For those of you who have not heard, Rep. Ellie Hill from Missoula has introduced House Bill 235, which would allow corner crossing in Montana. Corner crossing is when a person comes to a corner where four parcels meet and steps over the corner onto another property.
For example, as I am facing the junction of four parcels, the parcel I am standing on is public property while the parcels to my right and left are private property – but the parcel directly in front of me is also public property. HB235 would allow me to step from the public property, over the junction, onto the other parcel of public property. This bill would only allow for foot traffic. Go to www.montanasportsmenalliance.com under the 2013 Legislator tab to review the text of the bill and the legal memorandum from the Goetz law firm.
Currently, there is no statute allowing corner crossing and the legality is a gray area. By placing a statute into law specifically allowing corner crossing, the gray area is removed and people will be able to access public land from public land. There are estimates that corner crossing could possibly allow access to over 1 million acres of public land in Montana.
There are those who claim corner crossing violates their private property rights and constitutes a “taking.” The Goetz law firm in Bozeman, which successfully argued the Stream Access Law in the Supreme Court, has issued a memorandum on HB235 wherein the last paragraph states: “For the reasons set forth herein, HB235, if passed into law, will not constitute a taking and is constitutional under the Montana and Federal Constitutions.“
In 2005, a legislator brought forth a bill to allow corner crossing that never made it out of committee. Times have changed and with today’s technology through the use of GPS’s and the associated land ownership software/chips, a person can find the actual “corner” where the parcels meet. This was not the case in 2005.
This is not just an issue impacting hunters but also fishermen, hikers and bird watchers. Recreational hiking in Montana is prevalent throughout the state. Think about the opportunities to legally hike on the vast amount of public land which currently is not legally open. Many of these parcels are in the national forest, with beautiful landscapes, small streams and a variety of wildlife and birds.
HB235 was defeated in the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 30. The sponsor, Hill, is going to try and “blast” it out of committee by requesting a vote on the House floor. She needs 60 out of 100 votes to move the bill from committee to the House floor. This “blast” motion is going to take place on Monday, Feb. 18, which is the President’s Day holiday. There is a rally scheduled on the 18 at the Capitol after the vote.
Though we cannot testify at the hearing, which will start at 1 p.m., we can be in the gallery showing our support for HB235 and letting the legislators see how important this bill is to Montanans. All those wishing to attend need to be at the Capitol by 12:15, and please wear a hunter orange vest.
We are arranging for a bus to take us to and from Missoula and Helena that will be free of charge. It will leave at 9:30 from the Grant Creek Town Pump. If you are interested in being on the bus, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve space.
There is also a petition that can be signed in support of HB235. Go to www.montanasportsmenalliance.com under the 2013 Legislator tab. If you sign the petition, you are automatically linked to another petition on gun rights. This is in no way associated with HB235 or the Montana Sportsmen Alliance and we have asked that it be changed, but the host website says it is a random placement and they cannot change it.
If you support the concept of accessing public lands from adjacent public lands, please contact every legislator you know from both parties with your thoughts and, if possible, be at the Capitol at 12:15 on Feb. 18.
Robert Wood of Hamilton is treasurer for the Montana Sportsmen Alliance political action committee.