By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Four Missouri hunters are being sued in federal court for crossing the airspace of private property while moving from one parcel of public land to another in Carbon County.
Iron Bar Holdings is asking the U.S. District Court to find the hunters guilty of civil trespass because they used a device to move across the private property — without touching it — while moving from one piece of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land to another in a practice called “corner crossing.”
“(Iron Bar) owns and controls the airspace above its real property and is entitled to exclude others from the use of that airspace by a ‘corner crossing,” the lawsuit said.
Meanwhile, a “GoFundMe” campaign set up to support the hunters, who also face criminal charges of trespass, had raised more than $69,000 as of Thursday.
According to the lawsuit, hunters Bradley Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemans and John Slowensky were on BLM land in Carbon County in late September.
Southern Wyoming has what is referred to as a “checkerboard” land pattern because public and private lands are intermingled. Often, public lands are positioned diagonally to each other and share their corners with private lands. Crossing from one public land parcel to another without accessing the private land can be difficult, if not impossible.
According to the lawsuit, the hunters built a “ladder-like” device to cross from one public land parcel to another without touching the private land.
However, in doing so, the four crossed into the airspace of the private land, the lawsuit said.
“(Iron Bar) has a right to exclusive control, use and enjoyment of its property, which includes the airspace at the coroner, above the property,” the lawsuit said. “For purposes of this complaint and under controlling law, the property includes the airspace above the surface of the land, the surface of the land and the subsurface below.”
Although the hunters were hunting on public land, they did not have the authority to trespass on Iron Bar’s land, the lawsuit said.
“The ability of (the hunters) to be upon and use public lands does not include any right or privilege whatsoever, whether express or implied, to cross private property to get to adjoining public lands.,” it said.
The hunters did not ask for permission to enter Iron Bar’s property, the lawsuit said, and as a result of the trespass, the company, based in North Carolina, has suffered damages.
The lawsuit asks the court to find the four hunters guilty of trespass and to issue an injunction barring them from “corner crossing” in the future. It also asks for damages from the hunters in an amount to be determined at trial.
The four hunters were also charged in Carbon County with trespassing to hunt and all have pleaded not guilty. Their trial is to begin April 14.
A GoFundMe campaign organized by in part by Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has raised $69,325 for the men.
The campaign page said the support is needed to make access to public lands easier.
“Acquittal of these hunters would set the stage for more access to the public lands we own,” it said. “It is crucial public land hunters band together to fight for access to cornered public land!”