A fence guards private property at the Elk Mountain Ranch, site of a corner-crossing controversy. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

A judge won’t allow a real estate agent’s opinion to be used in determining damages in a civil trespass case that seeks some $7.75 million from hunters who passed through a ranch’s airspace.

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl on Friday disallowed part of the opinion of James Reinhart, who said the value of the $31-million Elk Mountain Ranch could be diminished by “at least 30%” if corner crossing were legal. Skavdahl signed an order stating the agent’s opinion “is not relevant to the issues of damages in this case.”

Reinhart is an expert witness for ranch owner Fred Eshelman, who sued four Missouri hunters for corner crossing — stepping from one piece of public land to another. Eshelman claims the four trespassed in 2021 by passing through ranch airspace at the common corners of two pieces each of public and private property arranged in a checkerboard pattern.

The men never set foot on Elk Mountain Ranch in Carbon County, instead using a ladder to climb over fence posts blocking the corner. A six-person jury found them not guilty of criminal trespass in 2022 but Eshelman’s civil case continues to advance in federal court.

“If this or any other court declares corner crossing to be a legal method by which … the public can access public property, then Defendants will have done nothing wrong…”

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl

In reaching his conclusion to exclude the agent’s opinion regarding damages, Skavdahl unraveled the logic behind Reinhart’s claim. The agent states that a 30% loss in value would result “[I]f a court were to declare that [the ranch] must allow corner crossing,” according to court papers.

But if Skavdahl or any other court were to find that corner crossing is legal, “then defendants will have done nothing wrong,” the judge wrote.

And if the Missouri hunters are found to have done nothing wrong, “plaintiff will have no legal basis on which to hold them liable” for corner crossing, the judge wrote.

Some testimony allowed

A decision in the case could have implications for public access to 8.3 million acres of public land across the West, according to one estimate. In Wyoming alone, there are 2.4 million acres that are “corner locked” according to calculations made by the online mapping company onX.

The judge’s order responded to a request by the hunters’ lawyers to exclude Reinhart’s testimony, a request Eshelman’s attorneys opposed.

While Skavdahl ordered the real estate agent’s opinion on the amount of damages to be irrelevant, he said Reinhart could testify on other matters, including about boundaries and fencing, elements that could be important in the case.

The role of fences on the ranch property could be a significant issue because the hunters have asserted that a federal law allows them access to the public property. Their attorneys have repeatedly referenced the federal Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885 that generally guards against fencing the public out of public property.

Skavdahl has already determined that the placement, purpose and extent of Elk Mountain Ranch fences “could be a significant factor” in determining the applicability of the UIA.

The real estate agent’s testimony “may be relevant to the limited issue of helping a factfinder understand the physical placement, purpose, and extent of plaintiffs fencing and other property boundary control,” Skavdahl wrote.

Eshelman sued Bradly Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yeomans and John Slowensky after they corner crossed to hunt on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property and other public land interspersed with 22,042 acres of the Elk Mountain Ranch. He is asking the court to declare that the men trespassed and to have a jury decide only how much they owe him in damages.

Attorneys for the ranch and Eshelman’s Iron Bar Holdings LLC listed Reinhart as an expert witness who would testify to the loss of 30% in ranch value were it listed for sale and if corner crossing was determined to be legal.

The ranch was appraised in 2017 at $31.1 million making a 30% loss in value equal to $9.39 million. Reinhart’s assertion would boost the alleged devaluation from $7.75 million Eshelman had previously asserted.

Further court proceedings in the case are expected later this year.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Landowners who block access to public property should be fined thousands of dollars. Also crossing private property to retreive taken legaly on public property sohuld also be legal if there is no other way to retreive the game. Trying to block access to public property should be a felony.

  2. Personal flying aircraft like the “Jetson ONE” will be so affordable soon that all public lands will be accessible. It is so close, just wait. What will these greedy ranchers do then when there are1000’s of people buzzing around in personal aircraft. 🙂

  3. Well, if the value of your ranch has been based on land you do not own that is your problem not the publics. Sounds like real estate agents need to be more realistic about how they value lands that surround or come in contact with public lands. The value of this ranch should not be based on any public land grazing lease as somehow being some kind of implied ownership of said public lands. These ranchers who do this need to learn once and for all the public land is not theirs. This public vs private land issue has really been a problem since the days of the Johnston County Cattle Wars, and it needs to be resolved.

  4. I believe it is high time for the people to take back their public lands. We should introduce a ballot measure in Wyoming that guarantees access to all our public lands. Corner crossing sections should be granted at least a 5’ to 10’ easement. Other areas that are more tightly land locked as to make it nearly impossible to access should require the adjacent landowners to pay a severance tax to the people for the loss of the asset. The legislature is never going to take on a task like this. They are never really that interested in what the people really want. So ballot measures are the only way in these cases to get done what needs to be done.

  5. In times past we mostly settled these questions by generous sharing. The entity charging the fees is certainly not a good neighbor.

  6. Real Estate Agent Reinhart, in his ascent to be the Realtor for the Stars stumbled on this one badly and fell all the way down to infamy. Sportsman/woman, hunters, anglers, recreationalists, public land users etc., have a long memory and won’t forget this stunt by Reinhart and Eshelman. Apparently, the judge saw through the ruse. In the court of law and the court of public opinion, Big man Eshelman is going down next

  7. I have been following this case for about a year and I am sad to report that the stench of Fred Eshelman’s egregious attempt to keep the public off of public land has now reached my home here in Hawaii. Should I sue him for violating my air rights?

  8. Eshelman only has a grazing lease for these BLM sections. If he wants to deny public access for hunting, then he shouldn’t be allowed to hunt those lands either. His lease is for grazing, not mineral development, or other commercial development. If he leased fee acreage for grazing, he probably wouldn’t get hunting rights and he would pay a ton more for the grazing lease than he pays on federal lands. These federal leases don’t pay for themselves and make up less than 2% of Wyoming’s economy. Open these landlocked sections to recreation and they’ll generate far more for the state’s economy, and benefit more Wyomingites as well.

    1. language from the Taylor Grazing Act.
      The federal Taylor Grazing Act, passed in 1934, says, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as in any way altering or restricting the right to hunt or fish within a grazing district in accordance with the laws of the United States or of any State, or as vesting in any permittee any right whatsoever to interfere with hunting or fishing within a grazing district.”

      Provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 established outdoor recreation as a principal and major use on equal footing with domestic livestock grazing.

      The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), identifies prohibited acts, and provides penalties for violation of the law. The specific language is in Subpart 4140.1(b) (9), states, “Interfering with lawful uses of users;” …”may be subject to civil and criminal penalties…” Those penalties can include fines and suspension or cancellation of a grazing permit.

      1. Very nice Mr. Vickery. It’s excellent to have a contribution from someone that actually knows and quotes Federal Law and CFR. Thank You! Why didn’t the Carbon County Prosecutor look this up before doing Mr. Eshelman’s bidding?

        1. Because the Carbon County Prosecutor probably gets to hunt on the property to reward his loyalty.

  9. The article states the ranch has been appraised as being “worth $31 million,” but doesn’t state if this is the official County appraisal or comes from the real estate expert Mr. Eschelman hired to bolster his case. When the County Tax Assessor sent out their yearly statement on the value of the ranch, did Mr. Eshelman accept their valuation or protest it? If there was no written protest, wouldn’t that prove Mr. Eshelman agreed the Tax Assessor determined the legally binding value of the property, and negate a proposed astronomical sale price? Could you please note what the County Tax Assessor determined as the ranch value and update this article?

  10. People should not be able to “own” the air.
    Nor should they be able to keep the public from public lands.
    This whole case is a lot like a medieval aristocrat trying to keep the peasants out of the forests.

  11. While the judge’s ruling makes sense, I would be interested at some point hearing how simple corner crossing reduces the ranch value by 30%. Sounds pretty far fetched to me, but I suppose we’ve heard wilder theories.

    1. Ruben: I suspect Eshelman’s attorneys’ reasoning was that the value of such a ranch in the past often included the value to the potential purchaser of being able to sell hunters the opportunity to hunt on the public land. I suspect Eshelman paid a price for the ranch which in his mind included that value. If it is judicially determined that the Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885 applies to mean Eshelman cannot prevent the public corner crossing, he is claiming he suffered a loss when the hunters crossed his corner.

  12. whats the advantage to being an owner of the world if you can’t collect rent, or evict people, its just not fair

    1. The point is that the hunters did not touch private land and the landowner does NOT own public lands.

    2. If this is sarcasm, some people did not get it. /sarcasm/ is useful if you want a laugh. If it isn’t sarcasm, then the phrase “owner of the world” is pretty evil.

  13. I’m working on training my mules to coon jump over those fences–just in case we need to get up into that precious airspace and access all those beautiful corner-locked public lands!

    1. Vicki: “Court costs” perhaps, but Court costs do not generally include the hunters’ attorneys’ fees.

  14. No in Wyoming on Ranch land one does not pay on appraised value. I don’t believe sale price comes into play on Ranch/Ag land. But could be wrong on that. It is unfair tax system. Long outdated.

  15. Not looking good for Pharma-giant, turned Wyo rancher Eshelman’s “Hail Mary” legal attempt to claim de facto ownership of Federal lands.

    We know that a jury of their peers took very little time to find the Missouri trio “not guilty” of trespass in Carbon County.

    This seemed like a frivolous civil lawsuit from the beginning. And retaliatory toward the judgement of the Carbon County jurors. His lawsuit should be against the real estate broker who convinced Mr. Eshelman he could, in essence, buy Federal lands

  16. I am in complete support of corner crossing and totally believe we should be allowed the use of ALL PUBLIC LANDS!

    1. I’m sure my backyard neighbor won’t mind if if corner cross through his backyard to get to the park that is next door.

  17. This such a bogus claim that a few feet of land would affect property value that much. Eshelmen must be counting the value of getting all that BLM acreage as part of the value.. I don’t want to hunt on the land but it would be wonderful to access Elk mountain for hiking. Taking public land for personal wealth is just plain wrong. Unless he pays major taxes for locked up land!

  18. Questions for the reporter.
    1. Since Eshelman’s ranch was appraised at 31M in 2017 and he is asserting that is its legal value, does he pay real estate taxes on that basis or some other amount
    2. Have you asked a legal expert why the doctrine that recognizes prior court decisions on the same matter is not/ can not apply to this matter. The underlying issue is trespass. At the insistence of the owners manager & agent the hunters were charged with criminal trespass. Found not guilty meaning no trespass occured. Could not the hunters lawyers ask the judge to take judicial notice of that previous legal decision and rule that the issue of trespass based on this set of facts has already been decided by another court and is dispositive in this matter? It’s not like there are degrees of trespass – either they did or they didn’t.

    1. Ask re the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata. Suggest finding a law professor or two to ask plus I would ask the hunters lawyers why they don’t try to use them .

      As noted by another commentator and update or supplemental article regarding some of the questions posed would be welcomed.

  19. Let’s face it! This golden boy is declaring himself king and is will to take our public use lands away from us without just compensation. 7 million dollars for disturbing the air over a pubic corner of land. To me this sounds like just another frivolous lawsuit by a rich guy to try and get something for nothing!