DISTRICTS IN ACTION:
Release--June 13, 2014
Bobbie Frank, Wyoming Association of Conservation
Districts, 307.632.5716 or
Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation,
Jim Magagna, Wyoming Stock Growers Association,
Amy Hendrickson, Wyoming Wool Growers Association,
file trespass lawsuit against Western Watersheds Project
The United States and Wyoming Constitutions hold the ownership and
protection of private property, including the right to exclude third
parties, in the highest regard. Regardless whether your private
property is your backyard in town or rangeland in the country,
trespassing is illegal.
Fifteen landowners in Fremont County, Wyoming and Lincoln County,
Wyoming have filed a civil trespass lawsuit in Wyoming District
Court, Fremont County, against Western Watersheds Project, Inc. (WWP)
and Jonathan Ratner, WWP Director for Wyoming, Utah and Colorado,
and John Does 1-10 with the Western Watersheds Project, Inc. for
intentionally and without landowner permission trespassing and
entering private property. The Plaintiffs in the case are seeking a
permanent injunction to stop further unauthorized trespass against
their private property. The Plaintiffs are also seeking recovery of
actual, nominal and punitive damages.
According to Western Watersheds Project, Inc.’s website, “Policy
Memo Number 2” is “To Do: Get all cows and sheep off public lands
ASAP!” In order to advance the agenda of WWP, the Defendants were
willing to break laws by illegally trespassing on private property.
“In many areas in Wyoming, private land is interspersed with federal
lands. We (Wyoming private landowners) have typically allowed public
access through our private lands,” said Anjie McConnell with Frank
Ranches. “Allowing public access is a property owner’s choice.”
“For instance, if you are not comfortable allowing someone into your
home you are able to tell them “no” and close the door,” She
explained. “Landowners have the same rights and the ability to say
“no” to groups and individuals that knowingly trespass; including
those trying to advance an agenda against multiple-use of federal
Trespasses by WWP occurred while collecting and submitting water
quality samples to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Trespasses also occurred while collecting range monitoring data.
According to the lawsuit (Complaint), in June 2005 and May 2010,
Ratner, on behalf of WWP, submitted to the DEQ a “Sampling and
Analysis Plan” (SAP) for the collection of water quality data. “The
signed 2005 SAP and the 2010 SAP affirmatively state that all water
quality monitoring will be in compliance with Wyoming’s Credible
Data Act of 1999,” wrote Attorney Karen Budd-Falen. “Additionally,
the SAP’s state the sampling sites will be on public lands with
legal public access.”
According to the Complaint, when the latitude/longitude coordinates
for the individual water quality site locations provided by
Defendants were placed on a land ownership map, circumstantial
evidence shows the Defendants trespassed upon the Plaintiff’s
“Additionally, two of the water monitoring site locations were
illegally located on the private lands belonging to two of the
Plaintiffs,” She continued.
“Because the Defendants were required to use GPS equipment to note
the locations of their water quality monitoring sites, Defendants
knew or should have known that they were trespassing on private
property to access these sites,” Budd-Falen explained.
“Landowners are not comfortable
having an extreme biased organization, that has not demonstrated the
professional qualifications to collect credible data, trespassing
their lands,” Budd-Falen continued.
Additionally, the Defendant trespassed on State lands and was
notified on April 1, 2014 by the Director of the Wyoming Office of
State Lands and Investments that collection of monitoring data on
Wyoming State trust lands was prohibited by law and that any
continued unauthorized data collections may constitute trespassing.
Punitive damages are being sought because of the continued and
habitual trespass by the Defendants. The Complaint states:
“Punitive damages are proper where there has been an aggravated
disregard of another’s rights and where the imposition of punitive
damages will tend to prevent this type of violation in the future.
In this case, Defendants wilfully and wantonly acted, in reckless
disregard for the consequences, and in complete and utter disregard
for Plaintiffs’ property rights.”
“It is of great concern to us when an individual or an organization
habitually trespasses on our private lands,” McConnell concluded.
“It should also be of great concern to all people who own, use and
enjoy lands and value open spaces in Wyoming.”
Accessing land without permission is against the law and a violation
of the basic rights of property owners. For this reason, the
Plaintiffs in this lawsuit have the support of the Wyoming
Association of Conservation Districts, Wyoming Farm Bureau
Federation, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Wool