A still from the video shows Elk Mountain Ranch Manager Steve Grende talking with Wyoming Game and Fish officer Jake Miller. (Screengrab/Carbon County Circuit Court)

Senators have killed a bill that would have legalized “physical force” to “terminate” a perceived trespass, rejecting an expansion of criminal statutes backed by 57 representatives.

House Bill 126 – Trespass-removal of trespass ran into heavy criticism in a Senate committee for what many saw as its potential to accelerate violence, reliance on individual interpretations of the law and other problems.

Sens. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne) and Stacy Jones (R-Rock Springs) out-voted supporting Sens. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston) and Fred Baldwin (R-Kemmerer) on the Travel, Recreation Wildlife & Cultural Resources panel Thursday.

The measure would have “justified” landowners or agents who use “reasonable and appropriate physical force … reasonably necessary to terminate what the owner, occupant or agent reasonably believes to be the commission of a criminal trespass…”

Ellis, an attorney, foresaw trouble.

“Landowners who really dislike each other … I see them fighting and having assault charges and having our courts have to resolve … who was in the right on the assault,” she said.

“There’s going to be people hurt over something like this.”

David Jensen

“It’s all tied to whether or not the trespass was actually illegal or not,” Ellis said of her example of the bill’s potential consequences. “They both claim they have a legal right to be there.”

Although the word reasonable, or a form of it, appeared three times in the bill, Gierau said he feared “unreasonable people on both sides” would lead to problems. Further, despite assertions by sponsor Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo), the bill is not necessary for self-protection, he said.

“There are self-defense statutes,” Gierau said. “We have a plethora … as far as how people can deal with situations where their life, safety or family’s — or their own personal well-being — is at stake.”

Shootings, stabbings…

Crago, an attorney and rancher, explained the bill to the committee, saying “we have all these shootings … we have stabbings,” he said, “and what we’re trying to do is let people know — hey, if something’s occurring, you can take action.”

“If you think something bad is about to happen, get the [disruptive] people out of the building,” Crago said. “Don’t question whether or not you have the legal right to do that. Just get it done.”

Hunters and outdoor recreation backers opposed the bill, including the Wyoming chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which worried about “the escalation of conflict in the field,” advocate Sabrina King said. Other states that have similar laws have placed sideboards on conduct, she said, unlike the Wyoming bill.

“You cannot do this if forcible removal would result in serious bodily injury,” she said of one caveat in other states’ laws that was missing from the Wyoming bill.

Worries about the bill “escalating tensions between landowners and the public” also bothered the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said Josh Metten, the group’s Wyoming community partnerships coordinator.

Casper hunter Jeff Muratore anticipated the bill causing “many instances … where people will get hurt, and possibly killed in situations where someone tries to put their hands on another person to physically remove them,” he said. That consequence could grow from a perceived lowly misdemeanor, he said.

The bill would lead to “too many conflicts,” said Buzz Hettick, Wyoming board chairman of the BHA. “We are trying really hard right now, as hunters and anglers, to work with private landowners to … de-escalate the trespass issues,” he told the committee.

Buffalo resident Jim Gray supported the measure that he said would protect people from “an overzealous prosecutor” who would charge them for defending themselves from a disruptive person.

“The [disruptive] person may be getting ready to commit a physical act of violence or … inflict death or serious bodily injury on innocents,” he said. “By removing the disruptive person before this happens, we can prevent escalation.”

Corner-crossing implications?

The measure ran through much of the Legislature’s structure in the wake of a high-profile Wyoming corner-crossing trespass case that has drawn nationwide attention. In an ongoing civil lawsuit, the owner of the Elk Mountain Ranch in Carbon County claims four Missouri hunters damaged his 22,045-acre ranch by more than $7.75 million by passing through its airspace.

That 2021 conflict came at the common corner of two public and two private pieces of property, all arranged in a checkerboard pattern of land ownership. 

Barry Crago (LSO)

A jury last year found the men not guilty of criminal trespass but ranch owner Fred Eshelman sued them in a separate civil action.

The hunters and the landowner disagree about whether a trespass occurred. Crago’s bill, had it passed, would appear to have empowered the landowner in similar future disputes to settle the matter in the field with physical force based on his or her belief about “the commission of a criminal trespass…”

The House Judiciary Committee backed the now-dead physical-force trespass bill and it sailed through the lower chamber 57-5.

But the bill has “nothing to do” with corner crossing, Crago said.

“I think there’s a lot of people that think this is about hunting and corner crossing and all that and it has nothing to do with that,” he told the committee.

Nevertheless, “I couldn’t help but think of the corner-crossing situation,” Gillette resident David Jensen told committee members.

“Watch the body-cam footage of that corner-crossing case,” he said. Hunters allege they were harassed by the ranch property manager. “It was a tense situation,” Jensen said.

A similar face-off could result in “improper use of physical force” even when suspected trespassers, like the Missouri men, are not guilty, he said. “There’s going to be people hurt over something like this,” he said.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. It is good that this bill was voted down ,it would have created bigger conflict . It good hunters were found not guilty ,ranchers and their managers are taking advantage of public land ,ranchers are profiting from public land for hunting and fishing as they leave their own property to public land to guide hunters ,while keeping legal licensed hunters and outdoors men/women to access public lands ,while there has been instances or ranch workers have scared wild game from public land into private property for their profit gain.

  2. Glad to see there are a few with some sense! So many things to do for the people…come on Wyoming!

  3. 57! I would have been shocked if 57 people in WY supported this idiotic bill, but 57 representatives?! What is going on?! Y’all need to vote some of these whack jobs out.

  4. With all of the serious issues in this State, the only thing this guy could come up with was some bonehead legalized brutality law? Really? Property tax reform would of been a good start. Crago’s actions are par for course during this 67th edition of the Legislature and with the other big top ringleaders not producing much better, it looks like this clown found himself a circus

  5. Thanks to all who reached out to their Senators to stop this ill conceived piece of legislation. Single constituent bills are rarely a good idea. It’s really nice to have reps from hunter/angler NGOs providing input as well. Please consider joining and supporting them.

  6. The legislatures and some people in Wyoming do not want government control, but this is Idiocracy , sometime watch the movie. My spouse is no longer alive, but he was an avid hunter, he was not a drive by shooter game hunter, but walked the fields, and liked the hunt. He used the public lands ,and never had problems with the ranchers, they would compromise. The question is , who are the land owners now, are they coming here from out of state with their violence accompanying them?? We do need some laws ,if it’s this out of control. Next voting session, please vote these toxic people out.

  7. Apparently Crago hatched this scheme after single conversation at church. Some church goer suggested that there should be a law regarding the handling of an unruly or perhaps ungodly member and it would be just great to legally be able to rough up, slap around and throw the sinner through the church door and onto the street. Also, wouldn’t it be cool for some landowner to injure or kill some alleged trespasser? Crago must of thought this all was a brilliant idea and drafted up this absolutely stupid Bill. Well, many of us disagree and contacted our local Reps and Senators to get this joke stopped in its tracks. How do you like us now, Crago?

  8. Well, Legislature #67 has proven to be a doozy with some of the worst Bills ever presented for consideration. H.B. 126, the ridiculous “trespass bill” currently has my vote for no. 1. It’s pretty obvious what Crago was up to with this Bill and who he was trying to benefit and I’m sure no way think he’d be called out for it

  9. Maybe the saddest, most grandstanding worthless bill that I’ve ever seen presented to the legislature. It was obviously meant to benefit the rich landowners and welfare blm cowboys. Luckily, this quickly got scoffed at and trashed. I’m not sure what rep Crago thought he was doing here….trying to be a big fish in a small pond or a pathetic look at me stunt. Is Crago just an unfortunate anomaly or is Johnson County this messed up? If passed someone, if not many people, would be seriously hurt or possibly killed. Maybe Crago will come up with something even more draconian and anti general citizen

    1. Johnson county is just that messed up. If you list your occupation as a rancher you have a huge advantage in this state. Crago has been hot on this trespass issue ever since the incident in Carbon County. Wyoming voters continue to worship ranching even though Wyoming is 37th in agricultural receipts for animals and products according to the USDA. That’s pretty low and pretty abysmal if we consider this a ranching state . All the cows I’ve ever met would be happier in Texas. We both have rattle snakes but they don’t have snow .

  10. I’ll tell you what, I bet the gentleman on the left side of your photo (Steve Grende, Elk Mountain Ranch assistant Manager) was glad this law wasn’t in effect. I have no doubt that one of the Missouri Four would of rigorously defended himself if Grende would of taken his tough talk up up a notch to a physical altercation. For most of us, “you attack me….get ready for me to defend myself and attack you”. This absolutely silly and horrid Bill would of caused nothing but serious injury to possibly a death. Still smirking, Rep. Barry Crago?