By Phil Cooper, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Deer season opened this week in much of the Panhandle Region.
A few calls have already come in from landowners who were upset with hunters going on cultivated private property without permission. In the interest of "cultivating" good relationships between hunters and landowners, this is a good time to review Idaho's trespass laws.
The current Idaho trespass law was passed in the late 1980s. The law states that "no person may enter private land to hunt, fish, or trap without permission if the land is either cultivated or posted..." Proper posting consists of "NO TRESPASSING" signs; trees or posts painted with 100 square inches of high-visibility orange paint; or the top 18-inches of metal fence posts painted high-visibility orange. One of these markers must be posted every 660 feet, or more often, around the property. It is especially important to post access points.
Idaho's law is more "hunter friendly" than trespass laws in surrounding states and most of the rest of the United States. In most states, permission is required on any private ground. With so much of Idaho land publicly owned, and much private land interspersed among tracts of public ground, it isn't always apparent whether land is public or private. Idaho's law accommodates this possible uncertainty of ownership.
According to a survey of rural Idaho landowners, 88 percent will allow hunting on their property if hunters ask permission first. Much of this property is posted, but the landowner can and often will allow access.
A common misconception is that a landowner cannot grant permission to hunt posted ground. Another common misconception is that even the owner may not hunt on posted property. I have never understood where this belief originated, but it is very widely held. "No Trespassing" or "No Hunting" signs simply prohibit entering or hunting without permission on land that is not cultivated.
Cultivated land cannot be accessed without permission, and no signs are needed to close access if ground is cultivated. A hay field is considered cultivated.
Landowners are more likely to grant access to their land to people who ask well in advance. Some landowners set a "quota" on their property, and those who ask first have the best chance.
Sportsmen may pick up free hunter courtesy cards at Fish and Game offices. These contain spaces for the hunter's or angler's name, address, etc., to be given to landowners who grant access to their land. Landowners in turn sign a card the hunter keeps, which verifies permission to access the property. The cards do not increase the landowner's liability in the case of an injury. They simply provide proof that the landowner has been personally contacted prior to entering private land, and they provide the landowner a record of who has permission.
Sportsmen can maintain positive landowner-sportsman relations by respecting postings and first asking permission to hunt, fish or trap on private land.
Phil Cooper is the wildlife conservation educator for the Panhandle Region.