No Trespassing. Simple words to read, wouldn’t you agree? By definition, trespassing means someone has passed unlawfully within the boundaries of another’s property: Specifically, trespassing is to creep, gradually and often stealthily, upon territory, rights, or privileges, so that a footing is imperceptibly established on the property of another without permission.
I have been approached by landowners on the North and South forks of the Shoshone, as well as landowners on the Greybull and Wood rivers to address this trespassing issue in my weekly column. The numbers of boats and floaters keeps growing and the trespassing by fishermen and recreational floaters is becoming a serious issue with land owners whose property extends under and even beyond the stream beds of these watersheds.
While ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, apparently those floating rivers in hard or soft sided boats, rafts, canoes and kayaks have the impression they have an inherent “right” to trespass without seeking permission from the land owners. The knowledge of Wyoming water law should go hand in hand with owning and operating watercraft, just like reading the Wyoming Drivers Instruction Manual is beneficial when operating a motorized vehicle.
Some boat operators might think trespassing applies to land and the buildings or contents that sit on the land when trespassing on another’s property. However, in Wyoming one can also trespass when floating navigable waterways by dropping an anchor, laying up on a rock or other above surface structures to stop downstream movement, or using an oar or paddle to hold watercraft from moving downstream with the current.
Before writing this column, I spoke with many local and non-local water enthusiasts that do not own property on any of these rivers. To my surprise, most were emphatic that the law is ridiculous and some even confessed to becoming rude and even viciously argumentative with the landowners when confronted and asked to keep moving and to stop trespassing. Others said they respect the property owners and consider it a privilege to be able to navigate and recreate these rivers. The latter said they only stop moving at the designated public lands or fisherman access areas on the North Fork, particularly, to avoid any conflict with landowners. Those (anglers mainly) that think they can access the rivers by remaining under the high water mark are also trespassing. These persons, too, did not like Wyoming’s law.
I have had conversations with the landowners on the above-named rivers who have had face-to-face confrontation with trespassers (some habitually so), having Private Property No Trespassing signs removed or torn down by those that feel the rule of law does not, or should not, apply to them, or to the rivers they want to fish or float. This is a good place to say this: when we lose the rule of law, we have lost respect for our neighbor or, in this case, neighbor and landowner. Without law, history has proven humans quickly resort to less than social behavior. Respect is gone and it is all about that person at that moment. It’s sad to admit, but true.
There is a rule of law written for the rights of both landowner and those that can be falsely accused for trespassing. Trespassing is further defined in Wyoming State Statute § 6-3-303: 6-3-303. Criminal trespass; (a) A person is guilty of criminal trespass if he enters or remains on or in the land or premises of another person, knowing he is not authorized to do so, or after being notified to depart or to not trespass. Notice is given by: (ii) Posting of signs reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders.
I also asked this question to those that I found trespassing while interviewing. What would your feelings be if you were the landowner and had constant trespassing violations occurring daily on your property? The majority queried said they wouldn’t like it either and would probably call the sheriff or game warden. Yet these same persons also admitted to giving the one finger salute to irate land owners.
So, a little bit of education came with the interviews and, hopefully, a better attitude towards the land owners that reside on either side of the North and South forks. There is more in the Wyoming statutes regarding trespassing, which I encourage my readers to examine and apply the next time they head out to float a river that flows over private property. Since I am the eternal optimist, (which angler isn’t, right?) I am hoping a word to the wise is sufficient and all that is needed to prevent trespassing in the future.
I have yet to meet and talk to an unreasonable property owner when we conversed at length about this subject. They were mad, yes, as you would be if trespassing was a daily occurrence on your own lands. Those owning land are good people and want those recreating to enjoy the resource. Most, too, just want respect and consideration for their privacy. More importantly, they want the abusers to obey the law. That is not too much to ask of a neighbor, is it?