A recent Corner Crossing case has been resolved in Wyoming.
For those that don’t know, “Corner Crossing” means that you can travel from one access to another at a corner. Many of the western state blocks of land are connected at corners. In many states, you cannot cross a corner if private land is on 2 of the 4 sides. Private landowners claim that they own the airspace rights, even if you do not touch their land. Half of the fence pole belongs to them. That’s good for the private landowner but bad for the public that wants to use public blocks of land.
Considering that about half of all of Montana’s public land is landlocked, this law is important. Private landowners get exclusive use of public resources. They then can lease the land to outfitters and guides. Public taxpaying citizens get no access. This is simply not fair. Much of this land is called School Trust Land that is checkerboarded throughout the state.
The court case in Wyoming involved several nonresident hunters that used a ladder to cross a corner from and to public land. The nonresident private landowner was suing for 7 million dollars in damages. He claimed that they violated his “private air space”. The question became where the land begins and ends. Does the landowner own the air into the atmosphere? Are planes in violation if they cross that barrier?
The Wyoming case decided that no violation occurred since the hunters did not physically touch the private land. It will be interesting to see how other states, like Montana, address corner crossings in their regions. At this point, there is a credible legal ruling that a ladder can be used to cross a corner from public-to-public land, even if the other 2 adjacent parcels are private.
Private landowners are not happy with this ruling but access to public lands is important. It would be great to see a law that requires access to all public land. At least building a safe crossing ladder is a start. Later, there could also be a path or road access, depending on what the lawmakers decide. Sadly, most lawmakers are also huge private landowners.
It is becoming more difficult to find legal public access in many western states, as private landowners buy up and post their property. Corner crossing would allow citizens that are taxed to have School Trust, and other public lands, to enjoy what the public pays for.
Let’s see what happens in the future!