Finally, the story gets out of the confines of Wyoming-

While it was in its making, The Wildlife News was one of the few media sources outside Wyoming that covered the now well known data trespass bill, which is now a Wyoming state law.

Several months later the story finally went national when law professor, Justin Pidot, wrote a critical news article detailing the bill. He said that under the law’s language anyone could be arrested for taking photos inside Yellowstone National Park (which is mostly in Wyoming).  Photos, defined as data under the law, would merely have to be taken in the Park with the intent of giving them to the U.S. or the Wyoming government for use as data. This intent would trigger a state criminal prosecution for trespass.

Now Wyoming state legislators and other defenders of the law are backstepping and saying they would not prosecute any tourists taking photos in Yellowstone or Grand Teton, and that the law only applies to private land and state of Wyoming land outside built-up places.

The law clearly got little critical review, including technical review as it sailed through the legislature with almost no opposition and on to Governor Matt Mead.  Almost none of its now many critics think it will stand judicial scrutiny. However, as Jonathan Ratner tells in the video below, the law is in effect and will remain so until it is struck down by a court. Meanwhile, private citizens looking around the huge open country in Wyoming must judge the legal danger if they gather what could be data of any kind . . . especially if it includes the water quality in streams where livestock graze nearby.

Ratner’s work was the spark, and maybe the entire reason the bill, was passed. He had been collecting water quality data on Wyoming creeks and submitting the e. coli count to the government to show water quality impairment.  E. coli causes from mild to deadly infections in people. There are standards for how much can legally be in water. Data collected to be given to the government by Ratner and others, mostly with the private Western Watersheds Project, showed large violations of up to 200x the standard.

Pidot’s article. Forbidden Data Wyoming just criminalized citizen science. Slate Magazine. Now there are many more articles and the video below.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

15 Responses to Wyoming gets nationwide bad publicity over data trespass law

  1. Nancy says:

    Thanks for posting this Ralph. Passing it on.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Nancy, good. I imagine a lot of people have not yet heard of this despite the national coverage.

  2. Kirk Robinson says:

    Jonathan Ratner is a courageous man. In times past he would be either unceremoniously hanged, shot, or simply disappear.

    • Louise kane says:

      He gave a great interview the female interviewer was unfortunately not very competent

  3. Gary Humbard says:

    Ralph, so according to Ratner, the public cannot walk or hike on the millions of acres of BLM and Forest Service managed land in Wyoming and take any pictures or collect any water samples. Is that correct?

    If that is the case, it will be struck down as unconstitutional since public land belongs to the public.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Gary Humbard,

      People can walk but not take pictures or otherwise collect data on public, or State of Wyoming land, if they have crossed over private land before entering the public land.

      It is obviously unconstitutional, but you can be punished while courts are considering a law’s constitutional status. Now, I would predict the state will back off of any enforcement of the law.

  4. Joseph Allen says:

    What law enforcement officer will every enforce that “law?” Will someone remind Wyoming what century it is?

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Joseph Allen,

      My guess is that it won’t be enforced now unless Ratner or WWP shows up and obviously collects water quality data in front of state officials and says “we are going to give this data to the government.”

  5. Yvette says:

    It is amazing how these politicians get a law this egregious (and the ag-gag laws, too) passed. They know, or should know, it probably won’t hold up in the courts. A law like this one and the ag-gag laws sound like we’re moving toward a more fascism type of state.

    Where does Region 8 EPA’s Water Division fit into the Wyoming’s WQS? I did a quick search yesterday to see if WY had any kind of online GIS datamapper for their state stream monitoring. Oklahoma DEQ has a datamapper where anyone can look at various environmental data, including the 303(d) listed stream segments. I didn’t find anything similar for WY but did find plenty of GIS data that can be downloaded. I was just curious about the way WY applied designated uses to WY streams. Intuitively, I thought most of the streams on or crossing federal land would likely have some type of high quality designation, whether it is currently meeting that designate use or not. The state must apply standards that, at a minimum, meet whatever use the waterbody has attained since Nov. 28, 1975.

    This law needs to be challenged in the courts.

  6. Leslie says:

    I think this embarrassing situation for WY is wonderful. WY needs to realize how dependent they are on tourism and wildlife and begin thinking differently about their state resources. Sometimes good can come out of bad.

    • TC says:

      Except WY is a lot more dependent on severance, royalty, and lease taxes from the energy industry than the comparative pittance that comes from sales and use taxes (biggest contribution from tourism and wildlife) and at the end of the day that tells you much about who wields the real power and why. Agriculture is a bit of a wild card in this mix, more cultural legacy than financial heavy hitter. WY booms and busts with energy prices – tourism and wildlife (and Ag) do very little to ameliorate these cycles. There’s a reason why reasonable citizens of the state beg for economic diversification, a real challenge in a rural semi-arid state at high altitude with long winters.

      • Cody Coyote says:

        Wyoming’s SF12 Data Trespass Law would not have passed thru the statehouse in Cheyenne like a greased Thorobred racing Sow had it not gotten the wink and nod from the extractive industries as well. SF12’s data trespass provisons , applying as they do to ANY tract of land outside a city limit ( private, public, or leased), serves the mineral industry as much as it serves the Stockgrower and feedlot owner for purposes of disqualifying evidence. It isn’t just Ag Gag as I read it.

  7. Scott says:

    Big time anti science. The very idea of making it illegal to collect data is ridiculous. There is no need to exaggerate how ridiculous it is by talking about tourist’s photos. Just focusing on what the law was designed to do, stop collection of data showing the conventional industrial meat production business model is destructive is plenty enough. Similar laws in Idaho BTW.


May 2015


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey