No trespassing: Survivors will be prosecuted

By Michael H. O’Donnell

Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me out.
It’s a slight variation of the original lyrics, but it fits the ongoing
battle between those who depend on the access provided by old, poorly
maintained roads to millions of acres of public lands in the West and
those who own small parcels of private property along the outskirts of
these wide open spaces.
Like clockwork each hunting season, confrontations arise between folks
headed to national forests and rangeland and some guy with 12 acres and a
12-guage – guys like Rex Rammell. There may be those who want to ride to
the ridge where the west commences, but Rex is the one who has stared at
the moon till he lost his senses.
That’s right, former Idaho gubernatorial candidate and convicted elk
poacher Rex is back in the news. Rammell faces a misdemeanor battery
charge in Idaho County for reportedly trying to place a couple under
citizens’ arrest for trespassing. Things apparently turned ugly and Rex
allegedly put a choke hold on the man while his female companion watched
in horror and dialed 911.
Demonstrating his usual flair for good judgment, Rammell also faces a
charge of resisting arrest, after he failed to obey the orders of an
Idaho County Sheriff’s deputy. Rex had already alerted authorities to his
new residency in Northern Idaho after he publically advocated poisoning
Canadian wolves – a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
If the case against him goes to trial, the jury should brace themselves
for a variety of pamphlets created by anti-government forces which
advocate the supreme right of people to ignore the law – any law except
Private property is sacred ground protected by God, guts and guns.
Those who purchase a small parcel that nuzzles up to a vast expanse of a
federal or state mountainside tend to feel empowered by the sheer
magnitude of the land sitting behind the cabins they erect. Their sole
purpose in life seems to focus on the jealous protection of any access to
all that beauty. That old, traditional dirt road passing through their
land to the great wilderness beyond gets a new gate.
No gate is complete without signs which are posted with enthusiasm by the
proud landowner. “No trespassing: Survivors will be prosecuted,” adorned
with a skull and cross-bones is my personal favorite. This attempt by a
few to lock out access to the many is nothing new in the West.
It was a beautiful October day in southern Colorado when my father and I
set out to hunt mule deer in a stretch of national forest along the
headwaters of the Rio Grande River. It was 1967 and I was too young to
carry a rifle, but my dad took me along to show me the ropes of hunting
the slopes.
We worked our way up from a public parking area into a stand of quaking
aspen and swept along the conifer ridge above them. In the shade of a
large pine tree, we sat down, shared a sandwich and munched an apple. The
smell of the aspens, the warmth of the sun on our feet and the rustle of
leaves more than made up for the lack of hunting success.
If there is one thing I value most about my youth in the Rocky Mountains,
it is moments like these I spent in the company of the man I admired most
in pursuit of animals that became tasty table fare in my mom’s cozy
kitchen. We didn’t always come home with game, but we always came home
After finishing our lunch, we continued to hunt to the top of another
ridge and pushed a few does from their beds. Dad waited for a buck to
emerge, but that moment never came. As the afternoon wore on, we began
our descent from the mountain and came down to the flats about 200 yards
from the public road just a half-mile from where the car was parked.
We walked across a strip of pasture land and had just climbed carefully
over a barbed-wire fence when we heard the pickup roaring up the road
toward us. A woman was behind the wheel – an angry woman. The wheels on
the truck with Texas plates skidded as she slammed on the brakes and
opened her door.
What she began yelling at my dad included such gems as “S.O.B.” and
questions concerning hell and our intentions. The small woman with the
big mouth said we were trespassing and she could call the sheriff. Dad
smiled and pointed out we were now standing on a public road.
“People like that will ruin public hunting some day,” my dad said as she
drove away. Dads are full of wisdom.