Last Friday, May 26, a federal judge ruled in favor of four corner-crossing hunters in a decision considered a major win for public access nationwide.
The court case stemmed from incidents in 2020 and 2021 in which four hunters from Missouri crossed from one “corner” of a public land parcel to another to access hunting grounds in Wyoming, a state that often has public-private land in a checkerboard pattern. Though the corner crossers did not set foot on private land, landowner Fred Eshelman sued them for passing through the airspace above his land. He sought over $7 million in damages from the hunters.
Chief U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl dismissed all of the charges in the case involving corner crossing. One charge involving an accusation over a waypoint on Eshelman’s property was not resolved. “The Court’s survey of the law revealed that where a person corner crosses on foot in a checkerboard from public land to public land without touching the surface of private land and without otherwise damaging private property, there is no liability for trespass,” Skavdahl wrote. “When the law is applied to the undisputed evidence in this case, no reasonable jury could find Defendants liable for civil trespass for their corner crossing activities.”
The ruling creates precedence in favor of corner crossing in Wyoming and likely beyond. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), which created a campaign to financially support the hunters, cheered the decision.
“[The ruling] was a win for the people, both in Wyoming and across the country,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “We are happy that common sense and the rule of law prevailed. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers applauds the court’s careful balancing of access to public land and respect of private property rights. We look forward to finding more solutions to access – together.”
The defendants’ lawyer Ryan Semerad “fully expects” Eshelman to appeal the case, as reported by the Casper Star Tribune. According to onX, there are 8.3 million acres of “corner locked” public land in the West, which is equivalent to 3.8 times the size of Yellowstone National Park.