Sask. to change trespass laws

Farm organizations applaud the Saskatchewan government’s decision to require those who want to hunt or snowmobile on rural property to ask permission first.

But the opposition party and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations say more consultation should have occurred before legislative amendments were introduced last week.

Justice Minister Don Morgan said the changes will remove the onus on landowners to post their land and shift it to those who want to access the land.

He noted that rural landowners asked the government to review the laws because of increasing concerns about crime, property damage and biosecurity.

The changes will apply to private property and leased crown land.

“The primary focus of the proposed legislation is to minimize and prevent misunderstandings over land use and to protect the legitimate interests of private rural landowners,” Morgan said during second reading debate. “In particular the intention is to promote the safety of both the landowner and the person seeking access, to reduce biosecurity risks and property damage, and to provide an additional tool to combat rural crime.”

NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon said the government didn’t consult with First Nations or the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, both of which have traditionally accessed rural land.

“Not engaging those with history and rights and those that are directly involved and with practical knowledge is a recipe for bad legislation and it’s disrespectful,” Wotherspoon said in the legislature.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations was to meet with Morgan late last week to discuss their concerns.

The minister said the changes in no way affect the rights of First Nations and most hunters already do ask permission. He said rural citizens should have the same rights as people in urban areas; urban residents wouldn’t want people on their property without permission.

Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Todd Lewis said the organization’s members are pleased with the proposed amendments.

For them, the issue is biosecurity.

“It’s just modern farming practices and the pressures that come with diseases and weeds, it just has to happen,” Lewis said. “We have to know who’s on our land and when.”

There are some concerns that potential users won’t be able to find the owners to get permission.

He said it’s likely that landowners will authorize renters to make decisions about access but that will be up to them.

And he said modern technology through a smartphone app could help connect people.

“Most farmers don’t want to drive hunters away, and they don’t mind Ski-dooers on their property if they don’t have a winter wheat crop. They just need to know who is doing it and why,” Lewis said.

Morgan said an app is available in other jurisdictions and there might be informal ways that people could find out who is amenable to having people on their land, such as a posting at municipal offices or online.

“I would hope landowners would adopt a reasonable position and make themselves available,” he said.

The Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association said it was happy to see changes.

“Too often we have visitors, like snowmobilers and hunters, coming on to our pastures and fields without checking first,” said SCA chair Rick Toney. “This can cause many problems like injured animals, damaged fences and leads to the spread of weeds or plant diseases.”

Toney said it doesn’t take long to ask permission and, like Lewis, said most property owners are happy to grant it.

“They simply want to know who is on that piece of land and that it will be respected.”

Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities president Ray Orb said the organization’s members have passed numerous resolutions over the years asking for this change.

“Trespassing presents a threat not only to feelings of personal safety, but also to the livelihood of farmers and ranchers,” Orb said. “We believe that tightening rural trespass laws will help rural landowners and farmers protect their livestock and crops while increasing the sense of security and safety for their families.”

The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation recently released a study it undertook with Memorial University to understand attitudes toward land access.

The study found widespread support for the idea that landowners should control access. It found that most hunters are already asking permission, and while 66 percent of landowners had posted their land 85 percent of them allowed access when people asked for permission to use it.

The study also found that landowners wanted written permission but hunters thought verbal permission was better. Hunters cited difficulty in obtaining landowner contact information as a barrier.

Executive director Darrell Crabbe said that the new legislation should address concerns about rural crime, biosecurity and unauthorized vehicles but that other programs should be developed to mitigate impacts on law-abiding hunters.

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