Summary: On May 26, 2023, the District Court of Wyoming found it legal to cross through private airspace when stepping from public land to public land over a shared public/private corner. Read on for more information on what exactly this decision means for the public, and read the judge's order here.
1) Is corner crossing legal everywhere now? Just in Wyoming?
It’s complicated. This specific decision is based on the particular facts involved in the case. The judge determined that the hunters did not commit trespass by corner crossing on foot where they did not touch private property or otherwise damage private property. While the court’s opinion sets forth the law as understood by the court, unless and until the case is appealed and heard by higher courts, there is no guarantee that corner crossing in Wyoming or anywhere else is explicitly legal.
The decision the judge arrived at was made primarily based upon the case Mackay v. Uinta Development Co., a decision that allowed access across checkerboarded federal lands based upon existing federal law known as the Unlawful Inclosures Act (UIA), which has been on the books since 1885. As outlined in our amicus brief for this case, we believe this case and federal law makes corner crossing legal across the United States.
Corner crossing is not yet explicitly legal in Wyoming; however, BHA led a successful effort to secure passage of state legislation (SF 56) that clarified that a hunter would need to set foot on private ground to be convicted of criminal trespass. A hunter still could be convicted of civil charges in Wyoming and beyond for touching private property while corner crossing.
2) Will the judge’s ruling be appealed?
While no appeal has formally been filed at the time this piece was published by BHA, we fully expect the plaintiff to appeal the decision. An appeal would escalate the case to have precedent-setting impact, as described above. For now, we believe the judge correctly interpreted the law, and we will continue to stand in defense of public land hunters if/when the decision is appealed.
3) What’s the estimated timeline on all of this? We’re planning our fall hunts...
We don’t recommend banking on corner crossing just yet, as you still run the risk of legal action throughout the West. The timeline on this specific case is still very much TBD based on the plaintiff’s expected appeal.
4) What happens if I corner cross anyway?
The legality of corner crossing unfortunately remains a question mark throughout the West. Decisions regarding whether or not to prosecute hunters for crossing have largely been left up to the individual sheriff’s office, game warden and/or district attorney. Despite the decision in this Wyoming case, the legal quagmire and gray area that has plagued public land hunters for decades remains, though BHA is committed to solving this issue through a more proactive approach.
5) Do I have to cross with a ladder or can I just step across?
As mentioned above, unfortunately corner crossing remains a legal gray area. That said, in this particular case in Wyoming, the hunters utilized a ladder to get up and over a fence that was partly on private land (and that was constructed specifically to block people from accessing public lands at the corner) to ensure no interference with the fence or private ground.
6) If I do corner cross, what are some best practices?
If you do choose to access public land by crossing a shared public/private corner, there are a few things you should think about. First, are you comfortable with this risk knowing that this is still a legal gray area? Second, make sure you know exactly where the corner is. Electronic maps like OnX can get you close but are not necessarily accurate enough to determine the precise location of a corner. You should locate the monument marking the corner to ensure you do not touch private land when crossing the corner.
7) Where can I find more information on this or stay up to date on the corner crossing issue?
If you have not already signed BHA’s corner crossing pledge, please do so here so we can continue to send updates on corner crossing. Additionally, you can check out recent news updates on corner crossing from the Wyoming BHA Chapter, listen to an in-depth podcast on the topic and read more from the winter issue of Backcountry Journal. Finally, visit our fundraising portal to support the hunters’ legal defense.