Question: Are these hunters brilliant innovators, or scofflaws?
In November 2021, four hunters faced a problem that frequently stymies those of us who hunt public land: There were two huntable parcels, joined at the corner, with private land on either side. Crossing that corner is generally considered trespassing. So these Wyoming hunters came up with an idea: Building an elaborate stepladder that would allow them to travel from one piece of public land to another without setting foot on the (posted) private land on either side. You and I may find this amusing, but the private landowner did not, and he took action.
When the private landowner initially contacted law enforcement, LEOs declined to cite the four hunters. (Probably with a snicker.) However, the legal principle of private landownership doesn’t stop at the top of the grass. The airspace over it counts, too, which is why it’s not okay for your neighbors to build a walkway over your pool. So after a bit of a nudge, law enforcement cited those hunters, who then approached the Wyoming Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) association for help.
The chapter decided to support them. Chapter members reached out to hunters and anglers across the country and were overwhelmed by the response. BHA Wyoming sponsored a fundraiser to support the four hunters. Together more than $70,000 was raised to cover the hunters’ legal expenses. Should there be a remaining balance after all legal matters are resolved, the chapter will donate the remainder of the funds to Wyoming’s Access Yes Program, which is widely recognized as a successful program to help hunters, trappers and anglers access privately held lands.
In a major win for public lands access, four Missouri hunters were declared “not guilty” by the Wyoming court in a “corner crossing’ case that garnered national attention. Now, of course, the story of these four hunters has become national news. It has increased awareness around concerns held by private and public land owners alike, and it has shed light on how complex the landscape has become, which underscores the need to develop access solutions that work for everyone.
“Today the court made its decision, and Wyoming BHA believes justice has been served. We are happy for these hunters, and we hope we can avoid future scenarios of criminal prosecution of the public for attempting to access their public lands and waters.
“This isn’t a precedent setting decision, but it is a step forward. We are committed to advancing this conversation and we hope we can find solutions that result in increased public access while respecting the property rights and concerns of all.”
It’s important to note that the verdict of this case doesn’t mean that “corner crossing” is now legal. Hunters need to continue following the law to the very best of their knowledge and ability. Private land rights are extremely important in America, and balancing that against public land use is always tricky … but we’ll keep an eye on this developing situation!
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