Judge strikes down a part of the rule
for Tri-State Livestock News
A federal judged ruled recently to strike down a portion of Wyoming’s Data Trespass Law. To those who authored the law, as well as advocates for private property rights, the move was seen as an infringement on possession and control of land bought and paid for by its owner. In the 2015 legislative session the Wyoming Legislature passed Senate File 12 declaring trespassing to collect data a crime as well as Senate File 80 making the action a civil violation. The law itself prohibits individuals from entering “open land for the purpose of collecting resource data” without the landowner’s permission.
Water and natural resource attorney, and past candidate for Wyoming Governor, stated about the original intentions of the bill, “There is no question that we live in a time of federal overreach and overregulation. We have heard horror stories of the EPA destroying landowners for building stock ponds, straightening irrigation ditches, and similar type of activities, all under the auspices of (and misinterpretation of) the ‘Clean Water Act.’ I believe that the Wyoming Legislature was simply trying to find a way to protect our private property owners,” said Harriet Hageman.
Senator Ogden Driskill, a co-sponsor of the bill, broke the law down into 3 parts.
Under the law, an individual was to be prosecuted:
1. If they are caught trespassing on private land and have collection equipment
2. If they are caught trespassing on private land and have in their possession samples etc. collected on the private ground
3. If they have crossed (trespassed) private land to access public lands to collect samples
The late October ruling struck the third portion of the law and now states that the person must actually be caught in the act of trespassing to have the law apply, as opposed to having proof that the person trespassed but not having caught them in the process. Although he was not happy with the ruling, Driskill said it could have been much worse.
For ranchers such laws are insurance against radical environmentalists with nefarious intentions who may sneak onto an operation and create a case against an innocent civilian. Championing private property rights was a goal at the forefront of the legislation. Senator Driskill went on to say that not only were these laws in place to prevent independent environmentalists but government agencies as well who had been taking part in trespassing in order to build their databases.
Since its inception the law has obviously been opposed by those on the other side of the aisle calling them “ag-gag laws” and claiming it squelches one’s right to free speech.
As early as 2015, the same year in which the date trespass bills became law suits had been filed to strike down the laws.
In her opinion, Hageman explained that younger generations are placing less value on fundamental rights such as private property rights. “I think that in the last ten years we have seen a fundamental shift in the way that some people view our foundational constitutional rights and the need to protect them. Those in agriculture view property ownership as a fundamental right – one that differentiates Americans from much of the world. One of the most important ‘sticks’ in the ‘bundle of sticks’ of property ownership is the right to decide who may enter. There are many people who simply do not agree with that principle. I believe that we have failed to teach each successive generation of the importance of liberty, of freedom, and of the benefits of a limited government. That failure has led to so many of our young people professing to be socialists, or professing a belief in the socialist mantra. Socialism and private property ownership simply cannot co-exist. They never have and they never will.”
Hageman holds out hope for the preservation of private property rights. “The law of trespass in Wyoming still stands. Landowners continue to have protection from someone coming onto their property without their permission. None of the plaintiffs in that case are entitled to access private property and collect data unless the landowner allows them to do so.” She continued, “I believe that there are other ways to address concerns about federal overreach and overregulation. The current administration in Washington D.C. has taken a much more pragmatic and legally defensible approach to enforcement of federal law, including the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.”
As the first environmentalist, before the term was hi-jacked by those activists attempting to end production agriculture, farmers and ranchers have worked hard to care for the land knowing that by caring for the land the land will care for them in return. As American consumers continue to be distanced from a shared agricultural background the concepts of something as primary as private property rights will continue to be misconstrued and used as a political pawn.
Agriculturists in Wyoming must remain diligent to support those promoting laws like the data trespass legislation while also explaining to their city-dwelling counterparts that private property rights aren’t just advantageous to large land owners but that they matter to those with a house in town and a lawn they’d like to keep private. In fact, landowners must emphasize that in a country like the United States individuals either have the right to own property or indeed they risk being property.