A judge for the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming ruled that four Missouri hunters did not trespass when they corner-crossed through airspace above Elk Mountain Ranch near Rawlins, WY.
The case arose after the four hunters used a step ladder to cross from one parcel of public land to another above a common corner where Ranch property and public property intersect. Last year, a jury in the Circuit Court of Carbon County, WY found the four hunters not guilty on criminal trespass charges filed by the State of Wyoming.
After the criminal case was dismissed, Iron Bar Holdings, the owner of Elk Mountain Ranch, filed a federal civil suit in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming, asserting various tort claims including trespass and claiming more than $7 million in damages.
District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl dismissed the Ranch’s trespass claims regarding corner crossing finding as a matter of law that corner crossing does not constitute the tort of trespass. An appeal of this order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is expected.
The Order states: “The Court finds that where a person corner crosses on foot within the checkerboard from public land to public land without touching the surface of private land and without damaging private property, there is no liability for trespass.”
Judge Skavdahl’s order does not totally dispose of the case. The order did not address the allegation that one hunter crossed onto Ranch property in a separate location after corner crossing. Attorneys for Iron Bar argue that a waypoint created by one of the hunters and located on Ranch land shows the hunter trespassed. Attorneys for the hunter argue that the waypoint could have been created at any time and does not prove the hunter trespassed. This separate “Waypoint 6” trial is set for June.
This federal court ruling has implications for the 8.3 million acres of “corner-locked” public land in the U.S., but it does not mean that corner crossing in every state is now legal. The issue remains a legal gray area in many Western states, and state legislatures have taken action to address this issue. Most recently, Colorado’s SB1066, which concerned the authorization of an individual to cross into private land to access a parcel of public land, was defeated in the state legislature.
Following the ruling, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Deputy Director Dustin Temple issued the below statement:
“Corner crossing remains unlawful in Montana, and Montanans should continue to obtain permission from the adjoining landowners before crossing corners from one piece of public land to another,” Temple said. “Wardens will continue to report corner crossing cases to local county attorneys to exercise their prosecutorial discretion.”
Western Landowners Alliance/MT FWP/District Court of Wyoming