CORNERED!!! by Montana Grant
By angelamontana

Posted: April 16, 2024

Montana has millions of acres of “public land” that is inaccessible to the public.  Nearly one million acres of public land connects to other sections of public lands at corners. You would think that if you crossed over the corner, from one section of public land to another that you would be legal. In Montana you would trespass!

Many of our western state neighbors are in the same boat. Land has been divided up into square sections that are usually one mile by one-mile squares. Public land can be BLM, State School Trust land or other public labels. State taxes manage and support the land and the critters on them. 

Isolated, or landlocked, squares of public land have no access. The landowner, with surrounding private property, has access and can use the land for grazing and farming. They also profit from public lands when they lease the land to Outfitters and other private ventures. 

Several years ago, “Corner Crossing” was tested in Wyoming. Out of state hunters from Missouri, used a ladder to cross from public land to public land at a corner and tagged elk. They never set foot on any Private Land but the Private landowner from North Carolina had them arrested for Trespass. After years of legal litigation, the hunters were found Not Guilty. Despite this precedence, Corner Crossing is still illegal in Montana and other neighboring states.

Montana has a wonderful public stream access law. This allows fishermen to enjoy fishing any waters that are navigable, below the high-water mark. Hunters do not get the same access. The stream access law is mainly for fishermen and boaters. In Wyoming, where Corner Crossing seems to now be ok, there is no stream access law. You can’t fish below high-water marks or even anchor in the rivers that flow through private land, without written permission. 

Politicians fear any resolutions to this access issue. Many local politicians own huge areas of isolated public land and like things as they are. Their friends and wealthy landowning cohorts lobby to keep these lands in access limbo. 

If politicians say that Corner Crossing is not legal, they will be labeled “Anti Public Access”. Much of their election money comes from wealthy landowners that want no Public Access. Public lands are just a bonus to them. 

Checkerboard Land maps were created to allow the public to have access for outdoor recreation and use. When we buy connected land from other landowners, access must be granted to allow them a driveway or trail. Why isn’t this the same for our Public Lands? 

A solution could be granting a trail right of way from a Public Access site, like Fishing/Boating access areas. This would allow every section of Public Land to be accessible. Corner crossing would now no longer be an issue. 

Wildlife is also a public asset. Big Game critters do migrate and certainly corner cross at will. These critters end up being tagged by select hunters that gain access through the Outfitter or by paying a fee to the landowner. This is done for permission to gather sheds or can be a charge based on how many tines the tagged critter has, or other private financial agreements. An elk can cost $1,000 per tine. This means a 6×6 elk will cost $12,000. That goes to the landowner and not the state. These landowners are selling public wildlife for private gains. 

Sadly, some idiot “hunters” that poach, vandalize, or trespass ruin access for most honest, and respectful hunters. Gates left open, fences cut, and dumping trash/carcasses are too common. These types of behavior ruin opportunity for the rest of us. 

Fortunately, there are still generous landowners and ranchers that allow access and grant permission. These generational ranchers and farmers understand the importance of sharing and respecting the outdoors. More populated counties like Park and Gallatin Counties have almost no hunter access. Much of what was once available to hunt has been purchased by out of state, and out of country interests. 

Granting permission is a privilege and not required. As these older generation landowners die. Their family often sells the land or breaks it up into smaller parcels which are then posted. 

Hunting, like fishing, is a major fiscal bonus to Montana. License fees, gear, and services are huge financial gains to our state. Without access, the money from hunting and fishing will dry up. This ultimately means more taxes for the residents of Big Sky Country. 

Thank you to the thoughtful landowners and ranchers that allow public access.

Montana Grant

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