Casper, Wyo. — Landmark Decision Expands Rights for Outdoor Enthusiasts
In a significant ruling with implications for public land access, Chief U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Wyoming granted a motion on May 26 in favor of four Missouri hunters accused of trespassing on Fred Eshelman’s Elk Mountain Ranch. The hunters utilized a practice known as “corner crossing” to traverse public land within Eshelman’s ranch without setting foot on private property. The judge’s decision to dismiss most of Eshelman’s $7 million lawsuit highlights the importance of the federal Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885, which protects the right to access “corner-locked” public lands.
Corner crossing involves navigating from one piece of public land to another at the shared corner with privately owned parcels, forming a checkerboard pattern. The court ruling affirms that corner crossing, when done without causing damage or physically entering private property, does not constitute unlawful trespassing.
The hunters’ attorney, Ryan Semerad, hailed the ruling as a long-overdue victory for public land enthusiasts across the nation, emphasizing the positive outcome for all those who appreciate access to these lands. While an appeal is expected, the decision underscores the significance of preserving public land access rights.
Notably, the judge’s ruling did not address a disputed allegation involving one hunter, Zach Smith, who allegedly set foot on the ranch property in a location unrelated to the corner-crossing incident. This separate trespassing allegation, referred to as “Waypoint 6,” remains unresolved and will be addressed in an upcoming trial in June. However, any damages related to this alleged transgression would be limited to nominal damages, distinct from the substantial amount initially claimed by Eshelman.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a prominent organization advocating for public land access, applauded the court’s ruling. They had launched a fundraising campaign in support of the hunters, asserting that their ability to move from one public land parcel to another was legally permissible. The organization sees this decision as a victory for common sense and the balance between access to public lands and respect for private property rights.
Judge Skavdahl acknowledged that property rights have limitations and restrictions, noting that historical precedents, federal case law, federal statutes, and recent Wyoming legislation support the concept of corner crossing within the checkerboard pattern of land ownership. As long as private property is not physically accessed, damage is not caused, and public land is being traversed, corner crossing on foot is not considered unlawful trespassing.
This ruling marks a significant development in the ongoing conversation surrounding public land access and underscores the importance of maintaining a balanced approach to land ownership and recreational opportunities.