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Corner crossing lawsuit


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The hunters were acquitted of trespassing, but now face a civil suit for $3.1-$7.75 mil.

Corner crossing lawsuit is the latest fight over Mountain West land access

This usually happens with no conflict. In fact, many private landowners allow hunters to access their properties or grant easements for safe passage.

But recently, corner crossing made headlines after four hunters from Missouri used a ladder to climb over a fence to access Bureau of Land Management land near Elk Mountain. They never set foot on the adjacent 22,000-acre private ranch and say they notified the local sheriff’s office prior to their days-long trip.

“The fact that they built the ladder – they contacted all these people – to me says they were doing everything they could to not cause conflict,” Hettick said.

But the landowner sued the hunters and charged them with trespassing. The main argument is that stepping over private property violates the landowner’s airspace. The lawsuit may force courts to bring clarity to what's long been a legal gray area.

Jim Magagna is executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. He often moves his sheep herds across the checkerboard.

“For us as ranchers, those boundaries between private land and public land and state trust lands and that, they exist on a piece of paper,” he said. “In most cases, they don't exist in terms of how you manage a ranching operation.”

However, he argues that allowing the public to move across those corners could severely damage his economic well being, safety and personal freedoms. His association has filed briefs in court supporting the trespassing charges.

“If the federal government is gonna control it, then we've devalued private property in the state in many instances because you no longer have control of your private property that we have all assumed we had,” he said.

At Elk Mountain, the landowner, Fred Eshelman, is a businessman from North Carolina with an estimated net worth of $380 million, per a 2014 Forbes article. He claims the damages just from that one corner crossing could be more than $7 million, as reported by WyoFile, a news organization that's covered the conflict extensively.

Recreators like Hettick argue a figure like that is a “scare tactic.” A Backcountry Hunters and Anglers GoFundMe campaign to help cover legal fees has raised more than $85,000 from nearly 2,000 donors.

“I mean, how do you own the air? You can't own air. I don’t see how,” he said. “His grievance is with the real estate company that falsely told him that he had exclusive use of that public ground.”

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Wow, from an armchair perspective that seems petty. How are you losing $7 million when people cut across a corner of your property? Maybe if I was a Brazilianaire and owned property there I wouldn’t want people cutting across my land, but I’m not. I’d buy the property next door and play Gene Autry “Don’t Fence Me In” at loud volume 24/7

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From the little I've read, I don't think he's been damaged, certainly not for millions.  The only thing I can't tell is if the landowner has a legitimate concern about not wanting to to encourage other hunters to climb over fences (where they could fall and then sue him) pr just not wanting a lot of people climbing over his property.  The article suggests he wants sole entry to the public lands which isn't a very sympathetic argument.  Are there other ways people could access the public land without going "over" the private property?  If these are the only people who've climbed over the property, he may have made a bigger deal over this and made more people aware through the lawsuit.

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