2021 Carbon County Corner Crossing Issue and Position Paper Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) – Wyoming Chapter
Passed by a unanimous Wyoming Board vote 01/26/2022
Who is BHA:
BHA’s mission is to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters. Our membership is over 40,000 members strong, which includes roughly 1000 from Wyoming.
In the fall of 2021, four non-resident hunters were issued citations by a Carbon County Sheriff's Deputy for criminal trespass. The four hunters never touched private lands: they used a ladder to cross between adjoining corners of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Prior to this citation being issued, both the local Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD) Warden and a different Carbon County Deputy had told the hunters that their actions did not constitute trespassing. After successfully harvesting elk, upon their return to their camp, the hunters were met by the awaiting Deputy and issued the citations. Rather than accepting the charge for accessing their public land and paying the fines, the hunters have all pled “not guilty.” Their cases are pending.
The term “corner crossing” refers to the act of stepping from one corner of a parcel of public – that is, owned or held in trust by a federal or state land management agency – land to another parcel of public land. Often, parcels of public land are made inaccessible due to being “landlocked,” completely surrounded by private land on which there is no easement, public road, public trail, etc. Corner crossing utilizes legal access to a given parcel of public land in order access another piece of public land sharing an adjoining corner, akin to moving pieces across a checkers game board. Corner crossing can provide access to relatively small parcel of land; in some cases, however, it may be the only potential means of access to otherwise-inaccessible large tracts of public land.
Corner crossing is neither explicitly legal nor explicitly illegal in the State of Wyoming. One similar case was tried in Albany County in 2004. In this case, the judge found the hunter “not guilty” of trespassing when they corner crossed to archery elk hunt in 2003. This “not guilty” determination per Wyoming Statute § 23-3-305 had no binding effect on any court. Shortly thereafter, Wyoming’s then-Attorney General, Pat Crank, published an opinion that corner crossing, when the intent is to hunt, fish, or trap on public land, doesn’t violate the aforementioned statute. However, the opinion notes that does not mean corner crossing is lawful, and may be considered criminal trespass per Wyoming Statute § 6-3-303 depending on factual circumstances of a given case.¹
In this particular case, Wyoming BHA believes the factual circumstances will show that the four hunters did not commit criminal trespass.
The Wyoming BHA Chapter Position as of 01/26/2022:
- Wyoming BHA acknowledges private landowner rights, inclusive of all private landowners’ rights to grant or deny permission to access their property on an individual basis. We also acknowledge the important role of private land in the maintenance of healthy populations of game species in Wyoming.
- Wyoming BHA supports the prosecution of people who knowingly and willfully trespass and/or cause damage to private lands.
- Wyoming BHA strongly recommends that hunters and anglers take time to build a relationship with the landowners adjacent to their spots. This may result in more access and opportunity, but at a minimum will improve communication and dialogue.
- Wyoming BHA supports prosecution of those who interfere with or impede the lawful use of public land, inclusive of hunter harassment.
- Wyoming BHA has carefully reviewed the language in the relevant statutes, § 23-3-305² and § 6-3-303³, as well as the affidavit provided by the hunters and a 2019 Memorandum regarding these statutes provided by WGFD Deputy Chief Warden Scott Edberg.⁴ Accordingly, we believe that the actions of these hunters did not constitute criminal trespass.
- Wyoming BHA supports the four hunters in their right to due process: a right so important and fundamental that it is the only command listed twice in the United States Constitution.
- Wyoming BHA understands prior case law pertinent to corner crossing is limited both within and beyond Wyoming. We believe a “guilty” determination in this case would have a direct negative impact to hunters’, anglers’, and trappers’ ability to access our public lands. We believe a “not guilty” determination will not set a precedent, i.e. have a legally binding effect, but will nonetheless add a decision to the legal record that supports the argument that corner crossing does not constitute criminal trespass.
- Wyoming BHA supported the creation of a GoFundMe to offset the cost of these hunters’ legal representation team. Should any or all of the hunters be found guilty, if they appeal the decision, these legal representation fees may prove to be costly over time and at various levels of courts. Therefore, donations will be held until a final decision is issued in a court of law for each of the four hunters.
- Wyoming BHA will donate all funds raised through the GoFundMe that are not needed to cover the accused hunters’ fees for legal representation to WGFD’s Access Yes program, which we have supported through donations since our inception as a Chapter.
- Wyoming BHA supported the creation of the BHA Sportspersons’ Corner Crossing Pledgewith the intent to keep interested persons abreast of relevant news on this case, as well as similar cases or related initiatives in the future.
- Regardless of the outcome of this or other court cases, Wyoming BHA will not promote corner crossing to users until reasonable measures are taken to limit resource degradation and trespass.
- Wyoming BHA recognizes that solutions to the corner crossing gray area can only come through collaboration at a statewide level, with a multitude of stakeholders represented. We are prepared to support and participate in such efforts.
It must be recognized that this all occurred because one private landowner decided to press charges against these hunters, who went out of their way to corner cross in a legally permissible manner. The hunters and Wyoming BHA are simply responding to these charges.
Regardless of the outcome, Wyoming BHA recognizes the need for collaborative work to solve the corner crossing gray area. However, we do not believe that a person's or group's right to due process should be forgone in the name of "collaboration." Instead, we support a country with checks and balances, including those embedded within and guaranteed by the United States judicial system at all levels. The outcome of these legal proceedings can only stand to inform and thus improve statewide problem-solving on this issue, which is one of many reasons we feel it imperative to not limit the scope of the legal proceedings to the financial resources of the defendants.
¹ Wyoming Game and Fish Department, & Cleveland. (2004, August 25). A.G. Opinion -- “Corner-Crossing” [Press release]. https://www.wyoleg.gov/InterimCommittee/2019/01-2019060313-04Trespass-CornerCrossing.pdf
² 23-3-305. Hunting from highway; entering enclosed property without permission; penalty; hunting at night without permission prohibited. (2021). In Title 23: Game and Fish (p. 95). Wyoming Legislature. https://wyoleg.gov/statutes/compress/title23.pdf
³ 6-3-303. Criminal trespass; penalties. (2021). In Title 6: Crimes and Offenses (p. 78). Wyoming Legislature. https://wyoleg.gov/statutes/compress/title06.pdf
⁴ Wyoming Game and Fish Department, & Edberg, S. E. (2019, June 3). Wyoming Trespass Statutes [Press release]. https://www.wyoleg.gov/InterimCommittee/2019/01-2019060313-03TrespassGFMemo.pdf