Wyoming Data Trespassing Law Discourages Water Quality Monitoring

Wyoming’s new data trespassing law makes it illegal to collect environmental data or to “preserve information in any form” about rural land if it is done on behalf of the government. Drafted by state senator Larry Hicks, the law discourages water quality monitoring by nonprofits and citizen scientists in an effort to prevent negative economic effects to ranchers. The Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based environmental group, sampled for fecal contamination from livestock in streams on public lands and reported that data to government agencies to improve public lands grazing management. The government could use that information to restrict livestock access on public lands, impeding livestock from defecating in or near streams and from causing streambank erosion.

The law approved by the governor in early May delivers harsher penalties and makes it easier to prosecute trespassers, even those who trespass accidentally. The law also applies to those who collected data on public land but crossed private property at any point without landowner permission to get there. Not only can trespassers receive a significant fine and possible jail time, any data collected must be expunged from state databases and cannot be used in court – except as evidence to bring conviction against the trespasser.

According to the Center for Western Priorities, as reported by The Washington Post, about half of Wyoming is federally owned, but 4% of that is privately land-locked. This means that it is accessible only by crossing private lands.

In an attempt to make the law applicable to state held lands, legislators struck the word private from “private open land.” Some assert that this change makes the law applicable to federal lands as well, which include national parks.

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