Friday, May 19, 2017

Activists appeal for right to trespass

Last year's stalemate between environmentalist groups and 15 Wyoming ranchers, that was supposed to end a two-year legal battle over a trespassing issue, has reared its ugly head thanks to the environmentalist group's court request for a revisit. The settlement last August was supposed to be the end of the drama, but the activists are digging up dirt again, hoping to gain water access, via private property. The settlement defined some boundaries, including giving ranchers the ability to seek a court fine of $2,500 for a first trespass and $5,000 for subsequent trespasses. It also determined specific roads with easements, which allowed the activists to travel. Both sides declared victory following the idea that, for the most part, they would agree to disagree on the trespass lawsuit. "Trespassing to stop under settlement," the Wyoming Stock Growers Association wrote in a press release supporting the rancher plaintiffs. "Frivolous Wyoming trespass lawsuit finally dropped," the defendant, Western Watersheds Project,wrote. In September 2015, WWP, Natural Resources Defense Council and PETA, among others, in a separate case, sued the state of Wyoming over two new trespass statutes. The groups said the laws suppressed environmentalists from discovering harmful landowner practices, and kept supporters from taking water samples from waters near ranches. The case, according to Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President with WSGA, was completely separate, and the trespass statutes were not written because of the trespass lawsuit. However, in 2016, because of the trespass suit, they were rewritten for clarity. U.S. District Court Judge Scott W. Skavdahl dismissed the complaint in July 2016, determining the coalition did not have a First Amendment right to enter private property to take samples. "Plaintiffs' claims are erroneously premised upon their perceived First Amendment right to trespass upon private property to collect resource data," Skavdahl's 26-page order from the District of Wyoming says. "No such constitutional right exists. To the contrary, the United States Supreme Court 'has never held that a trespasser or an uninvited guest may exercise general rights of free speech on property privately owned.'" But earlier this month, the same environmentalist groups, including WWP, took their argument to the 10th Circuit Court, appealing the decision, claiming that it is their First Amendment right to collect water samples from public lands for ecological research...more 

The Wyoming decision that is being appealed is embedded below:

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