Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) said Tuesday his measure House Bill 103 – Prohibit travel across private land for hunting purposes is not a corner-crossing bill designed to address the controversial practice, which has attracted widespread scrutiny following charges leveled against four hunters.
He would change the language of his proposal to make that clear, Crago told WyoFile.
Crago’s bill is intended to bring uniform enforcement of hunting trespass laws across the state, he said. In some Wyoming counties law officers will ticket game or antler hunters for crossing private ground to hunt on public land beyond. But not everywhere.
“In some parts of the state they will not write a ticket if you just drive across private property” without hunting on that property, Crago said. “It depends on law enforcement, the judge…
“What we’re trying to do is make sure the statute is uniformly [enforced] across the state.”
The Buffalo rancher and attorney doesn’t want to become embroiled in the corner-crossing brouhaha, he said.
“I don’t want to do anything with corner crossing,” Crago said. “I’m not into the whole corner-crossing controversy.”
Corner crossing involves stepping from one piece of public land to another where the public parcels share a four-way corner with two private parcels. Where such ownership patterns exist, it is possible to step over the common corner without setting foot on private land.
Crago’s bill would add new language to Wyoming’s hunter trespass law, not its separate and distinct criminal trespass law. An attorney general’s opinion states WS 23-3-305 (b) may not apply to Game and Fish officers investigating a corner crossing situation.
Would changing that law render the AG’s opinion moot and again allow Game and Fish to cite corner-crossing hunters?
“I understand why people would think that,” Crago said of his bill. “Personally, I don’t think so — if we change the proposed language slightly so we don’t talk about corner crossing.
Crago believes clarifying language “will clear up that we’re not talking about corner crossing,” he said.
Just travelin’ through
Crago’s bill would amend the existing law that states “no person shall enter upon … private property… to hunt, fish, collect antlers … without the permission of the owner.” The amendment would add language to read “no person shall enter upon or travel through” private property.
The subsection of the law — 23-3-305 (b) — that would be changed is an element of the 2004 attorney general opinion that warns Game and Fish officers to not cite hunters for corner crossing. The opinion says “‘Corner-crossing’ from one parcel of public land to another in order to hunt on that other public parcel… may not be violative of Wyo. Stat. Ann. S 23-3-305 (b) because, to be convicted the statute requires a person hunt or intend to hunt on private property without permission.”
One of the complexities of corner crossing is that those who practice it don’t set foot on private property, but pass through the airspace above it.
Corner crossing received new scrutiny and widespread attention after a sheriff’s deputy in Carbon County cited four Missouri hunters last fall for corner crossing near the Elk Mountain Ranch. The citation alleges a violation of criminal trespass laws, not the hunting law Crago seeks to amend.
The 2004 attorney general opinion states that corner crossing “may be a criminal trespass under Wyo. Stat. Ann. S 6-3-303,” which is a different law than the hunting statute.
The Missouri hunters, who say they never set foot on private land and used a fence ladder to cross from one section of BLM land to another, have pleaded not guilty. They have asked that the charges against them be dismissed.
They also allege that the Elk Mountain Ranch manager harassed them while they were hunting on public land, which is illegal.
A trial could help resolve whether passing through the airspace above private property constitutes trespass. Competing legal theories frame the case, according to legal experts.
One holds that the owner of land also owns what’s under the property and above it. The other, the federal Unlawful Inclosure of Public Lands Act, generally prohibits fencing on private property from obstructing any person from peaceably entering public land.
The hunting advocacy group Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers launched a GoFundMe campaign to help fund the Missouri hunters’ defense. Wyoming BHA believes “the factual circumstances will show that the four hunters did not commit criminal trespass.”
In addition to the new “or travel through” language in Crago’s bill, the measure also would amend the penalty for violating the section. Where the existing law appears to only provide for up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail, Crago’s amendment calls also for “forfeiture of any game, antlers or horns taken.”
Antler hunting — the search for shed antlers and skulls of winter-killed big game — has become so lucrative it has emboldened antler hunters to trespass, some sportsmen believe.
Changing the law to require that those who are found guilty of passing through private property must surrender their antler booty could discourage trespass.
It’s not immediately clear how Crago’s amendment would affect other rights, including navigating rivers through private property and angling on waters that flow across private land.
Crago’s bill must receive a two-thirds majority vote for introduction before lawmakers could begin to tinker with its provisions. As of Wednesday, it had not been scheduled for that action, according to the Legislative Service Office’s website.