KAMIAH — For three decades, Michael Hileman hunted on the same area of Bureau of Land Management land in central Idaho near Kamiah.
Every year he and his friends harvest deer, supplying Hileman, a Kuna resident, with food for five children and his wife.
But this year was unlike the rest — something Hileman blames on Idaho’s new trespassing law that took effect July 1.
When he and his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Julie, joined other hunters in their usual camping spot, they were met by landowners with binoculars and questions about where exactly they were hunting.
The BLM land is near private property. In previous years, Hileman has gotten permission to enter landowners’ private property while hunting. Never was he “harassed,” as he put it, by landowners while camping on BLM land.
Hileman and Julie arrived at camp Oct. 8, two days before hunting season, to set up camp and scout. In the early morning hours of Oct. 10, they began Julie’s third year of deer hunting.
Along the way they saw a new fence, brightly covered in orange paint with a no-trespassing sign.
“We completely avoided it,” Julie said. “We knew better. We just went the opposite direction.”
By 9:20 a.m. Julie, who is hearing impaired, got her first buck. They dragged the deer down the mountain the same way they had come up. Quickly they became exhausted, Hileman said. They quartered the deer and left the carcass behind.
The following day, Hileman was met by a Fish and Game warden asking where the two had been hunting. The warden had received a complaint from a landowner that he heard shooting to the south of his property, which the landowner said was someone else’s private land.
Hileman explained where they had gone, which he had also explained to the landowners who questioned him earlier.
The landowner also took the warden to the carcass Hileman had left.
Turns out, they left the carcass on private property. But Hileman and Julie say it was unmarked and unclear that it was private property.
“As far as we were concerned, we were not on private land,” Hileman said. “It was not harvested, it was not maintained and there were no fences or postings holding us back.”
CHANGES TO LAW
Idaho’s trespassing laws were updated during the last legislative session. The changes brought mixed option from rural landowners, sportsmen and law enforcement.
The new law changes how landowners mark private property. Previously, they had to post no-trespassing signs or orange paint every 660 feet, according to an August press release from Idaho Fish and Game.
Under the new law, a person should know land is private if:
• the property is associated with a residence or business;
• fenced or enclosed in a way that delineates the private property;
• unfenced and uncultivated but is posted with conspicuous no-trespassing signs or bright orange fluorescent paint at all property corners and boundaries where the property intersects navigable streams, roads, gates and rights-of-way entering the land and posted in a way that people can see the postings.
Before the law was changed this year, trespassers could only be charged with a criminal trespassing offense if they committed another offense, such as killing livestock or game illegally or damaging property.
Wardens have discretion on when to cite someone with trespassing or when to give them a written or verbal warning, said Roger Phillips, spokesman with the Idaho Fish and Game. Hileman said being the responsible party, he was given a citation.
Hileman now faces a misdemeanor trespassing charge. A records request for the warden’s report was not received by print deadline Wednesday.
If convicted, Hileman faces up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, but no less than $500, according to the law. In addition, he will have his hunting license suspended for a year, but that is not due to the new legislation.
The law says there must be enough signage for a reasonable person to understand it’s private land. This “reasonable person” standard allows for leeway in the bill’s enforcement, said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who sponsored the bill.
Though Boyle didn’t know the specifics of Hileman’s situation, she said the “reasonable person” standard should protect a person from a criminal charge if the property isn’t properly marked. She said the new law actually increases the standards for landowners posting private property.
“I would hope that people on both sides would be reasonable,” Boyle said Wednesday.
If a hunter has questions about private property while scouting, they should go and ask. There are apps hunters can use that show private land and who the landowners are, she said.
Hileman said the warden asked him why he wasn’t using a GPS. It is a hunter’s responsibility to know when they are on private property.
Hileman said that if the land was private, it should have been clearly marked. As far as they knew and understood, they had no reason to believe they were trespassing.
CONCERNS WITH NEW LAW
Hileman said he wasn’t concerned about trespassing in an area he has hunted in for decades, even with the changes to the law this year.
“I’m not intentionally going out to trespass on people’s ground,” he said. “I know better, and that’s not a good hunt anyway. I want to teach my children the correct way to have respect for their animals, the landowners and the land.”
Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, opposed the trespassing bill as it went through the Idaho Legislature earlier this year.
“Michael’s experience is exactly what we warned would happen as an unintended consequence of the law,” he told the Idaho Press.
Brooks was concerned with the new clause that said landowners aren’t required to post property if it can be reasonably associated with a business or home. On a 100-acre private property, a person such as Hileman might not see that there’s a house on the property, Brooks said.
He also said the changes do not allow for those found innocent of the trespassing charge to recover legal fees. He fears even if Hileman is found not guilty, he won’t get back the money spent on an attorney or legal fees.
The Idaho Wildlife Federation did agree with a lot of the bill when it was brought forth in January, Brooks said, but the federation voiced concern about unintended consequences. Amendments to alter the bill were voted down, he said.
“Here is the fallout,” he said. “And there will be more.”
State Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, said this is the first incident he has heard of that affected a person who mistakenly trespassed. Even so, he does think the law needs to be reviewed.
“We need to strike a balance between property rights and public access,” Martin said.
Currently there are no plans to bring forward a change to the statute during this upcoming legislative session, according to Martin.
For Julie, what was supposed to be an exciting hunting trip this month was ruined when her stepfather received the citation, she said. Hileman now has to travel nearly four hours to Grangeville for the pending case. His next court appearance is set for November.
“We won’t be back,” Hileman said. “An area we have been successful and hunted for 30 years and we won’t go back ever. Never.”
Hileman created a GoFundMe “Help fight trespassing ticket” to help pay for travelling to and from court dates and, if necessary, attorney fees.