As The New York Times As reported on Saturday, the OnX app is at the center of the controversial case now being heard in Carbon County, Wyoming, for using the app by a Missouri bow hunter Bradly Cape planned how he would gain access to the public lands around Elk Mountain in Wyoming.
Knowing how irritable many landowners are to hunters trespassing on their property, Cape has identified an area of ”checkerboard” control. That is, the land is divided into mile-by-mile sections, half of which are public property and half private property, like the black and white squares on a chess board.
At one point on this checkerboard map, Eshelman controlled two squares that met at a corner. The other two squares were public property. Using OnX, Cape mapped the exact location and led three friends to walk around the corner from one public space to another. Not only did they not set foot on Eshelman’s land, they also crossed the territory of his possessions infinite small. Not a single state has laws against this “corner crossing,” which is common in areas where railroad companies were once granted public land to “open up” to the West.
Legally, Eshelman can’t put a fence across that corner. So instead he installed “Keep Out” signs at the corners of each of his squares, leaving only a few inches between them (a photo of the signs is in the Times Article). But on a return visit, the hunters, aware of the shields after scouting the site, brought back a specially constructed short ladder that allowed them to leap across the space between the shields.
As WyoFile Eshelman’s ranch manager reportedly spotted Cape’s group on the public property. After ranch employees harassed the hunters, including chasing them in pickup trucks driving Eshelman’s men across public lands, the manager, along with Wyoming Fish and Game, called the local sheriff to charge the hunters with criminal trespassing. Initially, officials from both agencies told this manager that they had not issued a trespassing charge for corner crossing. But days later, after the manager pressured local officials by reminding them of Eshelman’s importance in the district, another Fish and Game MP pressed charges.
Eshelman owns 23,277 acres near Elk Mountain, but when prosecuting this case for corner crossing, he attempted to block access to 1.6 million acres of public land.
The case went to court in April, with the local district attorney claiming someone was wanted for trespassing simply for violating “airspace” over private land (which would surely be news to the FAA). It was only about two hours before a local jury decided the whole thing was ridiculous and found the four men not guilty.
That should have been the end of the whole thing, but after not getting what he wanted in the criminal trespassing case, Eshelman pounced on the hunters with a civil suit “for causing millions of dollars in damage,” which is demanding not only compensation for this alleged damage, but also the payment of all legal fees, both criminal and civil, by the hunters. He’s seeking a staggering $7 million in damages for disturbing a few inches of air over his land.
As Donald Trump has demonstrated so many times, those rich enough can endlessly work the courts, using them both as a means of coercing others into submission and as a means of evading personal responsibility for anything. Hunting groups and other public-land access advocates have raised $110,000 to cover legal fees that threaten to wipe out the four hunters.
No matter how ridiculous this all seems, and no matter how fast the jury trial ends, Wyoming officials are convinced that the landowners will win in the end. According to a Republican attorney who used to work for the attorney general’s office, if the hunters win“It wouldn’t surprise me at all that legislators would come back and pass legislation stating corner crossing is illegal. If you win you lose and if you lose you lose.”
Although most people are unaware, this type of checkerboard control covers a large portion of the American West, and blocking access to public lands in this way would render equally vast areas completely inaccessible. The impact would extend far beyond a dopey pharmaceutical millionaire using his Wall Street earnings to snag some of Wyoming’s finest real estate.
The answer to a Wyoming law that says corner crossing is illegal is simply enough: a federal law that says it is. But Republicans are unlikely to allow such a law, even if every hunter in America is clamoring for it. Because for Republicans, when there’s a competition between middle-class hunters and wealthy landowners…it’s not even a competition.
Corresponding forbes, Eshelman made his millions when one of several pharmaceutical companies he was an executive at sold for $3.9 billion in 2011. “Eshelman personally made at least $160 million from the after-tax sale. FORBES estimates his fortune is worth at least $380 million. Eshelman declined to comment on his net worth or how much he made by selling his shares in any of his companies.”
Eshelman is a longtime supporter of conservative Republican politicians. According to WyoFile:
He has donated millions to conservative Republican candidates running for federal office. In the 2008 election cycle, according to Open Secrets, he pumped $5.5 million into Rightchange.org, Eshelman’s tax-exempt “527” organization “founded primarily to influence a political election.”
Open Secrets lists Eshelman as the second-highest single donor to “Outside Money Organizations” in the 2010 election cycle with $6,359,660. His total contribution to Republican candidates for federal office is at least $28.5 million.
The Republican Party keeps hitting and pointing fingers at each other. The traditional media act like they didn’t totally screw it up when they predicted a “red wave” a few weeks ago. In tonight’s episode, Markos is joined by democratic political strategist Simon Rosenberg. Rosenberg was one of the few outsiders who, like Daily Kos, kept telling the world that these midterms were closer than was reported. The two are a bit pleased that they are right in their optimism about the 2022 midterm elections, and they offer their analysis of why Democratic candidates have been successful and how terrified the Republican Party is heading into 2024.