A Carbon County sheriff’s deputy and a Game and Fish officer spent more than 16 minutes with the Elk Mountain Ranch manager during the response to a hunting trespass report, ultimately telling him why they wouldn’t cite four Missouri hunters, a video shows.
The recording — from what court documents say is a body camera worn by Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy Alex Bakken — shows Game and Fish officer Jake Miller and ranch manager Steve Grende at the hunters’ roadside camp.
In the video, Bakken and Miller tell Grende, who had called to report the four hunters were trespassing by “corner crossing,” they would not cite the men for either trespassing to hunt or criminal trespass because of the unsettled nature of the laws.
As Miller explains the Game and Fish Department and Commission position on the trespassing to hunt law — based on a Wyoming Attorney General’s opinion that corner crossing may not be a violation of the trespass to hunt statute — Grende interjects.
“Do they realize how much money my boss has? …and property?” Grende asks.
Neither Miller nor Bakken issued a citation during the recorded meeting, which court documents say occurred Oct. 1. Officers said they would submit reports to the county attorney who, documents say, subsequently ordered a deputy to charge the men, which happened on Oct. 4.
On that day, Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Patterson went to the roadside camp and cited Phillip G. Yeomans, Bradly H. Cape, John W. Slowensky and Zachary M. Smith with criminal trespass. The county attorney later requested the Carbon County Circuit Court allow an alternative charge of trespassing to hunt to be considered.
The men have pleaded not guilty and a trial is set for April 14.
Corner crossing involves stepping from one piece of public land to another where two public parcels share a four-way corner with two private parcels. Where such checkerboard ownership patterns exist, it is possible to step over the common corner, chess-bishop fashion, without touching private land.
At issue is access to some 404,000 acres of public land in Wyoming and almost 1.6 million acres when also counting Utah, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico, according to an assessment by the Center for Western Priorities.
WyoFile obtained the video from the Circuit Court of Carbon County where it is an exhibit in the hunters’ file. The nighttime video shows the officers and Grende discussing the law and its interpretations before Bakken checks out the hunters’ truck and trailer and finally pages through what looks like a booklet describing legal citations.
The video “was produced by the State in discovery,” court papers state and became part of the case record when an attorney for one of the hunters included it as an exhibit in a motion to dismiss criminal trespass charges. It was made, “around 02:04:37 on October 1, 2021,” according to the court filing.
Officers had observed the men on public land wearing camouflage and carrying archery gear. They appear to have been in the area during both the archery and firearm seasons.
“As far as a Game and Fish trespass, I don’t really think I can do much with it,” Miller tells Grende in the video.
(In the video Elk Mountain Ranch Manager Steve Grende refers to another person who had been in the area saying “I’ve caught him out here a couple of times.” He then appears to refer to that person as being Seith Konrath, stating “he [inaudible] for trespassing.” Seith Konrath told WyoFile that he indeed had been corner crossing in the area in the past and had been checked out by law enforcement but has never been found guilty of trespassing.)
Deputy Bakken states “not going to do anything for it,” according to a hunters’ attorney’s transcript of the video. “We will write it up. But the County Attorney will not prosecute for corner crossing.”
That turned out not to be the case and Carbon County Attorney Ashley Mayfield Davis told the sheriff’s office to cite the men, court papers say. Corner crossing “is illegal” and it’s been “a consistent policy of the Carbon County Attorney’s Office at least since 2008” to cite offenders under the criminal trespass law, Davis wrote in a Feb. 22 filing.
That seven-page document, not counting attachments, is Davis’s response to the hunters’ motion to dismiss the charges. Davis asserts that 2021 was the second year in a row the hunters had crossed corners in the area.
Smith, Yeomans and Cape had crossed at public-private corners in 2020, she wrote. At that time “[t]hey reportedly spun their bodies around the T posts,” marking the private property, Davis wrote in her response.
One of the men contacted Davis after the 2020 trip, the county attorney wrote. Although authorities issued no citations in 2020, “the charges were pending,” her filing states.
In 2021, the men used a fence ladder to climb over two T posts on two adjacent and kitty-corner parcels of Elk Mountain Ranch property. The two posts were chained and wired together, according to a photograph purporting to show the corner in question.
In 2021, “[d]efendant Cape requested a charging decision be made from the Carbon County Attorney’s Office… during his interactions with Game and Fish,” Davis wrote. “The County Attorney’s Office did [sic] law enforcement to issue citations herein.”
Referencing the 2020 incident, Davis said additional charges have now been filed. She requested that the circuit court allow trespassing to hunt be considered as an alternate charge to criminal trespass and stated it should apply to the hunters present in 2020.
Sparring over federal law
In her Feb. 22 filing, Davis knocks a defense motion to dismiss the criminal trespass citations that claimed a conflict with federal law. Defense attorneys said, among other things, that the Unlawful Inclosure of Public Lands Act of 1885 prohibits private property owners from fencing off public land.
“Much of Defendants’ basis for his motion is based upon an improper interpretation of Federal law,” Davis wrote. “The state does not believe there to be a conflict with Federal law.”
Fee ownership of private property is “a defense to this Act,” Davis states. “Marking your own land with a no trespassing sign is in fact legal,” she wrote. Doing so “is not equivalent to ‘enclosing’ public lands,” her filing states.
Davis referenced several court cases and said the United States Supreme Court ruled there is “no implied easement to public land” in the checkerboard ownership landscape. Since 1977 the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, administrator of the land where the men were hunting, has subscribed to a federal solicitor’s opinion that disfavored corner crossing, Davis wrote.
“BLM considers corner crossing to be illegal,” her response states.
The hunters claim they never touched private land. But their critics say they passed through airspace above private land, an act that constitutes trespass.
The four corners in a crossing situation meet at a point that, essentially, has no width. The hunters have argued that any airspace intrusion damaged nobody and nothing and should be disregarded.
“[H]ow a person could go through those points without entering the land of another would be impossible,” she wrote. For a trespass charge to require more than a de minimis entry “is simply unfounded in Wyoming law.
“The state asserts that in this case individuals knowingly accessed corners marked with no trespassing,” Davis’s response reads. “Under the current law and its interpretation, corner crossing legally is physically impossible. As such, actions of the Defendants are in violation of Wyoming Statute.”
This story was updated March 2 with a statement from Seith Konrath (printed in parentheses right below the video) regarding claims made by Elk Mountain Ranch Manager Steve Grende about Konrath’s activities in the area — Ed.
Perhaps hunter groups/WGF could get together and build cross over steps at corners to allow crossings. I’m sure the money these hunters bring in helps the state G&F considerably.
But does that also mean that the land owner unlawfully chained off and blocked federal public land with his chain going from one pole to the other across that corner. You cannot have it both ways. If they were trespassing, then the land owner is violating federal law by illegally trespassing on public land through the act of gating it off. The chain swings both ways literally. His land (airspace), public land (airspace) charge him/fine him/remove his grazing leases as he violated federal law/ then throw him in prison
I am curious as to how far the private land owners “air space” control extends? Aircraft going over the property are in violation too, aren’t they?
If the public cannot use the BLM land as these hunters did (by crossing without touching private land) than the individuals that own the land around the BLM land should not be allowed to use it!
Large ranches sell hunts that include BLM land use, so they are selling access to public land for profit that the public owns and cannot use.
And that is a violation of federal law as well
I look forward to ore about how all this pans out. The video shows a rational conversation and it seem obvious the Sheriff has no clear basis to go by….pretty big can o’ crap.
Great article, The fill-in of the story provided by the video is a good inclusion… please keep us apprised..
Wyoming needs to pass some laws like North Dakota has. Section lines our 66 1/2 feet wide and are open to public travel. As long as you stay on the section line they can’t stop you. You can skirt private land around a pond in the middle of the section line, but the landowners can not dump rock piles in the section line to stop travel either.So if someone had enough money to buy all the property around your property, you would have no access to your property? Either way, it’s just a landgrab and they don’t want other landowners being able to lease BLM so there’s no competition in the bidding and they won’t be able to control game movements as easy.
You can not skirt around a pond or any other natural barrier on private property. You have to stay on the section line or you are trespassing. But you can improve the section line to make it possible. If they fancy it, you can cut it. If they permit you can drive over the crap. But you better make damn sure you’re on the section line and not a quarter line. Either way, there is no intent to harm the landowner in anyway. The intent here is to make public landowners miserable and pay access fees to properties they do not own..
Perhaps designating public land not accessible to the public as a game preserve. No hunting, no fishing, no grazing until the public has access. All across the Country.
I wish public lands got half of the privilege afforded to the wealthy landowners. Any isolated public lands should be open access to all, or open to none.
this is so ridiculous
Q: “Do they realize how much money my boss has?” Grende asks.
A: Wrong question , cowdude…
Either the State or the Carbon County Commission should implement condemnation procedures available under State law to purchase small squares of private land at each point where private land corners create this problem for accessing public land. The center of each condemned square would be the point where the private land corners touch in each instance. This would provide new public land (controlled by the State or County) that could allow the public to access public lands without trespassing.
The problem is bigger than corner crossing. A few Wyoming land owners control access to millions of acers of public land.
If a land owner has land that is landlocked,he goes to his county commissioners and asks for an easement across private land.After some time and paper work the commissioners tell him where his easement will be. He may also pay damages to the land owner his easement crosses. Why don’t millions of public land owners have the same rights?
We use to have much better access to public lands in Wyoming. In the 1970’s and 1980’s when they Wyoming State Reps gutted the state land use laws this all changed. The restrictions on state lands become extreme and the guaranteed access to all public lands state and federal by use of implied easements on established roads, two tracks, and trails that crossed private lands to enter or cross public lands was completely removed. It is time to set this right and put the guarantees to access public lands into the state constitution as right for every citizen. This November we need a Wyoming State ballot initiative that would guarantee access to all public lands for everyone.
For those interested in taking a stand, there is a bill being proposed to stiffen language to prevent passage through (air space presumably) further restricting access to public lands. I am opposed to this change and I encourage all to contact their elected officials to voice your opinion.
Link to find your representatives based on where you live:
Link to article discussing proposed bill:
I just sent emails voicing my oposition to this bill to to my representatives.
The Corner crossing issue is a Land rights issue and needs to be regulated by Real Estate Laws. As most all lands in Wyoming and other States, Counties and towns/Cities have “set Back” regulations. It is no difference for this Ranch in question. So if this rancher decided to build a multi-story building or home on his private parcel at the location in question. He would have to comply with Carbon County Planning and Zoning regulations. Including set back requirements. This requirements might be 5 feet or more from his property line which is a 90 degree corner. If he received his permit to by meeting all of the Carbon County requirements and builds a multi-story building he owns the air space that building in constructed in. He has the use of it and the full enjoyment to use it. He will secure it with insurance both from a Title standpoint and a physical structure standpoint. In fact he has the right to it, live in, to park vehicles in it and any and all legal uses so long as he owns it. If Carbon County does not have set back regulation in an extremely rural area and some States and Counties do not is it was me I would build a ranch structure in that corner, even if it was a and break for their cattle with water tanks with solar power. Just some thoughts for ranchers in the future.
Mr. Blow, please explain how the wyoming welfare rancher (WWR) only has to pay the federal govt. $1.35 per cow/calf pair per month, when it costs the BLM around $8.00 per cow/calf to administer grazing lease? Explain how the WWR’s livestock are allowed to trample and defecate a pristine mountain stream on federal land til the only thing that flows in the streambed are cow patties and sludge. Explain how the WWR’s livestock is allowed to nub the vegetation right into the ground, leaving nothing for the wildlife but dirt. And….explain how it is that you and the WWR’s think that the taxpayer should both ask permission of you plus pay you to access their public lands? Your dollars don’t make sense, dude, but hey, we’ll listen to what you have to say but also please show some statutes where the recreationalists owe you and your ilk these payments
Mr. Anderson, I think what Keith Blow is trying to say is: “after the welfare cowboy denudes the land, sullies the streams, starves the wildlife and makes it a barren wasteland, there’s just not much left for the hunter, fisherman or hiker, so these recreationalists shouldn’t even bother accessing public land.” Keith is actually trying to do us a favor with a reminder that there’s nothing left on public land to make it worth accessing – so why bother? The rancher govt handout specialist has already squeezed out any good from many, many of the parcels of public land out there, much of it which will never recover. And they get to do it for nearly free – $1.35 a Month “rent” to run their cow & calf.
Frustrating, how the wealthy keep all others off public land. I’m sure they go back to the cities and brag about their accomplishments. Correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t there a law against land locking a property owned by others? Federal land is owned by others, all of us.
I wish I could be on their jury, as much as I don’t particularly care for furrin hunters they’d hear me horse laughing at the prosecutor all the way to Cheyenne.
I would be willing to bet that the owner of the land is not a native Wyoming person. In my nearly 80 years of life here in Wyoming I have not experienced a native being so touchy about someone “crossing” has land like that. The caveats were always; close the gates if they were closed, do not drive in cultivated fields, don’t shoot near or toward the house behave like a guests to ensure your welcome next time, etc. I now live in an area where I can no longer go hiking, or anything else because of all the ranches being bought up by “foreigners”, who feel the need to flex their ownership muscles.
Wyoming and Wyoming game and fish solicit the public to
“enjoy the Wyoming hunting fishing and outdoor experience,
This then is the added benefit for Wyoming and other western states of not only the licensing fee but also some large fines to go along with the “experience” for attempting to access public land.
I’ll pass as will many other
“public land owners”.
As this practice becomes wide public knowledge. The trending shortage of hunting and fishing enthusiasts Will continue.
Welcome to the equality state.
Keep public lands public!
Well, I watched the entire video. One thing is clear, the ranch hand, deputy and game warden all came off as bumbling fools. Next time, Mr. Grende, may I suggest that you send out your owner, the boss, to handle things? This corner crossing stuff is a little over your pay grade, partner!
The “Mr. Grende’s” of the world are actually fairly common out west. Local dudes who sellout to rich out of state landowners and do their bidding. We have a very similar ranch up here in Cody with a foreign owner who hires local thugs to patrol his place. What Mr. Big time Mr. foreign landowner doesn’t realize though, is that when he’s gone, his “ranch hands” run amok and hunt the place. These guys have harvested some very nice elk off the place
If our locals would just refuse to be sellouts to the rich outsiders, then these types wouldn’t be buying up the ranches. But meanwhile, at least we know who the turncoats amongst us are.
Carbon county voters got a real prize with their prosecuting attorney, Mrs. Ashley Davis. I wonder how much her decision to charge cost Elk Mountain Ranch in political donations. Deputy Bakker is to be commended for not citing and showing common sense.
The Zachary M. Smith in this article is my boy. I hope they win the case, not only for himself but for ALL of the people that can’t access this PUBLIC ground. He did tell me that there was fresh bulldozed roads on the BLM on the mountain. This is a case of a man (that lives in North Carolina) claiming a whole mountain and only owning half of it.
Mr. Smith, did your sons hunting party ask for permission to cross the private property?
They didn’t need to “ask” permission, Mr. Hill. In fact, they never physically touched private property. But, you knew that. But keep posting your drivel and we’ll keep laughing.
They brought a ladder to cross? So they new ahead of time that they would be trespassing! Why didn’t they ask the land owner for permission? Because they knew they were in the wrong. Good people who hunt follow the rules the others ruin it for everyone else
The hunters and landowner representative had met during previous hunts, presumably they were told they could not trespass, hence the ladder.
Spot on !
Mr. Smith, my comments are based on Federal case law and State of Wyoming Statue.
So any time a kid walking to school and goes down the sidewalk in town, if he turns to look at a flower and his backpack extends over the “airspace” of the yard owner, we are going to charge him with tresspass?
Or… I am jogging the same sidewalk and I encounter an oncoming pedestrian, so I run near the edge of the walk and my elbow crosses the “airspace” over the adjoining yard, thus I am tresspassing?
This is utterly rediculous. Someone needs to tell that prosecuter she should not allow her friendship/ties with the landowner cloud her judgement! Somebody also needs to make it clear to landowners, who make a killing off of leasing OUR public lands to outfitters, and use the public land as their own that they DO NOT OWN IT!
The good people of Carbon County need to vote out Carbon County Attorney Ashley Mayfield Davis or the elected individuals who hired her as she is clearly in the pocket of a few land owners. This whole argument is just more tricks to lock up public lands for exclusive private use by these select land owners. It has nothing to do with the people; and everything to do with the money that these land owners make off exclusive hunting and fishing access to their private lands and any public lands that the can land lock. There is no other reason for this type of prosecution to happen. The public really needs to start voting out the elected officials that support and enable these land owners that keep blocking public access to public lands. These lands belong to everyone not just a select few who can pay. What we really need is a law that says when access to public land is maliciously blocked that the land owner then forfeits their adjoining land to that public land back to the public. There needs to be real penalties for these deliberate acts against the public’s right to access public lands.
Going to be tough to fly in an airplane if you can’t cross private land.
It seems to me the state of Wyoming shouldn’t be selling hunting permits on public lands if there is no public access. I guess if the hunters had a helicopter and flew over private property to get to the public lands to hunt they would also be trespassing as would all pilots flying across Wyoming. Break out the ticket books.
I have a friend who was hit on the head with a shovel by one of these “you don’t know who my boss is” King God Ranch managers, for trespass on “his” BLM land. Money won in that case. Good on these Missouri hunters for challenging this silly interpretation of public access so that maybe one day we’ll be able to enter all public lands in Wyoming without fear of violence or prosecution.
The ranching people in Wyoming are as they were 100 years ago, believing public land is, or should be theirs. It’s PUBLIC! Let people access public land. I’m certain there are great ranchers who allow access, but there’s also a lot of new comers who have bought ranches and they’re being selfish, arrogant Oligarchs.
All public land should be accessible by the public period. It is unfathomable that a landowner can make public land inaccessible by simply putting up a t-post. Seems to me that this county attorney has been bought. He doesn’t own the airspace either. Just another example of a spoiled egotistical rich guy thinking his “money ” makes him better than the persons with less money.
How is corner crossing any different than boaters who can legally float over private land under rivers and streams so long as they don’t touch it?
Listen to him trying to come up with anything,including license plates. You know how much money my boss has? That’s irrelevant, period.
This puts me in mind of the Yellowstone episode in which a California hobby rancher put cattle guards on his road which prevented a neighbor from using his right of way to get his cattle to pasture. Kayce sure took care of that problem when the hobby rancher ended up under the cattle guard
Mr. Grende, you apparently strive to be a most hated individual in the State of Wyoming. For what? You’re merely a servant to a rich outsider who pays you to be the “face” that spits in the face of other Wyomingites. We’d have much more respect if your boss was the guy stammering to law enforcement “you know who I am???” As for the Carbon Co prosecutors, you’re all a bunch of sellouts to the public in which you serve.
Then as the interpretation now stands it would appear that over 400,000 acres of public land in the state of Wyoming belonging to the taxpayers of America, has no benefit to them other than the enjoyment of watching it subsidize the wealth of multi-millionaires through the use of property tax exempt real estate which was not ever purchased, only used exclusively for their own gain. Once again back room politics have been employed to favor the heavy political donors, over the rightful owners. In this instance starting with the big railroad investors. If it isn’t land available for everyman’s enjoyment, then lease it to the adjacent propery owners at a rate that is at least commensurate with the value it provides, and have the lease revenue dedicated to a public use fund, not the US general fund.
Your suggestion is great. The private ranchers and landowners generally do have a highly subsidized access to public lands that are inaccessible to the general public. Cheap grazing and hunting and fishing, both of which generate revenue. So they should pay up.
To my mind, this provides a way to effectively keep people from accessing public land. For what purpose? I am against trespass, but I am all for public use of public land. Davis has her wires crossed. She works for the public and should try to protect the fair use of this land. The landowner was not damaged in any way. Airspace, really? Silliness like this does not belong in Wyoming.
Obviously, the county attorney realizes how much money the ranch manager’s boss has.