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Wyoming judge sides with corner crossing hunters in trespassing case

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News brief:

A federal judge in Wyoming has ruled in favor of four hunters in a case that tested the legality of "corner crossing," or stepping from one parcel of public land to another over a common corner shared with private property – a common practice due to the checkerboard pattern of land ownership in parts of the Mountain West.

Chief U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl found that the foursome did not trespass when, in 2020 and 2021, they corner crossed and passed through the private airspace of a ranch in southern Wyoming. The owner of the ranch, Fred Eshelman, argued otherwise and claimed the hunters caused more than $7 million in damages, even though the men never stepped foot on his property.

The May 26 ruling brings some clarity to what's long been a legal gray area.Lawyers representing the hunters told WyoFile they "fully expect" an appeal.

Skavdahl granted the hunters' request to dismiss the case, saying federal law prohibits landowners from blocking access to public lands.

“The private landowner is entitled to protect privately-owned land from intrusion to the surface and privately-owned property from damage while the public is entitled to reasonable way of passage to access public land,” Skavdahl wrote. “The private landowner must suffer the temporary incursion into a minimal portion of its airspace while the corner crosser must take pains to avoid touching private land.”

The decision was heralded as a win by sportsmen’s groups. About 8.3 million acres in the U.S. are considered corner-locked.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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