Ag-gag and mineral-gag, exploring the great outdoors gets scary

More danger now than getting stuck, broken leg or lack of water-

Many people in the West like to explore its vast open country by 4 x 4, SUV, ATV, motorbike, and on foot and bicycle. They stay away from the crowded national parks and famous recreation and scenic sites.

The lure of the roads less travelled on America’s vast public land calls to them. What’s at that unnamed mesa 10 miles in the distance? Can I get down to Fish Creek using this road with an old sign that reads “danger poison gas?”

Backcountry exploring is always a bit dangerous, but the idea that you are pretty much on your own is great adventure to many people. The danger has not always been just out-of-gas or water, mechanical breakdown, heatstroke or freezing weather, snakebites, broken bones, and being lost.  There has always been a human danger too from small prospectors, irascible property inholders, vandals and vehicle break-and-enter thugs. One danger that has been rare is organized harassment of travellers on public land by the local livestock industry and the mineral and oil and gas industry.

Harassment might be getting more organized. The classic fearful image for the out-in-the-sticks traveler has been the southern sheriff, but now that takes backseat to the sheriff from a rural Western county who cooperates with powerful local ag barons and oil and gas or mining operations. Often these interests have their own private security personnel. It doesn’t take a conspiracy mindset to imagine these interests might have things on public land they don’t want outsiders to see.

In addition, three Western states have enacted sweeping laws that threaten innocent explorers with harassment by public law enforcement. Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming have passed laws nicknamed “ag-gag” or “data trespass” that criminalizes oversight of agricultural (not just livestock) operations and which in Wyoming could apply to any observation whatsoever. What is not data? Philosophers say all we know about the world depends on our “sense data.”

H.ere is a current example how a little ag data gathering went down in the obscure reaches of SW Utah. People Prosecuted Under AgGag Law for Photographing Factory Farm From the Road. This is located in Utah’s Sevier Desert.

Right now, in practice these laws don’t have this effect, but the potential for great expansion is there because the laws authorize it. The laws are vaguely written, and their sweep can conveniently be pulled in or extended out according to the political environment and the kind of person or private organization the local and state elites want to block from access to the great outdoors.

Certainly Wyoming, for example, does not want to interfere with people going to Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone, but what about the Tatman Mountain area, NE of Meeteetse, WY? I choose this largely at random because there is a huge chuck of BLM land there plus some private and state. There are no features known nationally, or statewide.  The local cash register does not ring from travelers here except perhaps a bit during hunting.

Obscure road on BLM land in SW Wyoming. Safe from official state harassment?
Obscure road on BLM land in SW Wyoming. Safe from official state harassment?

There are thousands more places like Tatman Mountain in Wyoming owned by the American public, but how is it really on the ground if you explore there?

Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho are three states where those who want to take U.S. public lands to state ownership have great influence, although in Idaho they failed to move legislation this year. Proponents of the public land transfer to the states speak brightly about how well the states would manage these lands, but they do so without referring to the lands these states already manage. These three already have significant state holdings. Generally speaking their state lands are not considered public lands and residents or visitors have no right to visit them. Most of the revenue generated doesn’t come from land management, but from the state’s passive leasing of minerals for mining or pumping (oil and gas).

If state lands are not really public lands, what would happen to the access citizens now enjoy on hundreds of millions of acres of our great open? Ask this question while keeping the states’ efforts to enact ag-gag and data trespass in mind.


  1. Larry K Avatar
    Larry K

    “If state lands are not really public lands, what would happen to the access citizens now enjoy on hundreds of millions of acres of our great open?” Certainly a true statement with regard to Washington state DNR lands. Just try to find an access road into DNR lands that doesn’t have a locked gate. If you happen to find a gate open you run the risk of being locked in as happened to me. Having been raised in Idaho it was an awakening when moved to Washington and found such a reversal of free access that I was used to in Idaho. The management mentality doesn’t even consider that citizens should have free access to state lands. Can you just imagine what it would be like if the great inland west became state land rather than federal. The first step would be to sell of the pristine vistas to developers or mega-rich for private western mega-log secondary homes and the next step would be to sell or lease extraction rights to areas not viewed from the mega-rich cabins. Oh, and no fair taking pictures of the mega-rich homes. Please, please help people to understand they just don’t know what they have until it is gone. I can make a case that even this issue has a thread of racism in it. So many republicans hate this first black president that they will side with anything the opposite party wants. They buy into any wild theory from Obama planning to take over Texas and use Walmart stores as prisons to listening in on every phone call you and I make. The underlying fuel for motivation is the hate for Barack Obama. Well in this case the common working class republicans are shooting themselves in the foot and will lose what they like to do most on weekends, outings to the BLM/USFS lands to shoot up their empty beer cans.

  2. Kathleen Avatar

    Here’s how Idaho’s ag-gag law was written:

    “…a dairy industry lobbyist was allowed to directly craft what would ultimately become Idaho’s “ag-gag” bill — the latest in a series of state laws that seek to prevent animal rights activists from exposing the abuses of industrial agriculture.”

    To add insult to injury, the bill’s sponsor is Idaho’s ALEC state chair.

    For anyone who can stomach it, view Mercy for Animals’ undercover video (this is what prompted the legislation) at an ID dairy farm:

    (Then ask if it isn’t time to liberate yourself from dairy industry cruelty!)

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      . . . And then they made it apply to all “agricultural production facilities” in Idaho, which they defined not just as buildings and machinery, but included farm fields and raw grazing land. The latter two are how travelers get roped in, especially because it includes photography.

  3. Yvette Avatar

    I don’t understand how any of these ag-gag laws are constitutionally legal.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      They are very likely unconstitutional, and in multiple ways.

      A lawsuit against Idaho’s ag-gag law is in federal judge Winmill’s court now. The judge recently made disparaging comments about the law in a hearing in his court. He is yet to rule.

  4. Kathleen Avatar

    North Carolina’s governor just vetoed a very broad ag-gag law passed by the legislature there…

    Now look who’s among those calling for it to be overturned–the American Kennel Club. Why? Puppy mills.

    AKC lobby:

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Thanks you. The first says, among other things, ” ‘While I support the purpose of this bill, I believe it does not adequately protect or give clear guidance to honest employees who uncover criminal activity,”[Governor] McCrory said in a statement explaining his veto. ‘I am concerned that subjecting these employees to potential civil penalties will create an environment that discourages them from reporting illegal activities.’”

      It appears to me, in every case, these gag bills so far are intended to prevent the detection of illegal activities, using private property as an excuse.

      There have always been those who would use private property to abrogate all the civil rights, and duties, and civil liberties, under the Constitution.

    2. Nancy Avatar

      “Now look who’s among those calling for it to be overturned–the American Kennel Club. Why? Puppy mills.”

      Follow the money –

      Puppy mills & pet stores

      Puppy mills mass produce dogs usually sold in pet stores or on-line. There are approximately 1,500 pet stores in the United States that sell puppies. [7] There are approximately 4,000 to 5,000 puppy mills in the United States, with 75 to 150 breeding dogs in each. Dogs in puppy mills receive little care, socialization and exercise and are often “stored” in cramped, dark and filthy cages. Breeding dogs and puppies from mills are also often inbred, sick, malnourished and flea infested. Not surprisingly, many also have behavioral problems. [8] Female dogs are bred twice a year and destroyed when they can no longer produce litters for sale. Puppies who survive unsanitary and abusive puppy mills must then endure grueling transport conditions. Brokers pack puppies for sale into crates to transport to pet stores. They are shipped in pick-up trucks, tractor trailers or air planes; often lacking adequate food and water, ventilation and shelter. Conditions don’t improve much when they arrive at the pet store. Dogs are kept in small cages without exercise or socialization.

  5. Kathleen Avatar

    North Carolina House & Senate voted yesterday to override the governor’s veto of the ag-gag bill:

    includes video.

  6. Joan Avatar

    I guarantee if Native Americans were still roaming their lands we forcefully took they would take these ag-gag laws put a arrow through them and shove them up land management experts holes. Who was it that killed 5 million buffalo probably the original ” data trespass ” states.


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Ralph Maughan