t give wardens and landowners too much authority.
Outdoorsman Walt Tanner said the bill would have “singled out” hunters and anglers.
“While exclusion is a part of the bundle of sticks that we consider to be private property, that doesn’t mean that it should be abused,” he said. “There are plenty of landlocked parcels that we have in the state of Wyoming that sportsmen and women want to be able to access.”
However, the bill was about streamlining the ability of game wardens to issue tickets themselves, not limiting access for hunters in general, said committee member Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton.
“This isn’t corner crossing. This isn’t all of these other things,” she said.
Oakley voted in favor of the bill, as did committee chairman Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, and Rep. Tony Niemiec, R-Green River.
Committee co-chairwoman Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, voted against it, as did Reps. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie; Ken Chestek, D-Laramie,; Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland; and Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan.
No More Fake ‘No Trespassing’ Signs
Meanwhile, HB 147 passed the Senate early Tuesday after having passed the House by a vote of 61-1 on Feb. 2.
The bill was prompted by concerns from hunters over tracts of public land being falsely posted with “no trespassing” signs in apparent attempts to keep them out.
Some who testified said the false signs were not only the work of bad landowners, but also sometimes other hunters trying to lay exclusive claim to particularly good hunting spots.
The bill would make doing so tantamount to hunter harassment, which is illegal in Wyoming.
The penalties for falsely posting public land and/or hunter harassment can vary widely. Fines would be $750 for individuals who violate the statute. For organizations that deliberately try to hinder hunters, fines can be up to $10,000 for the first offence, and $50,000 for each subsequent offense.
The bill includes exemptions for landowners who unwittingly post public land because of errors in old land surveys or GPS mapping software. False posting would have to be proven to have been deliberate.