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Corner Crossing Conundrum In Wyoming

Corner crossing is one of the most controversial topics out there right now. Let’s define corner crossing as it pertains to this conversation before we go any further. Corner crossing is simply where two pieces of public land share a corner and someone from the public steps from one section of public to the other. In theory and in the eyes of many in the public land hunting world it would seem that no trespassing has occurred.

In the eyes of many landowners they believe that their property has been trespassed on when this happens. Their understanding is that they have a certain level of ownership above the ground. A quick Google search on this is clear as mud because the definition varies from state to state, but anywhere from 80-500 feet above the ground seems to be where some of the articles settle. 

Which brings us to where we are with a case here in my home state of Wyoming regarding corner crossing. In the fall of 2021 Brad Cape, Phillip Yoemans, John Slowensky and Zach Smith were each cited for trespassing by corner crossing from one section of public land to another. The ranch involved is the Elk Mountain Ranch in southeastern Wyoming. 

According to witnesses the men built a ladder-like device that allowed them to cross several stakes without touching the ground or any “piece” of private physical property in the process. So why were they cited for trespassing? Well according to the most recent Wyoming legislative statute criminal trespass is what “can” be cited by local law enforcement such as a sheriff if the case warrants it. A Wyoming game warden cannot cite hunters for this as ruled by the Wyoming Supreme court. Every case is investigated on a case by case basis as the 2004 Wyoming Attorney General’s opinion holds. Yup, it’s more than a little confusing. 

The four men are going to fight the citation with financial help in the form of a GoFundme account funded by many public land hunters who want to be able to hunt the public land that tax dollars maintain. Therein lies the crux of the issue…public land that the public doesn’t have access to. Essentially private public property if you will that can only be recreated on by the landowners who border it or with permission from the said landowners. With the renewed and increasing interest in accessing public land in the covid era as well as the tools in GPS form that make it very easy to find property boundaries, this has the potential to be a very long litigation. Expect it to be a challenging issue to navigate for all involved. 

While we wait for this ruling there is a simple tool already in play that can alleviate some of this stress. In Wyoming we call it Access Yes which helps fund Hunter Management Areas and Walk in areas. Wyoming Game and Fish runs this program and it is a great tool that opens up access to private and landlocked public land alike. Just about every state has programs like these and they are vital for growing access. Supporting programs like these ensures we maintain the access we have and possibly open more in the future.  

Now it’s time for the “what say you” in relation to corner crossing. What do you believe the solution is? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts!

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35 comments

  1. Maybe ask the nearest private landowner to buy the land that isn’t accessible since they are the only ones using it? Increase their taxes. Loss loss

    Maybe put a pay to access in with camera’s and sign in book so the local private land owners that use it for their own playground atleast pay to have this unfortunate right away? Pays the taxes of the land. Loss win

    Buy access corridors from landowners to gain access. Make parking areas well within its boundaries and out of site of landowners? Win win but the odds are against ya.

    Most of society is money based unfortunately.

    • Its a monopoly set up years ago to benefit big time ranchers. Why do you think most of it is checkerboard deliniated. 50k acre ranch is operated by buying 25k acres and the private owner has exclusive grazing , trespass rights and pays half of the land use tax value
      .

    • Herd bull, taxes on bare land is typically about a $1/acre. So taxing the landowner in a section of land would be $640. I would pay that for privatizing a section of public ownership with exclusive rights. So, this solution isn’t overly taxing on the adjoining land owner (pun intended)
      Mtnbeavr

  2. How do I donate to the go fund me account? I’ll send a big check to help the sportsman out with the lock the larg landowner had on the public land.

  3. So if the landowners believe they own airspace where the properties meet doesn’t the public land have the same right/ownership where their two pieces meet? I don’t see the issue here. Landowners continue to make it more difficult to access public land. State and local governments need to more active in making sure that doesn’t happen. There is more than 60 million acres of public’s land that is landlocked. So the situation is already bad enough without this corner issue. Free the public’s land!!

    • To me this issue is more at the top over grizzly, wolf, ect….every 4-6 yrs we have come out to antelope hunt and end up finding all kinds of blm that is nonacessable that clearly shows a road to it on a map….it really is unfortunate that just because its public land doesn’t mean its accessible land

  4. Happy to Donate…what’s the gofundme page!!

  5. I would close the public landlocked property to hunting unless the neighbor private lands allow access and I would remove grazing from them for the same reason.

  6. With probably very few exceptions, the only reason landowners are so against corner access being legal is pure selfishness! They basically have free land locked up for their exclusive use/enjoyment. I have not heard a convincing argument otherwise. Who wouldn’t want that? I am a very firm believer in private property rights but I am just as firm a believer in public property rights. Reading the tea leaves so to speak I think the landowners will ultimately lose…they would do well to show some initiative in providing access as has been successfully done in a few instances. By doing so it would relieve a lot of the building pressure. This issue is gaining steam and until there is a decisive conclusion it is not going to go away.

  7. If it is checker boarded why isn’t there a land swap so both private and public can be continuous. When I look at the map on Wyoming I am dumbfounded how it has ever been sold off this way. The only answer I could possibly think of is at the time mapping capabilities were poor as was documentation, therefore allowing for a monetary exchange that no one could event point back to could and possibly did happen (again just speculation absolutely no proof). Honestly wouldn’t we all love to buy a 2000 square foot home for the price of 1000 square foot home????

    • The checkerboard is from the early start of the railroads. This way they only had to purchase half the land to make twice the distance.

  8. Typical! Large landowners tend to fight with everybody it’s something that morphs in them then is passed to there spoiled heirs. it’s too bad those a@#%$&*s are able to own/play/graze profit “feed the angus” on USA land, any public land should have a public easement with some stipulations but all corners should be accessible. At this point just invest in a light air craft and fly in 🤷‍♂️. Here in Oregon all timber companies have gated off their holdings
    In western Oregon. Leasing out some units, some ground no access & some accessible, but it’s tough to hunt in 2021
    Each state has challenges keep fighting.
    BW Burnham

  9. The reason they do it is because most of them have a outfitting business or they lease their land to outfitters for big money now in Montana they are trying to get elk seasons changed in some areas so you can only kill a bull on private land and antlerless only on public they are supposed to decide next week after a public meeting in Helena it’s just another way to privatize public resources some ranchers get six figures for their leases

  10. The solution is corner crossing with a ladder just like the guys in the law suit used. There is no trespass occurring as a result; no damage or taking of rights to the adjoining private landowner. I have always believed this to be the solution.

  11. The rightful property owners who in this case the public should not and cannot be land locked from there property. The landowners should be required an easement.

    • So what you’re saying is I work all my life to buy a piece of property and just because it’s next to public land you think it’s right for the government to take some of my land. Outrageous! Theives! You want access to public land then buy the land that borders it and donate your life savings to BLM so other hunters can use it but stay away from property you don’t own. You could also offer the land owner money to give you permission to cross their land like a responsible adult and stop whining like a spoiled child.

      • So what property rights of yours are being infringed on when a property corner is crossed exactly over the surveyed corner with no portion touching your ownership? It sounds to me that you are whining about your loss of exclusive rights to the public land? I see this as a taking of public land rights by the private property owner.

      • Private land condemnation for public access. It should happen more often.

  12. This is about control of and greed for a scarce resource. The private landowners have control of the public lands and therefore control the access and the public who wish to utilize it. Access to the wildlife is just a small part of it. WY Public Walk-in Access is a good program however, those are 1-year agreements. It seems to work in other parts of WY but not in NE WY where there are some of the greediest bastards on the face of the planet. I say don’t the waste public dollars on 1-year agreements but invest in permanent public assess easements. REMF is a huge sponsor of these acquisitions and they need all our support to keep up the good work.

  13. Did anyone on here actually read the article? It says anywhere between 80-500 feet above the ground is considered the land owners property. There unless the ladder was a minimum of 81 feet high it is trespassing. I know I am the minority here but the landowners pay the government to utilize the land for grazing. The government does not pay them for trespass rights nor for the grazing the wildlife which the government legally owns to graze on their land.

    Just because you don’t like a law does not mean you don’t have to follow. I hate paying taxes, I sometimes dislike going the speed limit, however I do because it’s the LAW!

    Until the law is changed and the definition means literally physically touching someone’s deeded ground is trespassing, you are breaking the the law and are a trespasser.

    Getting mad at landowners for denying access or contacting law enforcement is as dumb as you getting admonished for finding some drunk passed out in your backyard and you calling the cops for trespassing.

  14. The public should have access to public land. Ranchers that hold public land hostage should not be able to operate outfitting business on the land.

  15. In the past, all the important land and wildlife agencies in Wyoming had taken a public position as if corner crossing was illegal. In reality, as we know now, case law didn’t exist for corner crossing. For the past several years, corner crossing had been prosecuted differently county by county. In some counties it is not prosecuted at all, in others ticketed but the tickets thrown out if you had your GPS tracks in order. Carbon County Wyoming is known to be one of the more strict in regard to this issue. Probably because there are lots of big ranches in that county owned by LLCs with deep deep pockets that benefit from the exclusivity. One thing I hope certain agencies are getting better at is not outright saying something is illegal when they don’t know for sure. Don’t tell sportsmen it’s illegal for 25 years unless you know for sure, shame on you certain land and wildlife agencies.

    • It was a great area until the mid 1970s. The Federal government tried to build a road across a corner pin which the rancher sued and won. After the settlement in Leo Sheep Company vs. USA in 1979 most all government agencies deemed it as trespassing. Stepping across a corner vs. building a road are dramatically different things. Time will tell if we can make headway on public access in the future but if this case is dismissed then likely no County attorney would ever bring another case up for prosecution unless new legislation changes things.

  16. The huge swath of checkerboard land along I 80 in WY was originally given to the railroad by Congress to encourage them to build the transcontinental railroad. They eventually sold a lot of it. Blocking access at one piece of that private land effectively controls thousands and thousands of public acreas. Even BLM land managers can’t access that public land to do their jobs if the landowner denies them access. The cost to do land swaps is huge unless you have very motivated private parties. Mineral and water rights on each parcel are examined and balanced to make a value for value swap. And that is just the start. If you had control of thousand of acreas that cost you nothing would you be motivated? Not right to the public landowner but a fact. Corner crossing should be legal! No damage or private right is being taken. Only private privaledge.

  17. Has anyone noticed the occupations of lawmakers in Wyoming? How do you think this is going to go

    • The Wyoming legislature is top heavy with Rancher and people connected to ranching/Outfitters. Been that way since Wyoming became a state. Where do you think the law that non residents have to use an outfitter in wilderness areas came from?

  18. If this issue really gets pushed I think that a high court will determine that corner crossing is legal. However, it is quite a can of worms to open because how many section markers/corners throughout the state are actually accessible/passable? Very few, the majority of them aren’t really all that passable. I think the AG gave the opinion they did because it will be open season for folks to trespass across passable routes but claim they corner crossed if someone says it is legal because the map shows it.

    • Yes it is a can of worms. For those who do everything legally there isn’t an issue in my mind. The bad apples are the issue behind most of this especially now that we are the “side by side revolution”. The lazy person hunting will abuse the corner crossing issue. What I witnessed this year on BLM ground angers me with people freely going where they want on BLM land. They come up with their own rules instead of reading the exact law/rule. Yes I do believe some landowners work to benefit themselves and they are the other side of the coin as far as bad apples. I hope corner crossing is legalized and with modern technology perhaps a person could use their phone to video or take pictures of themselves doing it legal. I know that can be easily edited or whatever but what about the people that work hard to do it right and to teach the right way?

  19. A lot of money and time could be saved on both sides with a proactive compromise that would define trespass and crossing locations so the public would know where they can cross legally and landowners don’t have to worry about hunters entering their property because someone’s GPS is off by 20 feet.

    Possible example: Wildlife officials in coordination with affected landowners would designate a 3’ x 10’ footbridge location connecting public land corners. The state would then use public moneys to insert a 3’x10’ timber edged gravel path, marked on one corner with a 4’ colored post and reflector.

  20. This whole thing is going to get tossed out, under table dirty dealings will stop it all.

    Those 4 fellas will most likely sign an agreement not to discuss this any further, bla bla bla.

    Big $ doesn’t want this getting appealed to federal court because existing law barely has a leg to hold itself up. Friggin outfitters were the ones who screwed us sportsman on this corner crossing and high water line crap to begin with. It happened in Thermopolis area.

    These damned landowners claim crop destruction from herbivores then from livestock predation. The wolves wouldn’t be there if the game animals were hunted like they should be.

    Most of the private land generations ago was taken by hook or crook, and it’s still that way.

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