- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Groups involved in conservation, animal protection, press freedom and other issues filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a pair of Wyoming laws enacted this year that restrict data collection on open land.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne claims the laws violate the constitution by prohibiting collection of information about natural resources without permission from a landowner or lessee.

The coalition includes Western Watersheds Project, National Press Photographers Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Center for Food Safety.

The lawsuit says some of the groups have reported concerns to government agencies about pollution and treatment of animals. It states that the new laws prohibit such future reporting, even on public lands.

“It’s a shame that Wyoming’s government cares less about upholding the rights of all of its citizens to clean water and clean air and more about the livestock sector’s ‘right’ to secretly pollute and impair our natural resources,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project.

Justin Marceau, a professor at Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, represents Western Watersheds Project and National Press Photographers Association. “This kind of law might seem less shocking in North Korea,” he said.

Jeff Kerr, general counsel at the PETA Foundation, said PETA’s exposés have helped law enforcement take action in cases of animal cruelty that the new rules would help conceal.

Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael declined comment on the lawsuit, saying he hasn’t had a chance to review it in detail.

Rep. David R. Miller, R-Riverton, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. One of the bills, which established that it’s a crime to trespass to collect resource data, was endorsed by the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee.

Miller acknowledged there are problems with the legislation and said lawmakers are working to devise changes for consideration in the legislative session early next year. “I think the lawsuits are premature,” he said.

Lawmakers struggled in drafting the bills to define the term “open spaces,” Miller said. “The intent isn’t to stop people from going onto public lands, and I think that’s been some of the criticism.”

Miller said he understands the intent was to prevent people from taking photographs or collecting data without permission on private lands.

“I could go to your house, and collect a sample under your car where your car’s leaking a little bit of oil or some anti-freeze,” he said. “And you’re in violation of some law. It’s real easy to do stuff like that, ‘I gotcha.’” I think that’s what we were trying to prevent.”

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers intended to specify that if a person doesn’t have the legal right to be in a certain location, they can’t collect data there and take it away.


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