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corner crossing

Hunting Group Asks To Join Corner Crossing Lawsuit In Support Of Missouri Hunters

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A new group is trying to join the lawsuit filed against four Missouri hunters accused of violating the airspace of a private ranch in Carbon County while moving from one parcel of public land to another.

The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers organization on Friday asked U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl for permission to support the hunters being sued by North Carolina businessman Fred Eschelman with a “friend of the court” brief.

Such briefs offer arguments in support of one side or another of a lawsuit and are offered by a third party which has no direct connection to the case. Permission must be given by a judge before BHA can file its 11-page brief with the court.

In the brief it wants to submit, BHA argues that to maintain access to public land, some provision must be reached to allow people to cross the common corners between private and public property.

“Corners where federal public land intersects with private land are the keys to unlocking access to millions of acres of land owned by every American,” BHA said in the brief. “This case exemplifies the national interest in deciding the fate of those millions of acres of corner-locked public land.”

The lawsuit filed by Iron Bar Ranch is the last legal action facing the four hunters — Bradley Cape, Philip Yeomans, Zachary Smith and John Sloensky — of three actions stemming from allegations they trespassed on private property while moving from one parcel of public land to another.

First, Carbon County officials charged them with criminal trespass in connection with a 2021 incident on the Iron Bar Ranch. A six-member jury found the hunters innocent of the charges in April.

Another set of charges was filed in circuit court against Cape, Yeomans and Smith accusing them of criminal trespass in a 2020 incident on the Elk Mountain Ranch, but Carbon County’s prosecutor asked Friday that those charges be dismissed.

Iron Bar and Elk Mountain ranch are both owned by Eschelman.

Iron Bar Ranch, in a separate action, sued the four hunters, alleging that by using a ladder-like device to cross from one public land parcel to another, they violated Iron Bar’s airspace. That lawsuit is the action Backcountry Hunters and Anglers wants to join.

Wyoming has a “checkerboard” land pattern that mixes public and private land. Those parcels often share common corners, with one piece of public land resting diagonally from another. To cross from one public parcel to the other, people must step or climb across the corners.

In its brief, BHA argued that by blocking people from reaching public land, private landowners can essentially control access to all public lands.

“If a private landowner can prohibit access to public land through simple claims of state law trespass based on the momentary passage of a person through the common, mixed-corner airspace of private and public land, his claim essentially wipes out the public’s rights as to that public land and effectively grants the landowner dominion over public land he does not own and that he has not paid for,” BHA wrote in its brief.

“A private landowner with half the ownership of a corner should not have a veto over access by the owner of the other half of the corner – namely the government, and by extension, its citizens,” BHA said it added.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers had created a “GoFundMe” campaign to raise money for the hunters’ defense.

The federal case could ultimately be precedent-setting, Cape’s attorney Katye Ames told Cowboy State Daily last week, and could do away with criminal prosecution of similar trespass cases.

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Second Corner Crossing Case: Criminal Trespassing Charges Against Missouri Hunters Dismissed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

New trespass charges filed against a group of Missouri hunters have been dismissed, less than one week after a jury found them innocent of similar charges in a separate case.

Katye Ames, attorney for hunter Bradley Cape, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that the second set of trespass charges against Cape, Zachary Smith and Philip Yeomans were dismissed Wednesday, a little more than a week after they were filed.

Ames did not immediately respond to a follow-up request for comment on Friday.

The three hunters were charged April 25 with trespass on allegations they improperly crossed over Elk Mountain Ranch property in 2020 while moving from one parcel of public land to another.

The three, along with John Sloensky, were found innocent by a six-member jury on April 29 of trespass charges in a separate case involving Iron Bar Ranch property that occurred in 2021.

Both cases involved allegations that while moving from one parcel of public land to another, the hunters trespassed on the private land of the ranches, which are both owned by businessman Fred Eschelman.

With all of the criminal charges against the men cleared, this now just leaves them to face a lawsuit filed by Iron Bar seeking damages or the alleged trespass that occurred in 2021. That case is pending in U.S. District Court.

Ames told Cowboy State Daily in an earlier interview she does not expect that case to proceed nearly as quickly as the criminal cases.

“Those can take forever,” she said. “I’m hopeful that in the next year, maybe two, that it will be resolved. But it’ll be a year, at least.”

The federal case could ultimately be precedent-setting, Ames said, and could do away with criminal prosecution of similar trespass cases.

“I think the federal case will determine property rights,” she said. “If the court determines that private landowners can’t prevent people from crossing that corner, I don’t know how you can then turn around and prosecute.”

All three of the actions stem from a practice of “corner crossing” — moving from one parcel of public land to another by stepping over the boundaries that separate the public land from private land.

Wyoming’s “checkerboard” land pattern leads to public and private lands being intermingled. Often, these parcels share corners, with public lands resting diagonally from each other. Access to one public parcel to another is often achieved by stepping over the coroner shared by public and private lands.

Ames compared the land pattern to different color tiles on a floor, noting how simple the situation is and how small the area where a hunter can cross is.

“When you cross from a public square to another public square, your body is bigger than that tiny little point,” she said. “You have to cross through the airspace of the shared corner. I think when people realize this, they’ll realize how ridiculous this situation is.”

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Explainer: How Many Corner Crossing Cases Are Happening In Wyoming Right Now?

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Those Missouri hunters acquitted on trespass charges last week aren’t out of the woods yet. They’re still facing legal action in both state court and federal court.

The hunters face two separate legal actions — criminal charges in state court and a lawsuit seeking damages in federal court — stemming from two separate incidents. The actions are also separate from a criminal trial in which a six-member jury on Friday found the hunters innocent of trespass charges for violating the airspace of a private ranch.

All three of the actions stem from a practice of “corner crossing” — moving from one parcel of public land to another by stepping over the boundaries that separate the public land from private land.

Wyoming’s “checkerboard” land pattern leads to public and private lands being intermingled. Often, these parcels share corners, with public lands resting diagonally from each other. Access to one public parcel to another is often achieved by stepping over the coroner shared by public and private lands.

Here is a look at the nuances of the three cases the hunters have been facing.

First Trespass Case

Four Missouri hunters – Phillip Yeomans, Zachary Smith, Bradley Cape and John Sloensky – faced criminal trespass cases stemming from allegations they used a ladder-like device in 2021 to cross from one parcel of public land to another.

Carbon County prosecutors accused the men of trespassing on the private Iron Bar Ranch, even though they did not actually touch the private property. Wyoming law recognizes the airspace above private property as belonging to the property owner — so the “corner crossing” amounts to trespass.

However, the four men were acquitted by a six-person jury on Friday in a Carbon County court, ending that case.

Trespass Lawsuit

Although the jury’s verdict ended the first criminal trespass case, a separate lawsuit filed against the hunters is still ongoing.

Iron Bar filed a lawsuit in civil court separate from the criminal charges filed in Carbon County. It seeks $75,000 in damages on charges the hunters violated the ranch’s airspace.

The lawsuit was originally filed in state court, however, the hunters argued that because the lawsuit concerns public access to public lands, it should be heard in federal court.

The four hunters on Friday filed a document expressing their desire to keep the lawsuit filed against them in U.S. District Court, arguing the issue of control over public land is one that needs to be settled by a federal court.

“Lurking behind and hulking over (Iron Bar Ranch’s) state court pleadings stands a federal law behemoth: exclusive control over ‘common corners’ in checkerboarded lands shared by private lands and federally owned public lands and, as a result, the right to access public lands,” the hunters said in their response to Iron Bar Ranch’s attempts to move the lawsuit back to state district court, where it originated. 

“(Iron Bar’s) claims necessarily raise substantial, deeply disputed questions of federal law because (Iron Bar) effectively seeks ownership and exclusive control overt the federally owned public domain, a question expressly controlled by federal laws and assigned to the federal courts for resolution,” it continued.

Experts in public land access have told Cowboy State Daily that if the federal court rules in favor of the hunters, it could have a major impact in how access to federal lands is handled.

At this point, the two sides in the case continue to file competing legal motions. No date for a trial has been set in federal court.

Second Trespass Case

Just days before the four hunters were found not guilty by the jury, Mark Nugent, deputy county and prosecuting attorney for Carbon County, filed new charges against three of the hunters stemming from a separate incident in 2020 near Elk Mountain Ranch.

Yeomans, Cape and Smith have all been ordered to appear in circuit court in Carbon County on June 6 to enter pleas to the charges of trespass and entering private property to hunt without permission.

As in the first case, the three are accused of crossing the boundary between the public land and the private Elk Mountain Ranch to hunt. Elk Mountain Ranch and Iron Bar Ranch are both owned by businessman Fred Eschelman.

According to the affidavit by Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Patterson, a sheriff’s deputy was contacted on Oct. 2, 2020 about a possible trespass at Elk Mountain Ranch.

The ranch’s foreman reported that three hunters on Elk Mountain shot and killed a bull elk on public land, but the land on which they killed the animal could only be reached if they trespassed on private land.

The deputy and foreman spoke with the ranch’s owner, who wanted the hunters either cited or arrested.

A deputy made contact with the hunters the next day, the affidavit said. The hunters said they knew they were crossing an intersection of private and public lands, but added they did not intend to trespass, the affidavit said.

The hunters repeatedly told the officer that their intent was to “corner cross,” without trespassing on the private land and that they used a GPS to find the intersection of two private and two public lands and then cross at the point where the four join.

Cape told the officer that there was a “no trespassing” sign in the area where they crossed, but the hunters continued to insist their intent was not to trespass.

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Public Right To Public Land At Stake In Fed Corner Crossing Lawsuit, Wyoming Hunters Say

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily.

Federal court is the only place to decide whether a private landowner can control access to public land, according to the latest legal filing in the battle over hunters accused of violating a ranch’s private airspace.

As a result, the lawsuit filed against the hunters — an ongoing action separate from the criminal trespass charges some continue to face in state court — should remain in U.S. District Court and not be returned to state courts for resolution, said the documents filed on the hunters’ behalf.

The hunters face legal action on two fronts — criminal trespass charges filed against them in circuit court in Rawlins and the lawsuit filed against them by the ranch seeking damages for their alleged trespassing.

A six-member jury on Friday found the hunters innocent of trespass charges filed in connection with a 2021 incident, when they were accused of using a ladder-like device to cross from one piece of public land to another. New trespass charges were filed against three of the hunters on April 25, accusing them of trespassing on private land to access public land them in 2020.

Meanwhile, in the separate federal court action, the hunters on Friday filed a document expressing their desire to keep the lawsuit filed against them in U.S. District Court, arguing the issue of control over public land is one that needs to be settled by a federal court.

“Lurking behind and hulking over (Iron Bar Ranch’s) state court pleadings stands a federal law behemoth: exclusive control over ‘common corners’ in checkerboarded lands shared by private lands and federally owned public lands and, as a result, the right to access public lands,” the hunters said in their response to Iron Bar Ranch’s attempts to move the lawsuit back to state district court, where it originated. 

“(Iron Bar’s) claims necessarily raise substantial, deeply disputed questions of federal law because (Iron Bar) effectively seeks ownership and exclusive control overt the federally owned public domain, a question expressly controlled by federal laws and assigned to the federal courts for resolution,” it continued.

Wyoming’s “checkerboard” land pattern creates a situation where parcels of public and private land alternate. Often, parcels of public land are diagonal from each other and share a common coroner with private lands.

The four Missouri hunters used a ladder-like device to cross from one piece of public property to another without trespassing on Iron Bar’s property, but they were accused of violating Iron Bar’s airspace.

The lawsuit filed by Iron Bar — separate from the criminal charges filed against the hunters — seeks $75,000 in damages on charges they violated the ranch’s airspace. It was originally filed in state court however, the hunters successfully argued that because the lawsuit raised issues of access to public lands, it should be heard in federal court.

Iron Bar, in a filing April 14, asked that the lawsuit be returned to state district court because the trespassing laws being debated are state laws, not federal.

But the hunters, in their April 28 filing, argued that through its lawsuit, Iron Bar is trying to control access to federal lands in violation of federal law.

“(Iron Bar) claims the exclusive right to possess, use and control the common corners in its property shares with federally owned public lands,” the filing said. “Through this case, plaintiff seeks to enforce this claimed right. Because exclusive control of the common corners is exclusive control over access to the public domain, (Iron Bar) necessarily raises the federal issue of whether private landowners may exclude the public from the public domain in this way.”

Because the final decision on the case will determine whether the public can access its own land, the lawsuit should remain in federal court, the filing said.

“The federal issues raised by (Iron Bar’s) claims are substantial because resolution of these claims here—in favor of (Iron Bar) as a private landowner or (the hunters) as members of the public— will decisively control whether the public may cross common corners shared by private and federally owned public lands to reach adjoining public lands for lawful purposes in every case, it said. 

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Three Missouri Hunters Again Charged With Trespassing In Corner Crossing Case

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Photo courtesy: Cali O'Hare, Bigfoot 99 Radio
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Three of the four Missouri hunters found innocent of criminal trespass last week are facing new criminal charges stemming from a separate Carbon County incident.

Documents from circuit court in Rawlins showed that new trespassing charges were filed on April 25 against Phillip Yeomans, Bradley Cape and Zachary Smith in connection with an incident that occurred in 2020.

They have been ordered to appear in circuit court on Friday, although they have been given the option to appear by video conference.

The hunters face legal action on two fronts — the criminal trespass charges filed in state court and an ongoing lawsuit in federal court filed against them seeking damages on allegations they violated the private airspace of the Iron Bar Ranch.

Yeomans, Cape and Smith, along with John Sloensky, were all found innocent of criminal trespass on Friday by a six-member jury in circuit court in Carbon County. Those charges stemmed from allegations they used a ladder-like device in 2021 to move from one parcel of public land to another without touching Iron Bar Ranch property.

In the latest charges, which were filed in the days before the jury’s verdict in the hunters’ favor, Yeomans, Cape and Smith are once again facing charges of criminal trespass, this time related to an incident in 2020 on the Elk Mountain Ranch, which, like Iron Bar Ranch, is owned by businessman Fred Eschelman.

Wyoming has a “checkerboard” land pattern in which public and private lands are intermingled. Often, private and public lands share common corners, with public land parcels resting diagonally from each other.

In the earlier criminal charges — and in the separate lawsuit pending in federal court — the hunters were accused of violating Iron Bar’s airspace to get from one public parcel to the other.

An affidavit filed with the latest charges accused the three of trespassing on Elk Mountain property when “corner crossing” to move between public lands, although no mention was made of a ladder-like device as was used in the Iron Bar case.

According to the affidavit by Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Patterson, a sheriff’s deputy was contacted on Oct. 2, 2020 about a possible trespass at Elk Mountain Ranch.

The ranch’s foreman reported that three hunters on Elk Mountain shot and killed a bull elk on public land, but the land on which they killed the animal could only be reached if they trespassed on private land.

The foreman said he also contacted the Wyoming and Game Fish Department and a game warden said the department did not want to get involved in the “corner crossing” dispute.

The deputy and foreman searched an access road in Hanna in attempt to locate the hunters and the bull elk, but were unable to do so. They then went and spoke with the ranch’s owner, who wanted the hunters either cited or arrested.

A deputy made contact with the hunters the next day, the affidavit said, and the hunters said they knew they were crossing an intersection of private and public lands, but added they did not intend to trespass, the affidavit said.

The hunters repeatedly told the officer that their intent was to “corner cross,” without trespassing on the private land and that they used a GPS to find the intersection of two private and two public lands and then cross at the point where the four join.

Cape told the officer that there was a “no trespassing” sign in the area where they crossed, but the hunters continued to insist their intent was not to trespass.

The Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Wednesday.

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Corner Crossing Hunters Found Not Guilty On All Counts In Carbon County Court

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Photo courtesy: Cali O'Hare, Bigfoot 99 Radio
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By Ellen Fike and Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Four hunters from Missouri were found not guilty on Friday afternoon by a Carbon County jury of all criminal trespassing charges filed against them for allegedly crossing into the airspace of a private ranch.

The clerk for circuit court in Carbon County confirmed to Cowboy State Daily hunters Bradley Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemans and John Slowensky were found not guilty of criminal trespass and other charges by a 6-member jury. The charges were filed in connection with allegations the hunters crossed the airspace of the Iron Bar Ranch while moving from one parcel of public land to another.

Wyoming’s “checkerboard” pattern of public and private land ownership often creates situations where public and private lands share a common corner, with the private land parcels sitting diagonally from each other.

The Missouri hunters used a ladder-like device to cross from one public parcel to another without touching Iron Bar’s property. However, Iron Bar alleged the four violated the airspace above the private land.

Jurors deliberated briefly before returning a verdict of not guilty.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that the jury’s decision was a landmark ruling.

“We, as hunters and fisherman, in Wyoming in particular, rely on full and good access to public lands,” he said. “If this decision helps clarify and increase legal access, it’s a good thing for all of us that enjoy the outdoors.”

The verdict was also praised by the Wyoming chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which had launched a fundraiser to help the men cover their legal costs.

“Today the court made its decision, and Wyoming BHA believes justice has been served,” the organization said in a prepared statement. “We are happy for these hunters, and we hope we can avoid future scenarios of criminal prosecution of the public for attempting to access their public lands and waters.

“This isn’t a precedent-setting decision, but it is a step forward,” BHA officials continued. “We are committed to advancing this conversation and we hope we can find solutions that result in increased public access while respecting the property rights and concerns of all.”

The chapter launched a GoFundMe campaign in support of the hunters earlier this year, raising more than $70,000 as of Friday. The money will go toward the hunters’ legal expenses and if there is any money left over once the legal matters are resolved, the chapter will donate the remainder to Wyoming’s Access Yes program, which helps hunters, trappers and anglers access privately-held lands.

In addition to the criminal action settled Friday, Iron Bar has filed a lawsuit against the four hunters, seeking damages for trespassing. The lawsuit was originally filed in state district court in Carbon County, but was moved to U.S. District Court, where proceedings continue.

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