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Bill advances that would make it easier to prosecute trespassers

Richard Mauer

JUNEAU -- A bill that would lower the legal requirements for "No Trespassing" signs and take away the excuse used by the trapping state trooper from Palmer passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday.

The criminal trespass bill was inspired by the discovery of moose heads and 38 traps on private property in suburban Mat-Su, said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who introduced the measure in February.

The traps were placed by Palmer wildlife trooper John Cyr and his trapping partner. Neither were charged with criminal trespass, though they paid damages to settle a lawsuit brought by the owners of the business that leases the land.

Stedman's bill, and a companion measure in the House, would remove the technical specifications for no-trespassing signs currently in Alaska criminal law -- that they be at least 144 square inches in size, that they contain the name and address of a person authorized to allow trespassing, and that they be placed at each roadway and access point to the property -- or at each of the four compass points if the property is an island.

Rick Ellis, Cyr's fox and coyote trapping buddy and the former president of the Alaska Frontier Trappers Association, told the Daily News in November that the pair set snares on an old potato field near Colony High School because no sign was posted at that access to the property.

Signs may have been elsewhere, but that was no deterrent for them, troopers said.

"Lacking the presence of any signs, anybody can go anywhere they want," Ellis said. "They can trap, they can hunt, they can do whatever."

Troopers told the leaseholders of the property that Ellis was correct and no criminal charges could be filed.

But that would likely change if Stedman's bill passes.

The Judiciary Committee removed one part of Stedman's bill that would have eliminated altogether the requirement for a "No Trespassing" or "No Trapping" sign. Stedman said he was fine with that. As agreed by the committee, the law would only say that signage must be posted "in a reasonably conspicuous manner under the circumstances."

Stedman's bill is Senate Bill 201. The companion measure, House Bill 375, is scheduled for its first hearing Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee. Both bills have only a single committee referral, a signal that they stand a strong chance of passage.

Stedman told the committee that he doesn't want to imply that every instance of trespass should be a misdemeanor.

"We don't have any interest in trying to get someone in trouble for inadvertently walking across your property -- they're doing a little bit of stream fishing, that's not the intent," Stedman said. "Most Alaskans, especially the ones who have been here for very long, recognize that people like to hike, hunt and fish, and it's not abnormal (to cross someone's land) -- people do that."

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or (907) 500-7388.


By RICHARD MAUER
rmauer@adn.com