BUFFALO — A bill proposed by Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, that would give game wardens greater authority to cite hunters for trespassing is one step closer to law. The Joint Judiciary Committee approved the bill at its Nov. 10 meeting, paving the way for it to be considered during the Wyoming Legislature’s general session.
The bill is designed to clarify when Game and Fish wardens are allowed to cite someone for trespassing.
In Johnson County, game wardens can cite someone for trespassing only if they are actively hunting on private land. If wardens come across someone trespassing — but not hunting — they don’t have the authority to write a ticket, even if it’s clear that they are on their way to hunt. Instead, they have to call local law enforcement.
“If someone’s two hours from town, and Game and Fish finds somebody trespassing, they can’t necessarily write the ticket,” Crago said when he introduced the topic in May. “They call the local sheriff’s office, who isn’t super excited about driving two hours one way to the nether regions of Johnson County to write a ticket—a small misdemeanor trespass ticket—and usually it just doesn’t happen, because they don’t have the manpower or they don’t have the resources to do that.”
People are also reading…
The statute is inconsistently enforced across the state, Crago told the committee, with some counties citing hunters who are on their way to hunt and others not citing those hunters.
He wants to fix that.
Crago proposed the bill during the 2022 legislative session, but it was quickly bogged down by concerns that it would affect ongoing corner-crossing disputes.
Corner crossing — the practice of crossing over private land while traveling from one piece of public land to another — is a hot-button topic being litigated in the courts.
This year, Crago reintroduced the bill with adjusted language that left no doubt it did not address corner crossing.
The legislation adds to existing statute, specifying that hunters may not “travel through” private land for the purposes of hunting, fishing, trapping or collecting antlers or horns. To head off corner-crossing concerns, the bill defines “travel through” as “physically touching or driving on the surface of the private property.”
Crago’s proposal received broad support from the judiciary committee, though some questioned how Game and Fish wardens would be able to determine if someone was trespassing with the intent to hunt.
That, Crago said, would be left up to wardens’ discretion in most cases, and it would ultimately be up to prosecutors to prove that someone was trespassing with the intent to hunt.
Wyoming Game and Fish, representatives from law enforcement, and a handful of Wyoming hunters all expressed support for the bill at the November meeting.
Sabrina King, representing Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said the organization supported the legislation after amendments removed any possibility that corner crossing would be addressed by the bill.
“I think with the addition of that definition of traveling through it provides both for the hunter and for the landowner clarity in what it means to engage in hunting trespass so that there aren’t those gotcha moments,” she said. “Frankly, we actually see this as potentially decreasing the number of gotcha moments that hunters may have while they’re in the field.”