Wyoming Criminalizes taking Soil Samples and “Ecological” Photos on Public Lands
Those concerned with environmental pollution in Wyoming can no longer take soil samples or even photos of possible contamination without risking going to jail.
The Republican-dominated state has adopted a new law, the “Data Trespass Bill,” which outlaws “citizen science,” the collecting of ecological data on private and public lands. Violations can result in a year of prison time and fines of $5,000. It also makes any samples inadmissible as evidence in court, even if they show environmental hazards.
The law was adopted in response to a fight between 15 ranchers and the environmental group, Western Watersheds Project, in Fremont County. The ranchers sued the group, claiming it collected water samples from their land without permission. Western Watersheds took the samples because it suspected the landowners were allowing manure to contaminate local water sources. Their tests of the samples revealed the presence of E. coli bacteria, which can cause serious illness and even death in humans.
Supporters of the law are framing it as protecting property rights, but that doesn’t explain the prohibition from taking samples—and photos—from public lands. “The purpose of the bill is to discourage this kind of activity,” Debra Donahue, a law professor specializing in wildlife science at the University of Wyoming, told Courthouse News Service. “The state would prefer not to have citizens going out on public lands collecting data that could then be used against landowners.
“The idea is, if the water quality in the streams doesn’t meet standards, that [the ranchers] should do something about it. And whatever action that was, it would have an effect on their ability to raise cattle.”
The new law prohibits the gathering of photos and soil samples used for ecological purposes, even in state and national parks. Opponents say it is so broad, it would prevent taking photographs at Yellowstone National Park.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley
To Learn More:
Wyoming Criminalizes Citizen Science (by Emma Gannon, Courthouse News Service)
Wyoming Senate Bill 12 (LegiScan)
Four Charged with Violating Utah’s “Ag-Gag” Law (by Ken Broder, AllGov)
Can Private Drones be Used to Counter “Ag-Gag” Laws in 7 States? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)
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