The U.S. and Wyoming flags. (Staplegunther at English Wikipedia)

Wyoming Judiciary Committee lawmakers agreed Monday that the Legislature should wait for a pending federal court case to run its course before weighing in on corner crossing.

 A Carbon County Circuit Court jury last month found four Missouri hunters not guilty of criminal trespass for corner crossing in 2021. But the owner of the ranch neighboring the public land where they hunted filed a separate civil suit that’s now pending in U.S. District Court.

Corner crossing is the act of stepping kitty-corner from one parcel of public property to another — without touching private land — where land ownership is arranged in a checkerboard pattern of alternating public and private property.

The committee listed trespass as its top priority before the next legislative session convenes early in 2023. Despite enormous interest in corner crossing and the conflicts it presents between access to public land and private property rights, the committee believed any effort to address the issue at the state level would be premature.

“I think we’ll get an answer from our federal court here shortly … a year from now most likely.”

Rep. Barry Crago

“It’s not a topic we’re taking up,” committee co-chairman Rep. Jared Olsen (R-Cheyenne) said at the meeting in Lander.

The not-guilty verdict in the trespass case under Wyoming law does not set a precedent, attorneys have said, but the federal case could. A federal decision could have implications for access to 8.3 million acres of public land in the West — 2.44 million acres in Wyoming alone — that are considered “corner-locked” by any interpretation that corner crossing is illegal.

Court decision a year out

Apparently, no laws — federal or state — today explicitly allow or prohibit corner crossing. Because of the pending federal case, which would have implications for any Wyoming law regarding corner crossing, the state should keep its powder dry, Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) suggested.

He received “thousands of emails” last legislative session when he proposed a bill that, although not intended to address corner crossing, could have impacted trespass enforcement of the practice, he said.

“I don’t think that’s something we [as a Legislature] can fix,” he said of the corner-crossing gray area. “I think the courts are going to have to decide that … whether it’s a takings case or prohibiting access to federal lands, or public lands, etc.”

Barry Crago (LSO)

One committee member suggested Wyoming stake out its position for the federal court and pass a corner crossing law.

“Would it not be beneficial for there to be statutory language in place that says where the Legislature comes down on this issue, one side or the [other]?” Rep. Art Washut (R-Casper) asked the committee.

That might not be helpful, Crago said.

“Unconstitutional is unconstitutional,” Crago said of a federal court decision that will be made regardless of state law. “I think we’ll get an answer from our federal court here shortly … a year from now most likely.”

In the overall scheme of things, “that’s pretty quick” he said. “I would say we wait and see what the court decides, and then maybe move forward.”

Last session Crago proposed a measure he said was designed to help stop trespassing to collect shed antlers in cases where trespassers found that paying a fine was tolerable considering the bounty the antlers would bring. He agreed his wording in the bill was flawed. The Legislature did not act on it.

Crago will work with the Legislative Service Office on a new draft measure with clearer language, the committee agreed.

Meantime committee members asked for several draft bills to address the use of drones relating to trespass, security at jails and prisons, voyeurism and other topics. Co-chairman Olsen separated the issues as best he could during the three-hour session.

“I think that’s more helpful for the public listening — and bless the hearts of our journalists who are trying to report on this,” he said of the committee’s agenda. “If we’re talking about corner crossing one second and then a minute later, we’re talking about drones, I don’t want any of that to be confused on what the Legislature is or isn’t talking about or is or isn’t doing.”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. I just don’t get it. Is everyone just ignoring the 1885 federal law? Most politicians and lawyers say this is a gray area. What is the gray area here? Federal law says all will have free access to public land, and the law does not say the crossing has to be on a corner. Why do private land owners who share corners with public land say the corner is their space? The public land owners could say the corner is their space. I could say that the reason private land owners want to say it is all their space is because they are being selfish and unreasonable, and they wish the existing federal law would just go away. All of you that say accessing public land is a gray area when private land meets public land at the corners are deliberately lying and being deceitful, and your words do not convey at all what the federal law says, but rather ignores it for your possible gain, and l say shame on you. It is all we have to do is follow the federal law and the gray area is already solved. I say again , shame on you all.

  2. Never forget who wants to deny you access to your public lands:

    Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo)
    Reps. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette)
    Aaron Clausen (R-Douglas)
    Jamie Flitner (R-Greybull)
    Mike Greear (R-Worland)
    Chip Neiman (R-Hulett)
    Ember Oakley (R-Riverton)
    Tom Walters (R-Casper)
    Sens. Brian Boner (R-Douglas)
    Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower)
    Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan)

    “Meantime committee members asked for several draft bills to address the use of drones relating to trespass, security at jails and prisons, voyeurism and other topics. ”

    Latest headline: “Walmart is expanding its drone deliveries to reach 4 million households”

    The drone issue is directly tied to the corner crossing issue. We all understand what is at play in regards to drones. But, happy to see drones shot out of the sky if a shot shell can reach them. Make that legal.

  3. Wyoming lawmakers should be held responsible for the decisions that they make. Something other than “I’m a republican.” Make them answer questions from their constituents-before they’re elected. If they don’t want to play, don’t elect them. Make sure they will represent you, not just a minority group of AG or industry. You/we have the power, use it.

  4. To David Spencer in Johnson Co. – David its just not right for G&F to acquire blocks of land such as you brought to our attention and then put a lock on the pre existing 2 track roads. I’ve thought about this and would like to recommend that you openly discuss the matter at a public meeting of the Johnson County Commissioners. G&F would obviously need to be invited to the meeting in order to explain their reasoning. I bring this up since the County Commissioners have the legislatively authority to declare and/or abandon roads in your county ( other than paved State highways of course ); and in addition, there may be provisions in your Johnson County land use plans which require consultation with the County before roads are abandoned. I’ll tell you right now the State agencies do not like to appear in public and explain their actions; however, they always show up at County Commissioner meetings. If you do decide to go public with this issue make sure you have a fair representation of concerned public land users at the meeting; its nice to pack the meeting room but 5-8 people will impress the Commissioners. ITS JUST NOT RIGHT FOR A STATE AGENCY TO MAKE A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN ANY COUNTY WITHOUT INVOLVING THE LOCAL CITIZENS AND COMMISSIONERS IN THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS. I’ve seen it too many times.

    The way to fight these actions is make the agencies discuss it in public in front of the local citizens. That way, everything is above the table, everyone is getting the same information and your local newspaper reporter will hopefully include the discussion. You might even be able to get a feature story about the road locking issue. Going this way is very, very simple and you only need to call your County
    Clerk to get on the agenda. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers might be interested in attending and commenting especially if you have local members of BHA. Any finally, there needs to be no animosity at an open discussion – nice and civil all the way and depart friends.

    1. Lee,

      WGFD is charged with managing wildlife in this state. It is absolutely no secret that roads are bad for wildlife, and are very tough to regulate the use of. While closing roads hurts access for some, it is shown with a strong correlation that fewer roads is better for wildlife, which is their mission above access.

      1. Alex: You’re right – wildlife should benefit greatly by restricting access. My concern is that closure of 2 track roads basically creates a roadless area without going through the public review process. Considering the recent Bighorn National Forest Plan revision, the designation of ACECs, roadless areas, secure wildlife habitat, wilderness, roaded recreation areas, travel management plan, logging areas, etc. was thoroughly reviewed in a public environment with thousands of comments received from the public and a draft plan submitted for public review prior to the final decision. Its a very time consuming and expensive process but I like it because everyone had their say and the resulting Forest Plan had something for everyone. When Game and Fish simply locks the gate they are essentially creating a roadless area with some of the attributes of a new wilderness. This is a major change in land use which I feel needs to go through an open public process – the result could very well be that the areas in question should be set aside as wildlife habitat. We have areas in our county which have been designated as critical winter habitat for ungulates simply by Game and Fish so recommending to the BLM to so designate. Most of these winter habitat areas are in remote areas where almost no one lives so the potential disruption to wildlife is almost non existent. One of the REA managers told me they only have about 6 weeks out of the year when they can work on the power lines in these areas due to so many designations including sage grouse mating season. Game and Fish has been known to go over board on their designations – many without public review. In a recent Casper District RMP the BLM asked for a list of sensitive species and species of concern – Game and Fish turned in a list of every known plant and animal to the BLM. A Game and Fish employee once told me that he’s paid to be the strongest advocate for wildlife that he can be and doesn’t have to consider the impact on the human environment. The public review process achieves a middle of the road balance which is normally a compromise and acceptable to most. My argument is that this is a major land use change/designation which should go through the public review process especially in Johnson County.

  5. I feel state law should allow access to all state lands under lease for grazing, its a grazing lease not a lease for fishing, hunting, or outdoor recreation for the private sector. This land is equally owned by all Wyoming residents….and not some wealthy local or out of state persons. We are the rightful owners and lease this grazing land for revenue to support our schools. These rich people should have no control over fishing, hunting, or outdoor recreation on state lands…period !!

    1. I agree. Very good point Ron. Don’t hold your breath. Maybe users could buy an access stamp for State land which would provide some revenue and pay for management costs related to better recreation access. In my county (Johnson) The State has acquired some large tracts and turned them over to G&F to manage. G&F then immediately locks the gates except to the grazers and only allows foot traffic or horses instead of developing a travel management policy. They always claim, probably rightfully that they don’t have the manpower or resources to police the use of the land. Some older citizens of the State can’t walk 2 or 3 miles to access hunting or get an animal out.

      1. David: I think State agencies are required to adhere to the APA _ Administrative Procedures Act – in order to establish their authority to manage in a certain way. Basically, they need to go through a public process of advertising, notification, copies of the proposed regulations, public hearings and finally official adoption of the proposed regs. This means they can’t make random or arbitrary and capricious decisions about management techniques. So, did G&F follow the APA when establishing their authority to lock the gates of the land you referenced??? Here in Thermopolis, State Parks has adopted regulations on exactly how they intend to manage the Hot Springs State Park and they are readily available to the public. The public must scrutinize the actions of the State agencies in order to encourage them to follow the APA. You could always take your situation directly to the G&F Commission by simply getting on their agenda to discuss.

  6. So is this a case of the legislature exercising surprising restraint and therefore a sign that there is intelligent life in Cheyenne, or of the legislature deciding that no matter what it does it is going to alienate a significant constituency (either hunters or ranchers) and therefore it is deciding to do nothing?

  7. Seems to me, individuals are trying to keep the rightful owners of their property out. Sounds like the rightful owners should have a legislature that supports them and not those that are keeping people from their property.

  8. APPLAUD!!! – a dose of old fashioned common sense from the Judiciary Committee.I like Representative Crago’s stance on this issue.

    HOWEVER, this does leave the door wide open for Governor Gordon to consider whether or not the State of Wyoming might want to enjoin the Federal case. Example, Wyoming Game and Fish, the Oil &Gas Commission or the State Land Investment Board may have arguments they wish to see submitted to the court. It might be appropriate for the Governor to ask his department heads to make recommendations to him – through his staff of course – on whether or not they have concerns that should be submitted to the court. If the departments show an interest, then Governor Gordon could instruct the Attorney General to prepare legal arguments for the State. If any of you have recommendations on this matter of whether or not the State should enjoin, please convey to the Governor’s staff – that’s what they’re paid for.

    !!!!!!!!!! IMPORTANT !!!!!!!!!!!!!1 IMPORTANT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IMPORTANT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I found a MUST read article today via Google search which I strongly encourage everyone to read. Its a 1973 article from the University of Wyoming “Land and Water Law Review” by George A. Gould entitled ” Access to Public Lands Across Intervening Private Land”. I won’t try to explain the content other than to say its very important and extremely RELEVANT. If you’re deeply involved in this issue its a must to read. Lee

    1. P.S. Mr. Gould does discuss the Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885 in his article.

  9. It’s no secret that the Wyoming “citizen’ legislature has always been beholden to the livestock & ag interests, from the billionaire fly-in robber barons to the cow pie kicking BLM welfare rancher. I think Crago is bright enough to realize that the public land owners/recreationalists have had enough of the chokehold put on them regarding access to these lands and our momentum of resistance just keeps getting stronger. If they had taken this issue on, Crago & Co. on the judicial committee would just be “stepping in it” and end up being consumed by the landslide that’s coming. Smart move, Crago, now you’ve got to limp back to your robber baron constituents with some ‘splainin’ to do.