As spring weather slowly dries out muddy roads and trails, motorized recreation enthusiasts head for the hills. Some will be on motorcycles looking for a good trail, while others may be in an RV looking for a secluded weekend.
Unfortunately, many of these people will break Idaho and Washington’s trespass laws.
In Idaho, trespass law makes it illegal to enter land that is posted or under cultivation without permission. This includes irrigated ground.
In 1993, Idaho law was changed to include posting without words. The use of fluorescent orange paint on any boundary or metal fence post is as good as a big, “posted” sign. Such designations must be no more than 660 feet apart, according to Pat Cudmore, policy coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Washington law does not require posting. It is the absolute responsibility of each person to know the ownership of the property on which they tread, and to have permission to do so.
“The land need not be cultivated, fenced, posted, or otherwise identified in order for a person to be cited for criminal trespass,” said Jeff Lavey, a sergeant with the Whitman County Sheriff’s office. “Our law is clear and simple. You must be on public land, own the land you’re on, or have permission from the owner to be there.”
Penalties in Washington for second-degree criminal trespass run up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Each year, Lavey said, his department issues up to a couple of dozen citations. “We could issue more, but often when we go out on a complaint, the suspects have left and the landowner doesn’t have a license plate number.”
When Whitman County sheriff’s deputies do get the information they need, the license is traced back to the vehicle’s registered owner. “From the owner, we find out who was using the vehicle at the time of the complaint and issue a citation accordingly,” said Lavey.
Idaho’s penalties for trespass are tougher. The $1,000 fine is the same, but trespassers can also draw up to six months in jail and revocation of their fish and game licenses. An offender also is liable for all damages that may occur during a trespass.
Landowners can designate people who can use their land and grant permission for others to do so. Absentee landowners, for example, may choose to leave instructions with the leasee or a caretaker as to whether or not they will allow access.
What about the situation where there’s a sign at the gate that says “no trespassing,” but there’s a farmhouse up the driveway? Can you go through the gate and ask for access? Legally, no. Some people do it anyway - and for the most part it doesn’t make for good relations.
Can you cross private ground without permission in order to reach public land? Not unless the owner grants permission.
And the law cuts both ways. It is illegal for a landowner to post public property as private in order to deny access. Grazing leases on public land do not constitute exclusive control either.
Anglers and floaters should also be conscious of private property rights near waterways. For instance, most people realize that land or water below the high water mark is fair game for pursuit of fish or recreation. But you may not trespass to reach that zone.
The bottom line is courtesy and respect. Think and plan ahead. Read the maps. Contact landowners ahead of time and at a reasonable hour. Most of all, learn the meaning of the word “no.”