The Feb. 4 guest editorial by Chuck Denowh on corner crossing presented many inaccuracies.
Corner crossings do not constitute the taking of private property. Denowh mentions Montana ethics on private lands, but was silent on public lands. He mentions a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but it doesn’t exist and no case number was mentioned. Nor does it exist in the state statutes. There is also no Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks statute or regulation on corner crossing.
There is, however, a Supreme Court ruling in Camfield v. United States which defines the Unlawful Enclosures Act of 1885 (43 U.S.C. 1061-1064) and the interference of obstructing access from private lands to public lands. The act, which is supreme over state law, states that “free passage of man or animal from place to place on the public domain.”
We believe the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court ruling also applies to public access for lawful purposes as defined in the UEA. This ruling involved the Bureau of Land Management and state lands, and the UEA of 1885 needs to be considered in the corner crossing issue today.
Moreover, the federal Taylor Grazing Act reinforces the UEA’s mandate that access to public lands be preserved: “Nothing contained in this subchapter shall restrict the ingress and regress over public lands for all proper and lawful purposes.” (43 CFR U.S.C. 315e.)
Corner crossing does not create a nuisance, injury or economic impact to private property. The corners are public property. The public already has the right to use public land and the UEA forbids the obstruction of access to and on public lands. A private landowner cannot prevent access to and on public land as defined in the UEA for both wild animals and man. We recognize many Montana landowners cooperate fully in the landowner-sportsmen issue.
A recent case near Anaconda involved corner crossing for hunting by local residents on public state lands. After harvesting two bull elk, they were confronted by the Rock Creek Cattle Co. and FWP warden. The warden issued citations and confiscated the elk.
The evidence proved otherwise in court. The hunters used Google Earth and GPS to verify their location and the location of corner markers. The judge dismissed all charges after viewing the evidence. The warden acted without cause and no regulation or statute on corner crossing.
But when did it become illegal to use state land for lawful purposes? The hunters were never compensated for loss of the two bull elk and no formal apology.
The issue of public land access for lawful purposes and enjoyment and the use of public lands, federal and state, will not go away. As public land access becomes more difficult and the value of wildlife increases, the use of corner crossing becomes more important to be pursued in the legal arena and application of the UEA of 1885.
3014 Irene St.