Wyoming Data-Trespass Laws Ruled Unconstitutional By Denver Appeals Court

Sep 8, 2017

Credit THEO STEIN / USFWS

According to a federal appeals court, Wyoming’s data-trespass laws are unconstitutional. The two laws made it illegal for people to cross private land in order to collect data or take photos on public land. 

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver reversed the district court’s decision, by arguing the laws could violate First Amendment rights. The statutes passed in 2015, and came about after fifteen Wyoming ranchers sued the Western Watersheds Project for trespassing on their land in order to reach streams on public lands where they were collecting data.

Critics say the laws prevent citizen scientists from collecting such data to submit to the authorities, but Brett Moline with the Wyoming Farm Bureau said the laws were meant to stop trespassing.

Moline said Thursday’s ruling was not one that he expected.

“Yes, actually it’s quite surprising, because we tremendously supported the bill,” said Moline. “Our goal is to strengthen private property rights and the elevation of freedom of speech—we believe in freedom of speech, but we don’t think you should be breaking other laws to be able to get your information.”

However, the ruling is not the final word in the conflict. The appeals court remanded the case to a lower court to be reconsidered.