Around the County

Land issues. There’s no end to them

By Pat Stuart
Posted 9/27/22

Just when you think you’ve heard it all ... .

Four men from Missouri exposed another of our many lurking land issues.  It’s called “corner crossing,” and refers to …

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Around the County

Land issues. There’s no end to them


Just when you think you’ve heard it all ... .

Four men from Missouri exposed another of our many lurking land issues.  It’s called “corner crossing,” and refers to the occasional place where some of the 15.87 million acres of inaccessible public lands are blocked from public access only by touching corners of private land.  

Intent on reaching thousands of acres of public hunting lands, the four Missouri hunters located one of those places.  It was marked by stakes and T-posts. Easily jumped. Right?

The hunters, though, knew that could be problematic, so they didn’t. Instead, showing enterprise and to exclude any claim that they had touched private land, they set up a fence-crossing ladder, planted its four legs on public land, climbed into what would later be termed “air space,” and reached pristine hunting land.

We don’t know if they bagged any game or not.  Hopefully, they did, because they would later be charged with trespass of “air space” by the Elk Mountain Ranch that owned the two corners and, heretofore, had enjoyed almost exclusive use of thousands of acres of public land.

It had been a sweetheart deal for Elk Mountain’s owner.  No wonder he was/is willing to pay big bucks to protect his “rights.”  No wonder, too, that a lot of public officials support the Elk Mountain position as do landowners in similar situations across the patchwork of private and public lands that comprise our Western states. Keep in mind that there are 15.87 million acres of government-owned land that should be available for public recreational use but aren’t.

While a judge threw the first case out, litigation will continue; eventually, deciding if the ‘public’ has a right to enter so-called “air space” to legally use public land.  

The ‘corner crossing’ issue, of course is just one of many public/private land questions, and they keep coming.

Take the mix of land, cameras, and drones, for example. The state Legislature is considering a couple of bills that will probably pass and will limit an operator flying a drone over public land but close enough to private land to be seen and heard.  How close?  The proposed legislation doesn’t say. Nor does it spell out the necessary level of irritation for the complainant to complain and attorneys to litigate.  

Thus, if you want to fly over ... say ... the Ralston Reservoir and one of the nearby landowners finds your drone annoying, well ... .  You could possibly face up to six months in jail.

All I have to say is this: Some powerful person must have REALLY been pissed off to get so many legislators’ support on a bill that amorphous.

So, with corner crossing prohibitions, we can’t get from hunting parcel A to adjoining parcel B that is joined to private land at a corner.  We can’t fly a drone anywhere where it will bother a nearby landowner.  We surely can’t drive or ride a horse across a bit of private land to get to locked-off public land.  Then, there are the usual lease and boundary issues, adverse possession cases, normal trespass questions, eminent domain problems, etc. etc.  

Some are serious.  Some as spacey as the proposed drone bills.  Occasionally, it all becomes ridiculous that the common sense actually prevails.  

The case of corner crossing should be one such.  It isn’t.  You would think that the Elk Mountain claim to own touching corners of a miniscule amount of air space is so ludicrous as to become the butt of jokes and public rage.  But, no.

Likewise, few seem exercised about the proposed drone legislation. 

The reason, I suspect, has to do with our own uncertainties.  As landowners ourselves, even of very small parcels, we want to control what we have and tell the rest of the world to ****-off.   We think, “But what if I was that landowner.”

Inevitably, then, with new issues appearing like bunnies sprouting from their burrows, we muddle along, our eyes widening each time we hear of another land-centered conflict.