PUBLIC LANDS -- Led by Republicans, the Montana House has rejected a plan to give hunters and others access at "corner crossings" to public land that is intermingled with private land in a checkerboard pattern.
The measure was championed by sportsmen and House Democrats to ensure public access to more than 800,000 acres of landlocked public parcels in the state.
Hunters and advocacy groups packed the chamber in support of the measure, seeking access to patches of government land that meet at corners. Supporters of House Bill 235 said denying access at such corners ensures that mega-land owners like Ted Turner can lock up blocks of public land.
"This law would no longer criminalize a Montana sportsman from jumping from one corner of public land to another corner of public land," said Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula. "We are talking about hopscotch, folks, leaping from one corner of public property without touching any private land."
Republican critics argued that there is no way to cross at the corners without trespassing, even if a person knows exactly where the property lines intersect. They argued that a person's hips and shoulders would cross the airspace at the intersection of the four corners while hopping between parcels.
In Washington, a hunter would be legal in crossing a corner if he didn't stray onto private lands, state Fish and Wildlife police say.
"As far as I'm aware, where four sections come together at a single point, no Washington officer would cite a person who went right over the corner. It seems like Montana is cutting hairs pretty close to cite somebody for trespassing in that instance."
-- Capt. Dan Rahn, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 1 enforcement coordinator.