This story was updated with Rep. Barry Crago’s comments at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6. —Ed.
The Legislature has advanced a bill that legalizes use of physical force by a landowner or landowner’s agent to “terminate” what they believe is criminal trespass.
HB-126 — Trespass–removal of trespasser would update the current Wyoming criminal trespass code to state: “A person who is the owner or legal occupant of land or a premises upon which a criminal trespass is occurring, or their agent, is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when and to the extent that it is reasonably necessary to terminate what the owner, occupant or agent reasonably believes to be the commission of a criminal trespass by the other person in or upon the land or premises.”
In other words, it would enable an owner to use physical force independent of an official determination of trespass.
The House advanced the bill on a 57-5 vote Thursday after rejecting an amendment that would exempt the First-Amendment right of people to peaceably assemble. The Senate has referred it to the Travel Recreation and Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee, which has yet to schedule it for consideration.
Reps. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) and Art Washut (R-Casper) and Sens. Bill Landen (R-Casper) and Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan) sponsored the bill.
The bill would justify the use of “reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person.” That force could be applied by a landowner or legal occupant of land or a premises, or their agent.
Force would be justified “when and to the extent that it is reasonably necessary to terminate what the owner, occupant or agent reasonably believes to be the commission of a criminal trespass.”
A caveat states that the statute would not supersede laws applying to and protecting self-defense.
The idea for the bill came from a constituent in Buffalo, Rep. Crago said in an email.
Trespassing a hot topic
The measure’s smooth sailing through the House comes as trespass is on the minds of Wyoming hunters and ranchers following a corner-crossing criminal trespass trial in Carbon County. In that confrontation, a six-person jury found four Missouri hunters not guilty of criminal trespass when they hop-scotched from one piece of public land to another without setting foot on private land.
The incident occurred in 2021 at the 22,045-acre Elk Mountain Ranch where common corners of U.S. Bureau of Land Management property and land owned by North Carolina businessman Fred Eshelman meet at a four-way intersection of checkerboard-pattern real estate.
Steve Grende, the ranch’s property manager, followed and harassed the hunters on public land after they passed through the airspace above a common corner with the ranch, the hunters allege. Law enforcement agents summoned by Grende initially declined to cite the hunters, or interfere with their hunt. The Carbon County prosecutor later charged the men with trespass following complaints by Grende.
Eshelman also sued the hunters claiming $7.75 million in damages. His separate civil lawsuit against the men is scheduled to go to trial in federal court this summer.
The bill brought criticism from a hunter who helped publicize the Carbon County trespass case and raise money for the Missouri hunter’s defense. Jeff Muratore said he wrote lawmakers asking why they sponsored the bill.
“I’m greatly saddened at the possibility of people getting hurt or killed over trespassing and even more saddened that something like this would be considered in our legislative body,” Muratore wrote legislators, according to an email he sent to WyoFile.
“Are rich landowners going to now post their henchm[e]n at corners of public and private to physically constrain someone?” the email states. Muratore characterized the bill as one that would allow Wyoming to “step back to the wild west.”
Rep. Crago said the request for a law came from a single person in Buffalo who teaches self-defense and church-security classes. That person asked whether one could take action “if we think somebody is about to do something really bad.”
Common law allows such action, Crago said. “What this bill is an attempt to do is put this in statute,” he said.
He is not worried the law might incite violence.
“This is already the law, case law, common law,” he said. “It only allows for reasonable measures — that’s an objective standard.
“You can’t just shoot somebody who walks across your lawn — that’s not reasonable.”
Many states have similar laws, he said.
Amounts to class warfare/oppression by the landowning gentry against the common man!
This legislation shows the complete lunacy of our elected officials. I don’t know what angers me most about this; legalizing domestic terrorism in WY or the fact that there are REAL problems that need attention in this state that are being ignored while this bullshit gets all the attention. This will lead to violence & I, for one, don’t plan to fall victim. Contact your state reps & tell them knock this shit off; solve problem don’t create more!
This is a joke right? Property owners are not law enforcers, judges or juries. This bill needs to die before some innocent person does.
So the bill would actually allow you to murder someone who accidentally,
Unknowingly walk o to someone’s property. Then maybe all private property in Wyoming should be clearly marked or fenced.
This bill shows that we have too many cowboy hats in our legislature. Vote them out.
This is a deeply concerning, if not outright frightening, bill and I hope everyone in the comments section here is also reaching out to their local Senators and the Senate Travel Committee to make their thoughts known to our decisionmakers as well.
I notice the landowner involved in the corner crossing feud is from North Carolina. What should be happening in the checkerboard lands is the BLM and Wyo G&F setting up legal access in these areas.
Legitimizing owners to use physical force to stop trespassers is guaranteed to result in physical COMBAT, and probably shootings.
I’ve seen too many NoTrespassing, Private Property signs located on public lands. When “landowners” and hunters both have firearms and each believe they are right……
With this stupid law people are bound to be shot and killed/wounded. One constituent? How does this get so much attention when others don’t. This isn’t for the good of all, it’s for the good of the rich. Violated airspace? Really? Politics is just crazy anymore.
According to Webster this is the definition of “reasonable”:
Learn to pronounce
(of a person) having sound judgment; fair and sensible.
So, now with this bill we are going to try and legislate each individual person’s interpretation of reasonable?
What a can of worms….
Didn’t someone mention this Crago was an attorney? This is the only part of this article that makes any sense.
I am amazed that Rep. Cargo responded so quickly to ONE constituent! I and several thousand others contacted our federal rep in DC and asked her to vote to put a cap on the cost of insulin. Pointed out our state has over 250,000 diabetics. She voted against the bill.and didn’t even acknowledge our letters. So bravo to Rep Crago for listening to his constituents. I think his bill is stpuid, but at least he listens. Maybe he should read these comments and withdraw it?
According to the article, Rep. Crago was inspired to draft this nonsense Bill up due to the request from a single person. Well, if that’s Crago’s criteria, then I, as a single person request that you, Mr. Crago,: draft up a Bill that would permanently ban you from politics for life. I don’t quite think you’re what Johnson County had in mind when we wanted to send a Rep to Cheyenne.
This law is incredibly vague and flies in the face of the law working to avoid the self help remedy which is just going to end up with people being killed. And while there are folks that think this is just to protect ones property against some made up boogeyman, the reality is that this law is a lynch law that will enable racist white landowners to murder indigenous people, activists, and anyone who is their “enemy.”
Call it what it is, a lynch law. They want to murder with legal cover.
It seems to me that the issue of passing from government land to government land via a crossing over private land could be handled by making that access mandatory in the leases. Ranchers not willing to allow that would not be able to get a government lease. Cross over site costs could be financed by a combination of rancher and hunter groups. Both groups provide considerable funds to our state & are necessary. They are like little kids fighting over a cookie instead of sharing it, and ending up with only crumbs on the floor.
This bill, is just another attempt to resolve the corner crossing to the land owners advantage . Just like the drone flying over and taking pictures, just an attempt to say the l;and owner owns the air.
Some of my comments will be unpoplular, but:
1. The language of the bill appears to be misleading. At a minimum possibly inflammatory. I would encourage the Legislative process to amend the language accordingly.
2. The frustrations that many private landowners have regarding intentional (criminal) trespass are real. Many trespassers know all too well there is no real consequence of doing so, maybe a slap-on-the-wrist fine. Most “innocent” trespassing can be stopped by proper signage by landowners.
3. > 80% of the trespass problems come from a very small minority of people. A useful solution may be to strengthen trespassing statutes to provide proper “disincentives” to trespass. Larger fines, possible jail time, loss of hunting license, etc. My experience as a landowner near Lander for over 40 years says that current trespassing laws in State statute are generally not respected by habitual trespassers
4. Reading some of the comments, some are offended that some landowners “…post guards at their property boundaries….” Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but it doesn’t matter. A private property owner has legal rights to protect his or her property just like a member of the public has access rights to lawful entry & egress regarding public lands. If it’s not your property, then don’t access it without proper permission or authority.
5. Using physical force to remove a trespasser would be a last resort, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do so if necessary (and have in the past). “Hey dumb***, you’re trespassing, so GTFO now” seems to work most of the time 🙂
This response is for Jeff Hansen. Your comments are misleading regarding the laws. Federal law states that none shall prohibit another from accessing public land. Federal law also states that no state shall make a law contradictory to a federal law. Wyoming has made a law that is contradictory to federal law when they say l must get the landowners permission before l can access public land . Wyoming has made a criminal trespassing statute to the same. Wyoming has done the unlawful thing by making a law contrary to the federal law. You can not just ignore the federal law by making a state law that clearly contradicts the federal law. Private landowner rights do NOT trump the public land access law.
You want to give people to right to use force to “terminate “ people based not on the law but on what they “believe”.
All because the law and Wyoming jurors found the law was not violated but some rich out of state campaign contributor “believes” he was wronged so he should be able to “terminate” you
I work in private security and government protective services. I believe in property rights. I believe every person has a right to use reasonable force, including lethal force to defend themselves or others from criminal actions that could cause serious injury or death. I do not believe excessive or lethal force is justified where there is no clear and present danger of serious bodily injury or death. Without very clear statutory language in this law that states when force can be used it will be a recipe for abuse and unjustifiable violence. If a hunter with firearms already stumbles onto somebody’s property and is met by an angry person carrying a firearm with no duty to retreat the potential for unlawful restraint or a gun fight just rose tremendously. A land owner with misguided intentions with no witnesses to the incident paints an ugly picture from Wyoming’s past that we should be well beyond considering.
Since Crago all alone came up with this Neanderthal, boneheaded idea, perhaps he’ll personally volunteer to be the henchman guarding the property lines. Put your money (rear end) where your mouth is, Crago…anyway, I’m a sportsman and always armed. In a scenario where there’s a conflict regarding trespassing (regardless if I’m in the right or the landowner is in the wrong), if one of those Crago inspired henchman start to get physically threatening, I’ll have to resort to “standing my ground” and unfortunately, someone is going down hard. Will Crago volunteer to clean the blood up? A very bad Bill from an obviously bought and paid for Rep.
It would appear anyone detained for corner crossing trespass, based on the not guilty verdict in this case, could use the Wy “Stand your ground law’ (an utterly stupid and unnecessary law in my opinion) as a defense if anyone other than an a sworn law enforcement officer makes any effort to detain them.
Does this sound like unintended consequences?
Deeply troubling right-wing, gunnut response. If enacted into ‘law’, Wyoming continues down the ‘Wild West’ rabbit hole. Sorry to see the backward, uncivilized trend continue.
So now there is no presumption of innocence. I recall an incident on Laramie Peak some time ago where a sportsman was accused of trespass by a landowner/landowners agent. Sportsman contested on site. Law enforcement intervened and citation went to sportsman. Case went to court and sportsman prevailed proving by map and property description that the land was public and had been wrongly posted for years and likely decades. Cost of sportsman’s having to prove his innocence was not trivial. Cost to landowner was nothing. Fast forward to now. Run off at the point of a gun. Beaten bloody. Killed trying to defend yourself against some “empowered, misinformed seasonal hand who has no real idea if the land he is “protecting” is deeded or BLM or USFS. This redneck BS goes through it’s gonna happen!
Here a fact. This CRAGO was Johnson Cty Wy Assistant Deputy County Attorney! This is a bill put forth by a ATTORNEY OF LAW!! Shocking disregard for people.
Missing from the recent reports are the accounts of the ultralight aircraft being used to ferry a hunter and his trophy from the isolated parcel of WY State Land in Sheridan County. Mr. Burgess’s Dad had arranged for a buffer zone of private land around the state lands (~30 feet wide), but the ultralight allowed the hunter to avoid the technical trespassing charge. Why isn’t this history being included?
Unbelievable! Does this mean I can shoot cows that break down my fences to enter my property?
No one wants to do either, they want access from public land to public land which is minuscule in actual width at the corner, no bigger in actual fact than the mark around this post, the fence is bigger than the line. A lot of this could be eliminated by the state or fed writing into all leases that crossing from one government parcel to the next must be allowed. Our state needs the money form out of state hunters as much as the lease money from out of state land owners.
These people have been watching too many episodes of “Yellowstone”. The next thing the ranchers and rich property owners will want is their own version of the “Livestock Police”. What a ludicrous idea. Many times I have had ranchers try to intimidate me off of public land before the advent of GPS. Also remember they could delegate this to hirelings and outfitters according to this language. Which is probably what they will do.
I have land in SW Wyoming on the Utah border. The arrogance and rudeness of the Utah recreationists in the summer is unbelievable. Open gates , trash and the vast destruction of rangelands by 4-wheeler, dirt bikes etc. makes be very very mad. Police your own. jp
Oh boy shoot out at the OK CORRAL
So, now the barbarians can legally kill each other? Can’t wait to see what this does to the tourism industry. My liberal friends in Colorado are enjoying watching the most conservative state kill each other off by suicide and legal murder.
Way to go Wyoming! You voted for this.
As a non-resident this is very very chilling to consider. There are so many things that could go wrong here with no ill intentions meant but that could end in injury or death.
Gun crazy nut jobs are running the asylum. And we elected these people!
What are “reasonable measures”? Objective standard ; what is that? If a trespasser’s dog craps on your property can you rub his face in it?
The purported owners of the world legalizing murder as a power enforcement tool.
This is exactly the kind of nonsense that happens when a bunch of insecure men itching to use their guns get in control. The only time I would every consider using a gun on someone is if my life or the life of another was being threatened. We can and should be more civilized than this.
Thank you for injecting an article of humanity in this chaotic comment section.
WHO IS TRESPASSING. Public accessing PUBLIC LAND, no. Again, no. If the public is trespassing the rancher MUST be also trespassing onto public land. Sponsors of this bill need a large mental check.
Plenty of buffoonery to go around in the WY legislature and this Crago has been steadily working his way to the top of this heap of nonsense. This isn’t Crago’s first bill that attacks the common citizen…he must really hate people and wants to stick it to ’em in the relative safety of the legislative chambers. He’s definately not in the legislature for the greater good
Crago’s past record in the house shows that he’s not in this game for the betterment of the State. He shows signs of obvious hatred towards what he considers the common man
If you want unnecessary violence over the minor misdemeanor offense of trespassing this bill is a way to ensure that will occur.
The use of physical force in this type of situation could quickly get out of hand, and remember everyone is probably armed! STUPID IDEA! Take pictures and video’s with your phone, use your GPS to mark the location, then file charges. How does this relate to the hunter harassment laws if the landowner is wrong? There has never been a game animal worth getting beat or shot for!
Big trouble here with this. Some one will get killed or injured. Absolutely stupid
We are going to need a warning label on tourist advertising. Something like: “Warning: travel in the state of Wyoming may be hazardous to your health and may cause painful sudden death.”
What tourists? WHo would want to visit Wyoming if they think the residents are gunning for them? Kiss your tourist dollars goodbye.
Akin to opening Pandora’x box. I can absolutely envision violence leading to physical injury and if guns are involved, the situation could escalate to deadly consequences. Law enforcement and courts deal with problems with trespassing, and it should remain that way.
Using violence and the threat of violence to prevent the misdemeanor criminal nuisance of trespass is just the kind of foolish and violent idea we should expect from really ignorant and mean-spirited legislators. It is as if a spirit of shallow machismo and selfishness is dominant in the legislature. There used to be a lunatic wing of the Wyoming Republican party. Now the lunatic wing has swallowed the Party and there are only a few Republicans who are reasonable adults as exceptions. It is sad to watch a once proud institution become the playground of morons, culture warriors, and historical and political illiterates who have no more sense of what they are doing than a hog has about astrophysics.
Well thought out and well stated. Wyoming is descending into the dark ages where the King’s men had complete control over the land and the serfs. Our country is supposed to be better than this.
Nothing to do with serfs, everything to do with defending your own. Perhaps you would be more comfortable in a less free state.
Same tactics the old time ” range detectives ” used to discourage sheepmen and homesteaders from utilizing the wide open spaces. We also beat down the Native Americans for trespassing on land we wanted. Must be a better way to approach this.
as election cycles come and go, we seem to put more unqualified and may I say whack job candidates in the legislature. This isn’t Crago’s first rodeo with silliness and he’s a good example of what we exactly don’t need in Cheyenne
I’ve found Crago to be one of the more rational members of the house. While I’ll admit to viewing the antics from a greater distance than in the past, it seems he’s pretty thoughtful, and not bound by the doctrinaire thinking so prominent in today’s political scene.
If the alleged trespasser feels threatened does he have the right to respond back in kind to the alleged defender? Neither has been legally proven of doing anything illegal. Just suspected.
This is always the problem with “self-help” violence in non-life-threatening situations. It leads to escalation. In these cases, escalation from trespass to aggravated assault.
Well, since you used Elk Mtn Ranche’s Steve Grende as an example…what if the tables were turned? Would tough talin’ err, tough guy Grende stand like a man for a beat down from someone that he was legally (if this silly law was put in place) trying to detain or injure? Jeff Muratore has it right – gonna be some violent occurrences happening and the rich landowners henchman might be on the receiving end
Judging by those videos at Elk Mountain, Grende best tuck his tail and run
This is idiotic and will be the cause of physical violence if this is passed.
What a joke