Landowners file trespass lawsuit against Western Watersheds Project
(Lander, Wyo.) – Fifteen landowners in Fremont County and Lincoln County have filed a civil trespass lawsuit in Wyoming District Court, Fremont County, against Western Watersheds Project, Inc. (WWP) and Jonathan Ratner, WWP Director for Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, and John Does 1-10 with the Western Watersheds Project, Inc. for intentionally and without landowner permission trespassing and entering private property, states a news released from Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation.
The Plaintiffs in the case are seeking a permanent injunction to stop further unauthorized trespass against their private property. The Plaintiffs are also seeking recovery of actual, nominal and punitive damages.
Of the 15 landowners, five are from Fremont County. They are: Frank Ranches Inc., White Acorn Sheep Company, John G. and Jean A. Corbett as trustees of their respective Living Trusts, Stanley E. Cole, and Graham Ranch Inc.
According to Western Watersheds Project, Inc.’s website, “Policy Memo Number 2” is “To Do: Get all cows and sheep off public lands ASAP!” The lawsuit alleges that WWP was willing to break the law to further its efforts.
“In many areas in Wyoming, private land is interspersed with federal lands. We (Wyoming private landowners) have typically allowed public access through our private lands,” said Anjie McConnell with Frank Ranches. “Allowing public access is a property owner’s choice.”
“For instance, if you are not comfortable allowing someone into your home you are able to tell them “no” and close the door,” She explained. “Landowners have the same rights and the ability to say “no” to groups and individuals that knowingly trespass; including those trying to advance an agenda against multiple-use of federal lands.”
According to the complaint, water monitoring sites used by WWP in a plan filed with DEQ were either illegally located on private lands inaccessible without going through private property.
“Because the Defendants were required to use GPS equipment to note the locations of their water quality monitoring sites, Defendants knew or should have known that they were trespassing on private property to access these sites,” Attorney Karen Budd-Falen explained.
“Landowners are not comfortable having an extreme biased organization, that has not demonstrated the professional qualifications to collect credible data, trespassing their lands,” Budd-Falen continued.
Additionally, the Defendant trespassed on State lands and was notified on April 1, 2014 by the Director of the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments that collection of monitoring data on Wyoming State trust lands was prohibited by law and that any continued unauthorized data collections may constitute trespassing, the news release states.
The Plaintiffs in this lawsuit reportedly have the support of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Wool Growers Association.