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Lawmakers reject proposal for game wardens ability to write trespassing tickets pre and post hunting 

A hunter in orange walks across a snowy landscape at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming.
Lori Iverson
A hunter in orange walks across a snowy landscape at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming.

There will continue to be limitations on when a game warden can issue a trespassing ticket to hunters in Wyoming, as a house committee voted down a bill that would have changed the law.

Currently, game wardens are somewhat limited in issuing trespassing tickets. If they catch someone in the act of hunting on private property they can issue a ticket, but they cannot write a ticket if they catch someone trespassing prior or post hunting. That is because the person is only trespassing, so it is not in the warden’s jurisdiction.

Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) said in this instance a warden would have to call in a deputy.

“Oftentimes, from two or three hours away one way, right? I mean, these are things that happened in the backcountry and the game wardens are the only ones even remotely close,” Crago said.

He introduced Senate File 56, which was a bill crafted during the interim, that would have allowed wardens to issue the ticket instead. Although the bill passed the Senate, the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee voted it down.

The majority of the public spoke in favor of the bill over the hour of testimony. Six statewide interest groups also testified to support the bill, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Rick King, the WGFD chief game warden, gave some examples of where someone might be on private property pre or post hunt and a warden could intervene if the bill had passed.

“A person utilizing OnX (a GPS app that shows private and public property) or their GPS unit legally stays on public land, harvests an animal – everything's legal up to that point,” King said. “But they decide that rather than taking that long route back to their vehicle and stay on public land, they decide to take a shortcut back across private land to shorten the effort.”

But those against the bill feared it could punish hunters who genuinely do not know they are crossing private land. Wyoming hunter John Bird, who is a former president of the Wyoming Sportsman Association, testified against the bill, saying that hunting predates property lines.

“I'd like to say first of all that hunting and trapping has been traditionally in Wyoming long before it was a state or territory, and long before ranchers and outfitters existed,” Bird said.

Nevertheless, Bird said he was not advocating for hunters to cross onto private property, but that mistakes happen. He said if necessary a deputy can ticket a person, but that ultimately people should not be immediately punished for a genuine mistake.

“It's awful hard to keep an eye on that GPS. But when people keep it in their pocket and if they're driving then they really have a hard time,” Bird said. “It's very easy to run into and make a small incursion onto private property.”

Bird added that much of private land in Wyoming is not posted with private property signage, and when it is checkerboarded with public land, it can be hard to know what is what.

“This is making the Game and Fish a de facto security guard for private landowners that neither want to post their lands nor want to deal with it,” he said.

Supporters pushed back saying that it is up to hunters to stay off private property, and the intent of the bill is to give wardens authority to enforce trespassing laws.

The bill narrowly failed in committee with a 5-4 vote.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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