Another lesson in how millionaires can alienate your base

Here in Minnesota, the most reliable supporters of Republicans are gun owners, hunters, and fishing fanatics. Even our Democratic governor made appeasing that demographic a key part of his electoral success, and I don’t mind — it’s a bridge to environmental action, you know. I also have roots in the Western US, where a major issue is individual liberty to use local resources.

Here’s an interesting case of private interference in individual liberty.

OnX is an app that’s intended to help hunters find public land so they can go after deer, elk, or whatever they happen to be hunting. At first glance, that may not seem like news, but users of that app get an invaluable view of just who owns the property around them, which is critical when trying to reach public lands where hunting is legal. They have also gotten a very clear view of something that is otherwise hidden from the public: how corporations, millionaires, and billionaires have blocked out huge chunks of public property so that they alone can access it—without paying a dime.

They do this by creating public land “islands,” areas that are surrounded by privately held property. The public lands in these islands become de facto parts of the surrounding property. In most states, there is absolutely no rule that says the property owners have to do anything to allow access to that island of land.

One of their tactics is to divide the land into a checkerboard — squares of private ownership around public land that are in contact at only their corners. The rich want to make it illegal to step across any of those corners!

Well aware of how prickly many land owners are about hunters crossing their property, Cape located an area of “checkerboard” control. That is, the land is divided into one mile-by-one mile sections, half of which are public property, half of which are privately owned, like the black and white squares on a checkboard.

At one place on this checkboard map, Eshelman controlled two squares that met at a corner. The other two squares were public property. Using OnX, Cape mapped out the exact location and led three friends in stepping across the corner from one public square to the other. They not only didn’t step on Eshelman’s land, the area of his property they crossed was infinitely small. Not one state has laws against this “corner crossing,” which is common in areas where grants of public land were once given to railroad companies in an effort to “open up” the West.

The rich guy who has bought up these parcels of land, drug company executive Fredric Eshelman, is upset at this simple privilege. He’s an extraordinarily greedy person.

Eshelman owns 23,277 acres near Elk Mountain, but in prosecuting this case against corner-crossing, he attempted to block access to 1.6 million acres of public land.

So he’s suing four hunters who stepped across the mathematically infinitesimal corner boundary for $7 million. He lost a criminal trial against them — it would have been difficult to show that they’d deprived him of anything — so he’s making a civil case of it, and since he’s rich, he can harass the hunters with lawsuits until he wins. Sadly, people in Wyoming (Wyoming! Deeply Republican Wyoming!) think the hunters will eventually lose.

No matter how ridiculous this may all seem, and no matter the quick outcome of the jury trial, Wyoming officials are convinced that the landowners will win in the end. According to a Republican attorney who formerly worked for the state attorney general’s office, if the hunters win, “it would not surprise me at all that the Legislature would come back and pass a law saying corner crossing is illegal. It’s sort of if you win, you lose, and if you lose, you lose.”

This is the kind of case that ought to unite everyone, Republican rednecks, environmentalists, Democrats, people who want to look for spiders, just everyone, in opposing this scheme. I don’t like the idea that filthy rich assholes can wall off huge chunks of public land to create private game hunting parks for themselves. Unfortunately, there are also lots of ranchers who exploit the Wyoming checkerboard for their personal gain.

By the way, Eshelman is a hard right Republican donor.


  1. hemidactylus says

    There might be arguments to be made against hunting (and fishing) but there are some overlapping interests between hunting/non-commercial fishing and conservationism. And spider people too.

    Is this kinda like enclosure? A way to convert hunters into Marxists? Hmm…

  2. says

    Boy am I glad that in CZ this is illegal. Even privately owned forests must by law be accessible to the public and everyone is allowed to gather mushrooms, fruit, and deadfall wood up to 7 cm in thickness in said forests. I do not know the details for hunters but I think those are too better regulated around here.

  3. Tethys says

    Like any area of life, plenty of people who fish and hunt are conservationists who want to protect the habitats and wilderness of wildlife.

    The fees they pay go directly to the DNR and are used to maintain public lands.

    Sadly, hunters often trespass on private land which is why so many landowners dislike hunters in general.

  4. antigone10 says

    I’m pretty sure that in MN you can’t do that. I don’t know the exact law, but there’s public access easement laws for public property. A friend of mine is a lawyer who just used it last year to help the lawsuit over water rights up north.

  5. Artor says

    “Drug company executive… an extraordinarily greedy person.”
    This message was brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

  6. kaleberg says

    The only people fighting to clean up the rivers in the early 20th century were the lunatic fishers of the Izaak Walton League. Izaac Walton was a 17th century sport fisher who wrote the Compleat Angler. If you think fighting for clean water is all uphill (upstream?) these days, imagine what it must have been like in the 1920s.

  7. silvrhalide says

    @5 People don’t like hunters because so many Great White Hunters follow their Budweiser into the forest, with predictably bad results. I still remember one year in NYS, 9 hunters died–were killed by other hunters–before the first deer was taken on opening day of deer season.

    Also, some of the most entitled assholes on the planet are hunters. Some highlights (lowlights)
    -Police were called & summons issued for several hunters who decided to hunt deer on the playground of an elementary school. School was in session. After being given tickets to appear in court and removed from the school grounds, the assholes came back later, and were issued additional summons and once again removed from the school grounds.
    -Was petsitting for friends when I was awakened by gunfire. At 4am. In February. WTF were these assholes shooting at? It’s dark at 4am. Sunrise wasn’t for another 2.5-3 hours. This went on for hours. Rolled outside once the sun was up, informed assholes that they could either leave or the Britney Spears retrospective would start immediately. (Hey, it worked on Noriega.) Later sent email to friends about incident, in case there was any follow up once they got back. Got blazing email, turns out assholes were repeat offenders. They had previously used homeowners’ garden as a duck blind and had also climbed onto the roof of the house and were using that as a shooting stand.

    I grew up in a hunting community but there’s a reason the newer hunters aren’t liked. My grandfather and uncle quit hunting altogether because they said there were just too many irresponsible idiots out in the field. Idiots who think that “sound shots” are a fine and dandy way to hunt, among other nightmares of stupidity.
    “1 New York Hunter Killed During ‘Safest-ever’ Hunting Season”
    Kind of just says it all.

  8. asclepias says

    You’ll be happy to know that Eshelman lost the case. Yeah, I was surprised, too, but relieved.

  9. silvrhalide says

    @11 Well that makes two of us. Freedom for the plebes lives another day.
    Maybe Dick Cheney will invite him to go hunting and “pepper” him. Why not? It could happen. Oligarch, hard right nut job, heavy Republican donor, lives in Wyoming… hell, Cheney probably has him on speed-dial.

  10. StevoR says

    Looking forward to the Legal Eagle having his youtube video on this case out – if he hasn’t got one on it already ..

  11. StevoR says

    As for hunters, there’s hunters and there’s hunters really. Some actually are or can be genuinely good conservationists from what I gather though still not keen on their hobby. Some of them use and eat what they kill and play a constructive role and others .. rich “Big Game” trophy ones especially from what I gather are just horrific and really unethical and nasty pieces of .. work.

  12. asclepias says

    I don’t know any hunters who don’t eat what they shoot. There are people in this state who shoot animals and just leave them to rot, and the game wardens are hot on their heels; game wardens lack humor that way. The first conservationists were also hunters. (I have my own opinions on trophy hunting and canned hunting.)

    I’m one of the 500,000 or so people who live in Wyoming. This story is actually fairly old, by the standards of news these days (although it ‘s always a good thing when news from our corner of the world gets out, no matter how late it is). The final decision was made in September.

  13. asclepias says

    silverhlide @ 10 It never ceases to amaze me the dumb things people do when “hunting.” I worked for the Game and Fish Department over in Green River, WY, for a bit. One of the wardens there showed me a video of a sting operation they’d set up to catch deer poachers. People were doing tons of things that are illegal–shooting over the car hood, for instance. The one that shocked me most was some idiot who decided to shoot over his friend’s head, damn near shooting his buddy in the process. (The wardens in the office were unanimous that stings were their favorite part of the job.)

  14. lotharloo says

    This is the kind of case that ought to unite everyone, Republican rednecks, environmentalists, Democrats, people who want to look for spiders, just everyone, in opposing this scheme.

    Maybe but I heard from my uncle that his neighbor told him that someone shared a story on his facebook about the transgender agenda and how students these days piss in litterboxes during the class, girls dress like boys and boys dress like dogs and the teacher is an oaktree or something. So instead, I guess I’ll listen to some very straight Christian boy called Shen Bapiro or something.

  15. ealloc says

    Similar situation in Arizona and New Mexico for camping on public “BLM Land” (Bureau of Land Management) . You have to have a BLM map of which parts are private/public. A few nights I would arrive at a location I thought was good, only to realize that someone had carefully carved out (made private) the path leading to the public land, making it inaccessible. The checkerboard thing is common too. Very annoying, especially when it’s already getting dark.

    Luckily, that was the exception to the rule, it’s usually easy to find pristine, natural public land there. I recommend it! Great climate for camping, with gorgeous sunrises, alone in huge spans of flat desert surrounded by saguaros, sage, and mesquite.

  16. rockwhisperer says

    Californian here. Husband hunts in the national forest that bounds our property, when he’s lucky enough to get a deer tag. There’s a lottery, and he got one this year, the first in a decade. No deer.

    But we also have issues with hunters. The area where we live has private properties along a main road that are adjacent along the road, and extend a quarter to half a mile in most cases perpendicular to the road. Beyond them is the forest land. There are side roads that lead into the forest, it isn’t hard to access without using someone’s private property, but that doesn’t stop hunters from parking in someone’s driveway encroachment and hiking across their private land. We challenged one the first year that we bought the property, and he insisted that his map didn’t show the private property along the road. It must have been a very old map, since the property was first deeded by the US to the original owner in the early part of the 20th century.

    After we built a house, the problem became less, but there’s always some jerk who thinks it’s fine to stroll across someone’s front yard to get into the forest. Challenging people carrying rifles is iffy, and we wouldn’t have said anything to that first guy except that he was blocking our driveway and we needed him to move.

    Still. A couple of miles from our driveway is a side road that goes into the forest and has many tertiary roads that lead to various places to park for hunting. The roads are unpaved but graded and will generally accommodate even an ordinary sedan, much less the pickup trucks these guys tend to drive. If there really was an access issue, we’d rethink our position, since everyone deserves access to public land. There is not an access issue, there are only lazy hunters. This is far different from the situation that PZ is describing.

  17. silvrhalide says

    @16 Nothing surprises me when it comes to the stupidity of some hunters. Not anymore. I’m sure the sting videos the game wardens have are like one endless blooper reel. The best though, was a WSJ center column article on so-called hunters… and the deer decoys used to trap them. (The WSJ was a decent paper before Rupert Murdoch bought it and turned it into a lawn dart and a joke.) Goddamn, these people are dumb. The article focused on “Bucky”, a decoy deer model that enforcement officials would plant in a promising spot, set up cameras, and wait for idiots with guns to arrive. The variety of ammo–and other weapons–found in the decoy were mind-boggling. People would shoot “Bucky” with assault-style long barrel firearms, handguns, you name it. People lobbed grenades at the decoy. (Who the hell goes hunting with grenades?! Or keeps them handy in the glove box for those “just in case” moments in life?!) The thing that got me was that after the first shot, when the deer didn’t run away and didn’t fall down… the idiots just kept shooting. I mean, do they think the deer is deaf? A vampire? A weredeer, killable only with silver bullets?

    How did these people make it to reproductive age instead of dying of epic stupidity? Surely some of them should have been eliminated from the population for playing in traffic or similarly stupid antics.