See purple on a tree or fence? It likely doesn’t mean K-State pride

Travel across Kansas and you may see hundreds of fence posts and trees with a slash of purple paint. It means it’s illegal to hunt, fish or trap on the property without written permission from the landowner.
Travel across Kansas and you may see hundreds of fence posts and trees with a slash of purple paint. It means it’s illegal to hunt, fish or trap on the property without written permission from the landowner. The Wichita Eagle

Purple. It’s one of the most visible colors in Kansas.

It’s the color of Kansas State University, and license plates, bumper stickers, yard signs and clothing carry the color.

It’s also a color frequently found outside the city limits.

Drive on nearly any back road and it’s easy to see swatches of purple on fence posts, gates and trees, from tiny saplings to mature cottonwoods. Some purple markings are no bigger than playing cards, and some cover a fence post the size of a railroad tie from top to bottom. Those marks have nothing to do with K-State’s Purple Pride.

The swatch of purple means a person needs written permission to hunt, fish or trap on that property.

Kansas adopted the purple post law in 2000.

“That purple post, or tree, is the same as a sign that says written permission is needed to do those things,” said Kevin Jones, law enforcement director for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “It’s a lot easier for landowners.”

Purple was selected in Arkansas in 1989, when it became the first state to make the practice legal. Arkansas picked purple, because, unlike in K-State country, it’s a color seldom seen in the wild.

“It’s just a color nobody was using at the time,” said Billy Black of the Arkansas Forestry Commission. “Most colors were being used for something, but timber companies weren’t using purple to mark trees, and utility companies weren’t using it, so purple was chosen for landowners to use to mark their property.”

Black said Arkansas’ legislature requested his agency to come up with a color, and the laws behind it, as a cheaper way for private lands to be marked “no trespassing.” Black said it’s also much faster for landowners to do walk-by sprayings or brushings than to nail up a sign or hang one from a fence. Paint also is more durable.

“One of the most common complaints we have is someone puts up a sign and someone tears down the sign,” Jones said. “When they get caught on that private property, they can then say they didn’t see any signs. That’s harder to do when it’s paint on a fence post or tree.”

At least a dozen states use some color to replace regular signs, though some use brighter colors, like fluorescent orange. In most states, the paint simply means “no trespassing,” for any reason. Jones said that in Kansas, purple covers only hunting, fishing and trapping with written permission.

Technically, no property in Kansas can be entered without the landowner’s permission, marked or unmarked, said Chris Tymeson, Wildlife and Parks attorney. Even if a property is not posted with purple markings or signs or is enclosed in a fence obviously made to keep people out, uninvited visitors must leave immediately if asked by the landowner. If they refuse, or return against the owner’s wishes, law enforcement can issue a citation.

In the case of uninvited hunters, anglers or trappers, the purple post law makes things easier for law enforcement and landowners.

“Property posted ‘by written permission only’ means just that,” said Jones. “The person has to have written permission and has to have it on their person when they are on that land.”

Technically, the deputy or game warden who finds such a violator can issue a citation on the spot, without getting the landowner involved. But most law enforcement officials are more lenient.

Penalties for violating the written permission law include fines between $500 and $1,000, up to one month in the county jail and revocation of hunting, fishing or trapping privileges for up to one year. Jones said judges have the right to adjust some parts of the sentence, and penalties can be the most severe when someone is trespassing to hunt big game, like deer.

Randy Henderson, Reno County sheriff, said his deputies are aware of the law. Purple posts and trees make it easy for his people to know whether land is so posted and if someone afield may need to be checked. Sometimes what looks like bird hunters may be someone illegally picking wild marijuana or coming in on the backside of a property to commit some kind of theft. Most trespass checks, he said, are hunters who are where they are not supposed to be. His officers usually try to contact the property owners to see whether they want a citation issued.

It’s the same when trespassers are caught by game wardens.

“Ultimately it’s the landowners’ decision. It’s their land,” Jones said. “It’s up to them if they want charges pressed or not.”

Michael Pearce: 316-268-6382, @PearceOutdoors