Pat Ewing loves to hunt in Adams County. On this day, he is looking for grouse but he says a new trespass law makes him leery about hunting in this area.
"Down in the woods I just saw a grouse fly out to the left through the forest. I would like to go hunt and pursue that grouse. I don't know if I can because of the private property law that passed, I could be in big trouble and get big fines if I go on private property and hunt."
The new law that went into effect July first dramatically harshens the penalty for trespassing, while easing landowners requirements to identify private property. "The new thing is that the requirement for landowners to post their property every 660 feet is no longer part of the code," said IDFG's Matt O'Connell. "So now it's a reasonable person standard where if the property is marked in such a way that a reasonable person would believe it's private, that's the main requirement."
A reasonable person would likely understand that land like *this is private. Fish and Game has included a form in this year's hunting regulations for sportsmen to ask permission in places like this. But in places where there is a patchwork of private and public land knowing where you need permission can be anything but clear.
"Right now on either side of the road I'm on there is public land, but if I take five steps forward, suddenly I am on private land. Without this GPS I would have no idea which was which."
O'Connell admits the new law may present challenges to sportsmen, so this season the department will focus more on education than prosecution.
"With the new law we try to do as much education as we can and hope to ease the public into things, so we try to be understanding and compassionate and empathetic with people realizing it is a new law."
However, if a landowner is determined enough to sign a complaint, officers are likely to issue a citation. Under the new law, a first offense results in a minimum fine of five hundred dollars. Trespassers causing damage a second time could lose hunting and fishing license, and a third offense could result in a fifty thousand dollar fine and up to one year in jail.
The good news for hunters is the availability of GPS unit and apps available on smartphones that will tell you exactly when you are and aren't on private property. Fish and game suggest hunters invest in the technology, and Ewing agrees.
"Having GPS would allow me to go into the property and hunt and not feel like I was threatened. What if you didn't have GPS? I would probably elect not to go hunting here, cause I wouldn't know the situation."