sponsored by the

Museum of Natural Science,
Louisiana State University



Trespassing.  Please do not trespass to look for birds.  Besides being illegal, this creates an ongoing bad image for birding in Louisiana. 


Here is Kevin Morgan’s synopsis of the laws here in Louisiana:


"No Trespassing" signs do NOT need to be posted - if you are not the owner of the property, and you do not have *specific* permission to be there from the owner or his agent, or a specific authorization by law, you are trespassing.


There are seven categories of people who may enter or remain upon private property "by law" (essentially: law enforcement: firefighters: EMS: government employees engaged in an emergency situation or who are authorized elsewhere in law to be present for particular purposes related to their official duties; anyone authorized by a court with competent jurisdiction to enter the property; or someone exercising his right of passage to an "enclosed estate"- i.e. your property completely surrounds mine and the only way I can get there is to cross your property).


Beyond that, there are eight categories of people who may enter or remain on private property without permission unless asked to leave (land surveyors, utility workers, commercial delivery/contact type people, employees of the owner, owners of animals that have wandered onto the property, candidates for political office and their campaign staff, and boaters who are retrieving property or seeking emergency assistance).


That's it. Whether or not the property is posted, whether or not there are signs, whether or not you are asked to leave first or the owner calls the cops on the spot - if you don't fit into one of the exceptions above, you're trespassing, and if you fit into one of the second group, and you're asked to leave, you are trespassing if you don't leave immediately.


That's the law, which is separate from any opinion anyone might have on whether it's a good/bad/indifferent idea to break it.


Now, a little background: The current wording of the criminal trespass statute was adopted in 2003 following the work of a task force pushed by the landowners' association. Prior to this revision, there were extensive posting requirements, provisions about local governments having the authority to adopt additional trespass provisions, rules about illegally posting other people's land, and a bazillion "categories" of trespass - trespassing on railroad property, trespassing on crawfish farming property, trespassing on agricultural property, trespassing on marshland, etc. A determined trespasser could remove "posted" signs at night, enter a property by day, and claim that he had no knowledge the property was posted; with no proof that the property had been posted at the time of entry, it was hard to prove by criminal standards ("beyond a reasonable doubt") that the trespasser knew he was trespassing.


And trespass had become a serious issue - whether or not birders are or were part of it. People could, in effect, enter private property and do pretty much what they wanted, with impunity. I remember when four-wheelers first became popular as a recreational vehicle that kids would ride all over private property near where my parents' house was under construction, including a lot of clearly posted property. They certainly didn't hesitate to enter property where the posting wasn't exactly up to specs. In just a few years, we started seeing major changes in the runoff and erosion patterns of the property nearby - wrought by trespassers. And this was just what I observed on one tiny little 48-acre little tract of lots in one corner of one parish. Imagine what was going on statewide.


Hence the clear, bright line: if it's not your property and you don't have a specific right to be there or specific permission, then you're trespassing. Is it a pain in the ass for those of us who "know" we're not doing anything harmful and think we "should" be able to "quietly" trespass to see what good birds might be there? Of course it is - but that doesn't change the rationale. In the end, when confronted with the question of what was paramount - the right of the landowner to control his property without having to jump through hoops, or accommodating people whose intentions are probably, on the whole, decent but ultimately unknowable, the legislature came down squarely on the side of the landowners.


And if you think this is going to change any time soon, a cautionary anecdote. Note that land surveyors are in the category of people who can be asked to leave and will be trespassing if they refuse. If I own a piece of property next door to Joe, and I hire a surveyor to mark the line between the property so I can build a fence, Joe can order the surveyor off his property, EVEN IF the only way to find the boundary line is to trespass (to find, say, a marker on Joe's property that is traceable on the survey maps. My ONLY recourse in such cases is to go to court and file an action demanding that Joe grant access for the purpose of finding the marker, win that case, and then use the order to have the surveyor legally enter the property. This is a "feature" (intended or not) that the surveyors' association has been trying to fix since 2003 - they seek an exception allowing them to enter for this sole purpose. They have not been able to even get the committee overseeing this issue to move the bill out, for eight years. Do you think that the legislature is going to look kindly on creating an exception for people who want to trespass for the purpose of a recreational activity?




Kevin Morgan