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Has Wyoming’s attempt to stop bogus ‘no trespassing’ signs made a difference?

A year after House Bill 147 took effect, its impact on expanding access to public land is unclear.

HB147 was intended to clear up confusion around no trespassing signage, while allowing access to public land such as this (Photo courtesy of Buzz Hettick)

by Calla Shosh, WyoFile

If you’ve been hiking or hunting in Wyoming, you’ve likely come across no trespassing signs. But sometimes what lies beyond those signs isn’t actually private property. Instead, it’s public land, which should be legally accessible to all.

It’s a frequent enough occurrence in Wyoming that lawmakers took action last year to discourage the practice. House Bill 147 – Unlawful trespass signage-taking of wildlife makes knowingly posting incorrect no-trespassing signs a criminal offense with fines of up to $10,000

“I think it works well for hunters and sportsmen,” said Rep. Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie), the bill’s sponsor. “I should have the right to access my public land. Anyone who’s trying to infringe on my right to hunt and fish, which is a constitutional right on my public land, needs to be dealt with.”

Rep. Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie) talks on the House floor in 2024. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

House Bill 147 requires any person who has posted an illegal no trespassing sign to receive a written warning. If they fail to remove the sign, then they may receive a citation and a fine. 

Though people reported seeing misleading no trespassing signs when the bill was under consideration in the Wyoming Legislature, the state Game and Fish Department, which enforces the rule, said it hasn’t received many reports since.

“We’ve had very few, if any, reports of any violations as of yet,” Rick King, chief game warden for Game and Fish, said.  “So it’s to date, it has not been much of an issue for us.”

Provenza said she’s heard from constituents who said they contacted Game and Fish because of the new law, but she was unsure exactly when those calls were made.    

“It might have been before Game and Fish implemented policies around the law, but there was generally a little bit of confusion from Game and Fish,” Provenza said. 

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik testifies at the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee meeting in Evanston in June 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

When new statutes are added to the books, education is required to get enforcing agencies up to speed. Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik has been making sure department staff know about HB 147, Provenza said.

The low number of reports indicates to Craig Smith, the Wyoming Game and Fish deputy chief of the Wildlife Division, that the law alone might be a deterrent. 

“Given the lack of enforcement or the lack of citations issued, at this point, it would seem that it’s sufficient,” Smith said. “Of course, it’s only one fall that we’ve gone through with that, and so we’ll have to monitor that over time to see if there are any kind of different trends [that] transpire.”

While HB 147 may have created a deterrent to posting misleading no trespassing signs on public land, Provenza said more reforms may be needed to protect public land access. Some roads in Wyoming have been marked as private, when they are in fact public, which continues to cause confusion. 

“People are going to follow the law, so if they think that there’s some sort of chance that it’s private property, they don’t want to break the law and disrespect land owners,” Provenza said. “Everybody wants to respect private property rights.”

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.