Public access to adjoining public lands via corner crossing is demonstrably legal, BHA maintains
CHEYENNE, Wyoming – Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has filed an amicus brief in a high-profile public access case that the US District Court for Wyoming is expected to hear this summer. The judgment in the case, Iron Bar Holdings v. Bradly Cape et al., could help establish the legality of a means of accessing public land known as “corner crossing,” the act of moving from one corner of a parcel of public land to another, potentially opening up access to millions of acres in 11 states across the West.
Public lands may be inaccessible because they are “landlocked,” surrounded by private lands where there is no right-of-way, public road, or public footpath. In the fall of 2021, four non-resident hunters received citations in Carbon County. Wyoming, for trespassing. The four hunters never touched private land — they used a ladder to cross between adjoining corners of BLM-managed public land.
In its brief, the BHA contends that the plaintiff in this case “cannot secure for itself the value of the public land interspersed with its property by threat of trespass, as the government and its licensees (the public) have the same right to gain access to their lands.
As the basis for its position, the BHA relies on the Illegal Enclosures Act, passed by Congress in the late 1800s to resolve the range wars that broke out between ranchers and farmers over access to and use of land in the West, as well as the cases that interpret that law. The UIA outlines broad prescriptions against the fencing of public land, emphasizing that “no person, by force, threat, intimidation, fencing or enclosure, or any other unlawful means, shall prevent or obstruct…any person from peacefully entering…any public land.” public lands… or impede or obstruct the free passage or transit on or through public lands”.
As early as 1897, the Supreme Court held that the UIA protects corner junctions as a means for members of the public to access public lands. In the years since, federal courts have continued to apply the UIA to prevent private landowners from prohibiting crossing corners from public land onto public land. As an example, in 1988 a Federal Circuit Court held that the “UIA proscribes illegal venues; compounds are illegal when they deny access to public land for ‘lawful purposes.’” That decision upheld a lower court’s finding that “free passage of hunters and their game is a lawful purpose for which the public may seek access to public land.”
Absent the UIA protections, “a barrier would be erected encompassing many thousands of acres of public land, impassable except as prescribed by [landowners]”explained another Circuit Court decision from the turn of the 20th century. “Not even a lone rider could make his way without trespassing,” the court explained, holding that trespassing threats could not be used to prevent corner crossing under the UIA.
The BHA brief also argues that the UIA takes precedence over conflicting state laws. “Federal law, not state law, governs the question of whether private land owners can avoid turning corners,” the BHA brief reads. “The UIA reflects the exercise of Congressional police power to reduce nuisances by landowners who bar access to public lands at street corners, overriding concerns of competing state laws.”
“A landowner with half ownership of one corner has no right to restrict public access by the owner of the other half of the corner, that is, the federal government and, by extension, the people of the United States of America. America,” he said. Land Tawney, president and CEO of the BHA.
“BHA members depend on access to public land and water to pursue our passions,” Tawney continued, “and therefore we are deeply committed to solving corner crossing issues.”
The BHA’s Wyoming chapter has risen up to defend the four hunters, raising funds (currently over $115,000) for their legal defense. Thousands of BHA members and supporters have also pledged their support for corner crossing and the ability for members of the public to legally access US public lands.
“Since the BHA was founded around a campfire nearly 20 years ago, we have been proud to fight for the values of public land hunters and fishermen,” Tawney stated, “and are committed to ensuring that access to our public lands and waters is freely available to all of us. We thank the court for its decision to grant our motion to participate in the proceedings, and we strongly believe that we can offer unique information and perspectives that can help the court as it considers the issues presented in this case.”
Read onX’s Corner-Locked Report for a breakdown of corner crossing data.
For more information on BHA’s position in Iron Bar Holdings vs. Bradly Cape et al, read the full report.
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