Proponents of a new private-land trespass bill, which will be sent to the 1991 Legislature, have called the measure "a compromise between sportsmen and wildlife groups and farmers and ranchers."
Under the new bill, hunters, fishermen and even bird watchers would need written permission from landowners to legally step on private property that has been properly posted.Currently, people stopped on private land for trespassing have only needed to say they had been given verbal permission to be there.
As the law stands now, private land is open to hunting if it is not posted closed or if other restrictions, such as no hunting within city limits, are not applicable. The new bill does nothing to change this.
Representatives of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the Utah Wildlife Leadership Coalition, the Utah Wildlife Federation and the Division of Wildlife Resources announced their acceptance of the bill at a press conference at the State Capitol Wednesday morning.
Tom Bingham, vice president for public policy of the Farm Bureau, said Rep. Melvin Brown, R-Midvale, will be the chief sponsor of the House bill.
Robert J. Dale, an attorney for the Utah Wildlife Federation, was the only speaker among half a dozen proponents of the bill who voiced any concerns about it.
Dale said he is unhappy that there is no provision in the new bill to cover unfenced property and said it will probably be difficult for any landowner to legally keep people from coming on his land if it is not fenced or posted closed.
"There is a great deal of public land in Utah that is adjacent to private land. And if there is no indication of which land is public and which is private, how can a reasonable person tell when he is on public land and when he is on private land?" Dale asked.
Representatives of the Farm Bureau and Wildlife Resources said that is a problem with the bill that may be sorted out during the Legislative session.
Proponents of the new bill, especially members of the Utah Farm Bureau, said they have been trying to get some kind of no-trespass law passed for years to help landowners protect their livestock, crops, buildings and fences from intruders.
A year ago, Sen. Richard Tempest, R-Salt Lake, who lost a bid for re-election in past November, tried to pass a bill that said all private land is closed to hunters, fishermen and others unless posted open with signs to that effect.
The bill did not get very far. Fellow Republican senators loudly opposed the bill and said it wouldn't work. That bill never got to the Utah House.
Dale said the new bill is a great compromise because there has been considerable pressure from many quarters to close Utah's private land to outdoorsmen unless they had permission from landowners.
"Under this new bill, landowners still have to post their land closed if they don't want anyone to be on it. Having to have written permission does make it harder for people to lie their way out of trespassing, but that just makes common sense," he said.
Bingham also called the new bill a compromise. "When you consider the bloody battles that have previously been fought over trespass, getting this bill together is something of a miracle." He admitted, however, that "this bill does not totally please any of the groups" that worked on it, "but there is general agreement that it is a step in the right direction and one we should make, together."
He said he had hoped to "remove the posting requirement entirely, but we've found that some reasonable notice to would-be trespassers is essential under the constitution." He said the bill sets the minimum requirements for posting that would be upheld in court, such as signs or yellow painted stripes on fences, gates, corners and at streams and roads.
The bill sets penalties for trespassing as a Class B Misdemeanor but also provides for license, tag or permit revocation by the Wildlife Board.
Division of Wildlife Resources director Tim Provan, who said he backs the bill wholeheartedly, said his agency will "focus its attention first on educating the public."
Proponents said the bill will not affect access to Indian reservations or federal or state public lands leased by farmers and ranchers. It applies only to privately owned land, they said.
They explained that the written permission would require the signature of the landowner or person in charge, a description of the private property, dates when entry is allowed and the name of the person being allowed entrance onto the property.