Western Watersheds Project

Snake River in the Snake River Canyon of Wyoming near Alpine
Joe Tordiff

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is allowing a reclassification of nearly 80 percent of Wyoming’s waterways as secondary contact recreation. That means those streams are no longer recommended sites for swimming, tubing, fishing, or recreation in general — unlike the primary contact recreation status.

The DEQ’s Lindsey Paterson said these waters don’t make sense for recreation anyway. They’re shallow with little flow and are in remote areas. The change also means those waterways are allowed to hold five times the level of e. coli, an indicator for pathogens. 

Melodie Edwards

Several advocacy groups were vindicated this week when a federal appeals court ruled Wyoming’s data trespass laws unconstitutional. Now, a lower court will reconsider the statutes, which forbid people from trespassing in order to take pictures or data samples from public lands. The laws also restrict agencies from using data they receive from people who got it by crossing private lands.

THEO STEIN / USFWS

According to a federal appeals court, Wyoming’s data-trespass laws are unconstitutional. The two laws made it illegal for people to cross private land in order to collect data or take photos on public land. 

Flickr

A federal judge ruled this week that a case can move forward against the State of Wyoming over two new laws that make collection of data across private property to access public lands illegal. Several environmental and media groups had sued over the laws. Western Watersheds executive director Travis Brunen says the judge didn’t buy the state’s argument that the laws just reinforce existing trespass rules.

Western Watersheds Project Wyoming Director Jon Ratner has made quite a stir over the last few years, monitoring stream quality in areas where cattle graze, sometimes crossing private property to do so.

“What our work over the last decade has found is that virtually everywhere that livestock grazing is found, you will have violations of state water quality standards.”

He says, when he gave his data to the DEQ, he got push back. In fact, in the last legislative session, two new statutes shut down his data collection by prohibiting trespassing.

Wikimedia Commons

The Wyoming Farm Bureau is looking to the January legislative session as an entry-point to address issues surrounding trespassing, liability, and transportation.

Elk
Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the state filed a motion to intervene in support of the Wyoming Game and Fish in a lawsuit over five elk feeding grounds in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Attorney Andrea Santarsiere with Western Watersheds Project, the plaintiff in the case, says concentrated numbers of elk at feeding grounds cause severe damage to land and water quality.  

But feeding grounds have long been used to keep elk and cattle from mingling, thereby stopping the spread of diseases that the two species are capable of exchanging. But Santarsiere says there’s an easier way—fences.