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

An expert witness in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against four hunters accused of passing through the airspace above Elk Mountain Ranch says the alleged trespass has damaged the ranch by $1.64 million more than the $7.75 million previously asserted.

Attorneys for Elk Mountain Ranch owner Fred Eshelman last week designated real estate agent James Rinehart of Laramie as an expert witness in Eshelman’s civil suit against the hunters. Eshelman alleges the Missouri men trespassed on his 22,045-acre Carbon County ranch in 2020 and 2021.

Eshelman asserts that when the men corner-crossed — stepping from one piece of public land to another at a four-corner intersection with his ranch — they damaged him by up to $7.75 million. That’s based on a 25% devaluation of the Elk Mountain Ranch, appraised at $31.1 million in 2017.

Rinehart would discount the ranch by 30% if corner crossing was declared legal, he said in an affidavit. His figure would raise alleged damages to a total of $9.39 million.

The defendants say they never set foot on private property as they stepped from one piece of public land to another in a checkerboard pattern of ownership.

“If a rural or ranch property is subject to forced/lawful corner crossing, such could impact the value…”

Real estate agent James Rinehart

Neither courts nor laws have explicitly stated that corner crossing is legal or illegal, experts say. The case could have implications for public access to 8.3 million acres of public land in the West, according to one estimate.

A Carbon County deputy cited the four Missouri hunters for criminal trespass in 2021. A Rawlins jury found the men not guilty last spring but they still face the civil suit.

Corner crossing “is a primary factor to consider” among a majority of ranch buyers and sellers, Rinehart wrote. “If a rural or ranch property is subject to forced/lawful corner crossing, such could impact the value…

“[I]f a court were to declare that [the ranch] must allow corner crossing, it would be my advice to list the property at a discount of at least 30% from the appraised or perceived value of the ranch before taking corner crossing impacts into account,” he wrote.

Public/private melange

Private Elk Mountain Ranch land walls off thousands of acres of public land on wildlife-rich Elk Mountain, barring access to much of that public land without corner crossing or landowner permission.

Ranch real estate agents in Wyoming often advertise ranch property by listing both deeded private land and public land leases.

One recent listing for a property in Platte County, for example, states “the ranch is comprised of 7,589 total acres, which includes 5,331 deeded acres, 240 acres of BLM Grazing Permit and 2,018 acres of State Lease.” Another for an Albany County ranch advertises “54,209± total contiguous acres [that] consists of 25,764± deeded acres, 5,338± State of Wyoming lease acres, 8,251± BLM lease acres and 14,856± private lease acres fenced into the ranch.”

A survey marker at a common checkerboard corner near Elk Mountain Ranch. (James Hasskamp)

Real estate agent Rinehart, who describes himself as “an avid hunter,” states that corner crossing can “impact wildlife resources.” He analyzes how “hunting/fishing/recreation use … affect the value of real property,” an affidavit he signed states.

If hunters and others are not stopped from corner crossing on Elk Mountain, “extra miles of private land boundary … must be patrolled or controlled in the face of increased public access,” he wrote.

If corner crossing is legal, “such a ruling would negatively impact my ability as a licensed real estate broker to list, market and attempt to sell rural and ranch properties,” Rinehart’s affidavit reads.

Eshelman said in an interview with Triangle Business Journal that he likes to hunt mountain lions. He held nonresident landowner elk licenses for the Elk Mountain Hunt Area 125 in at least 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 and a leftover elk license in 2017, Game and Fish information obtained through a records request shows.

Ranch property manager Steve Grende said at the criminal trial that Eshelman “was actually on the east side” of Elk Mountain when the Missouri men were hunting public land on the west side. Asked whether they damaged the ranch, Grende said “no.”

At the trial, hunters’ attorney Ryan Semerad likened Elk Mountain to a medieval feudal fiefdom in which wildlife is considered “the king’s deer.” Under Carbon County corner-crossing enforcement, wildlife that’s the property of the state and on public land is available only to Eshelmen and those he grants access to, Semerad argued.

When asked, the jury foreman would not explain why the body found the four not guilty.

1885 act

The hunters believe the 1885 Unlawful Enclosures Act prevents Elk Mountain Ranch from blocking their access to public land. That theory will be tested at the civil trial, which is expected to take place next summer.

“If the argument is that, absent corner crossing, the private landowner effectively controls public lands within their border, then that would seem directly contrary to the purposes of the UIA,” said Mark Squillace, professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Law School. He responded to questions from WyoFile in an email.

“If the UIA applies, then corner crossings have been legal at least since the passage of the UIA in 1885.” Nevertheless, “a realtor or appraiser who makes a reasonable assumption about the law that is only later found to be wrong should not be liable for over-valuing the property,” he wrote.

One law officer said in a video played at the criminal trial that he understood Carbon County is one of only three Wyoming counties that treats corner crossing as trespass.

Elk Mountain appears to have ample wildlife values. In the few days they hunted there, the show-me-state hunters were successful. They killed two elk and a deer.

Never set foot

The four hunters used onX — a GPS map app on cell phones — to navigate their way across public land.

They showed law officers screen shots of their app, including waypoints they marked at the corners. 

A second, newly listed Eshelman expert witness, surveyor David Coffee, took “professional land surveying equipment” and a cell phone with the onX app to Elk Mountain at Eshelman’s request, according to court filings. At three different corner monuments he noted their coordinates as revealed by his surveying equipment, said to be more accurate than cell phone GPS. He compared those to the locations indicated by onX on the phone.

Corner-crossing defendants wait for their trial to begin in Rawlins on April 27, 2022. They are Phillip Yeomans, second from left and partly obscured; John Slowensky, foreground in the front row, Bradly Cape, second from left in back row and Zach Smith, right. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

In court papers Coffee provided three comparisons that appear to show the onX locations as much as 6.814 feet away from the monument. On its website, onX itself says user-marked points “are usually accurate within +/- 2 meters,” or about 6.5 feet.

Relying exclusively on the onX app could have put the hunters several feet onto Elk Mountain Ranch land.

But the hunters stated on several occasions that they crossed at surveyed corner monuments and used onX only to get within sight of them. Regardless of coordinates, maps or apps, the surveyed corner monument is the legal property intersection, a surveyor told WyoFile.

“Real property is bounded by physical monuments,” said Rich Greenwood, a land surveyor who maintains the geographic information systems for 16 Wyoming counties.

One of the four hunters, Bradly Cape, is the owner of All-type Fence, Inc. of Cuba, Missouri, lending the hunting group some knowledge about property boundaries. At every corner in question, the hunters were able to locate the survey monuments — often less than a foot high — because a taller stake or T-post, as well as the onX app, marked their locations, according to court records.

At one corner they used a makeshift fence ladder to climb over two T-posts that blocked the corner, evidence at their criminal trial revealed.

Cape himself said in a conversation recorded by a law enforcement body cam video “we never had been on private land.” Fellow hunter Phillip Yeomans wrote in a statement that the group explained to ranch property manager Grende “that we crossed every corner legally and that we have pictures of every USGS corner and T-post marker.”

Wyoming Game and Fish Department law enforcement officer Jake Miller described the hunters’ actions in a report. “They understood that GPSs are only accurate to about 30 feet so they looked for the marker at every corner before crossing.”

In both the resolved criminal trial and the ongoing civil suit the hunters were alleged to have trespassed by passing through the airspace above Eshelman’s property.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

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. So force the greedy ranchers to buy back the land from wyoming tax payers at the current value, or stop being unreasonable. It’s a free country, I shouldn’t have to pay for you to have more land to do nothing with. We already pay excess for your fences and cattle gaurds along the highway.

  2. Wow!!! Wyofile hit the “Hot Button” on this article. Have never seen so many comments on a rural state news site. Good reporting and coverage and good goin’ for all those who took time to comment!

  3. What a bunch of B.S. regarding the loss of value. A corner is a point the size of a sharpened pencil. When the public land is impacted as such it becomes de-facto private land. This same thing happens a lot in Montana as well.

  4. 1st of all, I feel we hunters should have access to public land, if properly licensed and the fish,& game within its borders. Granted that landowners help feed game animals. I disagree w/ some of this inflated hype by realtors who only care about inflating already high priced land and making millions. Game & fish agency’s are fleecing us non-residents for 20years.I do not approve of littering or destroying fences or private property, but the public should have access to public land.

  5. I predict Mr. Realtor Man, Rinehart, is going to get famous over this sham…and not in a positive way. His “opinion” is nothing more then a bought and paid for shill in Eshelman’s absurd position that he and he alone totally controls federal land. Mr. Rinehart needs to realize that us Wyomingites are like elephants….we will not forget. Note: Didn’t Rinehart operate his own Real Estate Agency not long ago? Competition must of been, well a bit too competitive to make it on his own as google shows he’s now an employee of Mason & Morse (a big time real estate operation).

  6. I believe Eshelmans beef is with the real estate agent who sold him the property under precedent all public land within would be his and his only.

  7. The unstated reality is that these ranches are overvalued because they utilize BLM and other state owned property.

  8. This is the wealthy landowners seizing access to public lands. If the landowners control this acreage and sell the property based on that control, outdoor recreation will be diminished by far more than the fantastically outrageous sum of money they’re seeking from these hunters. How can 2 people crossing a fence line without damaging a strand cause millions in damage? Did these guys have cooties? Were they carrying wasting disease? No they were hunting for elk. Elk that the adjacent landowner apparently declared were his property. Maybe the BLM or Forest Service need to cut a public easement through this property using eminent domain. How much would that devalue his windblown ranch?

  9. Reminds me of Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale, AZ. This PUBLIC land was made inaccessible for over 6 years by luxury home development till access was regained by establishing a park. The peak features a 3.5-mile round trip hiking trail, awesome rock climbing, and incredible views. Altough the selfish landowners with big bucks fought like crazy to keep the public out, justice eventually prevailed. AZ has its share of ranchers who block access to public lands. Hopefully the Elk Mtn / Corner Crossing situation helps do away with practice of robbing the public of access to land WE own.

  10. So, wealthy landowners have been stealing from the citizenry all these years by locking them out of their public lands (and using said lands as if they owned them) and now they’re whining about losing 30% of the land value that was never their’s to begin with? Shocked

  11. To continue the landowner’s ridiculous claim of ownership of “airspace”, and to what elevation, would that not, theoretically at least, increase the size of his property and thus its tax base? Furthermore, if the wind blows HIS air to the neighboring property (or vice versa), would that be considered “trespassing”? Sometimes “a law” can be plum stupid!

  12. I doubt a court will even allow this supposed expert testimony as it completely ignores the requirement that the hunters’ actions are what “CAUSED” the purported “damages.” If the hunters are correct that they have a right to access the public land, they were merely exercising a right of access they had all along and there can be no damages.

    Alternatively, if we assume for sake of argument that the hunters were incorrect, then they crossed a corner illegally on a few occasions –actions that would be now clarified as unlawful and prohibited in the future. In that case, no one could seriously argue that these few instances of corner crossing diminished the value of the ranch at all, let alone to the tune of millions of dollars. The effect of such a ruling would be precisely the opposite, increasing the value of the ranch by having secured public lands for exclusive private use.

    The bottom line is that the landowner’s absurd damage estimate assumes that the hunters were legally correct that the public has access, thereby defeating itself. The landowner cannot obtain such a damage award from these individuals by having greedily and wrongly bet that he could exclude the public from public lands.

  13. 1st of all its public land so that’s your problem
    2nd of all you don’t pay taxes on that land
    3rd wondering who came up with the figures, a real estate broker, who would agree with whom ever hired him/her or they wouldn’t have a job.
    4th does the rancher get to keep all the public land now?

  14. The ranch was a checkerboard before he bought it. That’s not the hunter’s fault. His ugly t-post, chains and signs that are cropping up around the mountain are worse. And then there are the scars from the 3 times he’s tried to blade a road, oops, I mean build a barely maintained lay-down fence over State Section 4 where he does hold the grazing lease.

  15. I seen it happen it Sublette county where rich ranchers can and do block off public land access and even public roads that cross there property that lead to national forests. All in the name of hunting rights .. So these rich out of state land owners can invite there rich friends to come hunt on pristine hunting areas that they claim is there’s by limited access to the public

  16. This is all about the rich locking up public land that every tax paying American has a right to use for recreational purposes.

  17. Private VS. Public
    Legal VS. Illegal
    Let’s see , it seems to be a CLEAR CASE of GREED going on here. If the land in question here I’d allocated, platted and certified PUBLIC , then it has PUBLIC ACCESS , period. Henceforth that should be deemed LEGAL. If you SET FOOT on (property ) deemed , allocated and certified PRIVATE , then that would be ILLEGAL. Sound about right ? Since this particular case and landowner only leases the PUBLIC land , again , only leases , he/she DOES NOT OWN IT. How could anyone accessing PUBLIC LAND be deemed wrongful ?? This landowner pays a SMALL LEASE FEE only and NO PROPERTY TAXES ON THOSE SECTIONS OF LAND. My suggestion: If you want to keep the public off those parcels of PUBLIC LAND, THEN BUY IT , have it deeded and PAY TAXES ON IT , like the rest of America does. CLEARLY you have plenty of money and that shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re trying to SCREW the American Public out of something THEY OWN AND PAY TAXES ON !! Buying that land would end all this BS. But doubtful that will happen because this particular landowner wants SOMETHING FOR NOTHING !! Sorry , that’s not the American Way !! Also , It’s
    NOT LEGAL !! Tell your Real Estate Expert to “ TAKE A HIKE “ on Public land / Private Land , either way , just DONT CROSS INTO “JOHN Q PUBLIC AIR SPACE !!! What a joke !!

  18. Being in Colorado I can appreciate that private lands help support wildlife by limiting pressure and providing habitat, often santuaries relative to our heavily pressured public lands

    but…this Eshelman guy seems like a total jerk…hiring real estate agents as experts lmao! Get bent.

    These hunters were smart, relying on corner monuments. Good for them for pushing the limit. I hunt near private but I don’t antagonize as much as they did. I wish them luck.

    I’d like to know how much Mr rich millionaire contributes to local economy. I bet less than you might think. These guys take advantage of every tax loophole and often pay much lower percentage of taxes than us working stiff. And this outfit probably contributes much less overall to the local community than a family owned outfit that relies on their community.

    My understanding is that even if he loses the civil suit the legislature will likely move to make thus illegal so as to keep ranch values sky high for the donor class. Wyoming residents watch closely and vote accordingly.

  19. Perhaps, if this is true and not hyperbole to inflate the value of the lawsuit, it is time to tax the benefit that stopping corner crossing seems to be the problem. Surely, the wealthy isolationist owners that benefit from blocking public access won’t mind paying for this privilege, and perhaps an additional tax, should they charge for hunting on their properties and the public land that they want to block access for their own edification.

  20. I agree with other comments saying it is a joke to have a realtor as an expert witness. What data does he have? What financial interest does he have? Regardless, if the land does “lose value”, the value lost is the public access that belongs to the public. Corner crossing without touching private land is fair and should be legal also.

  21. Maybe there should have been a realistic appraisal to begin with – one that acknowledges the Publix’s right to access.

  22. These guy’s are Grifters, like so many that “think” access to public land devalues “their” land! Public lands belong to all American’s, including the two that feel other’s shouldn’t enjoy federal lands, and thus include it in “their” portfolio’s, whether a Real Estate agent complaining about making less because of the public accessing their land. And, what irks me even more is when grazing )”rights”) leases are included in the “real” property sale–a total joke–as those leases are revokable and NOT a right!
    As noted in the article: “One recent listing for a property in Platte County, for example, states “the ranch is comprised of 7,589 total acres, which includes 5,331 deeded acres, 240 acres of BLM Grazing Permit and 2,018 acres of State Lease.” Another for an Albany County ranch advertises “54,209± total contiguous acres [that] consists of 25,764± deeded acres, 5,338± State of Wyoming lease acres, 8,251± BLM lease acres and 14,856± private lease acres fenced into the ranch.”

    All American’s should say NO to this act of “taking” public land away from all of us!

  23. One article in tnis week’s Wyofile says there are no Democrats in Wyoming. Well, judging from the anti real estate and rich guy comments i’ve read on this crossing issue, i cry false! There are plenty of Demorats, maybe progressive Democrats, in Wyoming who dont yet know thst they are. Turn that ranch over to the people!

    1. Woah- conservative republicans have every reason to fight for access to their public lands that they pay taxes to maintain. There are no politics in play here, just common-sense: the public deserves access to public lands. Besides, the stereotypical out-of-state landowner is just as likely a dem as a republican.

    2. Nobody wants this guy’s ranch. What people want is access to public lands. The BLM needs to force an easement. They have before. There’s access to a school section on the little laramie up by centennial where the state pushed an easement to the resource. The only bad thing I will say about that is some bad apples have trespassed and caused damage. Everytime i go up there I fish other peoples trash and carry it out. Thats not democrat, thats being a good Wyoming sportsman.

  24. Brought in a real estate agent as a key witness? Comical. Private landowners subject to forced or lawful corner crossing? When was it deemed unlawful to corner cross? First it was violating “private” air space and now it’s devaluation of private property. Keep reaching

  25. Expert opinion? Rinehart is just another bought and paid for hack to the Eshelman empire. If ranches are valued by how much public land they possess for their exclusive use, then let the buyer beware. Rinehart full well knows that when ranch land is sold, leased acres are disclosed to let prospective buyers know the size of that ranch operation. It doesn’t in any way grant exclusive use of the public ground unless it is land-locked by private. Corners are not land-locked!

  26. I hear ya, Mr. Real Estate man, Rinehart. We bought a place near Yellowstone Park because our Realtor promised “Close and Quick Access” to the park. Well, after we purchased our property, we found that about 5,000,000 million people per year also access “our” Yellowstone”. WHAT? We were lead to believe by our Realtor that the adjacent Public Land was for our benefit only and how dare the “public” access and use this land Land! We thought, due to what was sold to us by the Realtor, that Yellowstone was ours and ours alone. We now intend to file trespass charges as well as a huge $$$ civil lawsuit against the 5,000,000 people who severely caused the property values of our home to plummet.

    1. Good luck with that….. Might as well plan on heading back east or Texas, or wherever you’re from……

  27. Sounds to me like ranches are overvalued by 30% due to their reliance on land that belongs to the American People.

  28. The wealthy out-of-state Elk Mountain rancher considers public land as his own and pays very little for his leases and hunting rights. It just ain’t right.

  29. Mr. Real Estate expert. Would your cut of higher sales price have anything to do with your opinion? Also lane that can only raise xxxx amount of cow/calf a year to go to market is not the most profitable land to start with. Base tha lands value on what the “poor” rancher pays to lease the “public land” per year. Then you have fair market value. So in essence the sealed off public land actually adds value to the surrounding “tax deduction”. AKA “ranch”. Now then since public land is being leased out to put Solar/wind farms on. And in light of power station security issues which has came about recently. Maybe these lands should be first in line for secure power generation.

  30. Surprise, Surprise, Eshielman’s expert real estate witness places a diminished value land to try to justifie the ridiculous value that Eshielman put on his land in this civil suit.

  31. “Eshelman said in an interview with Triangle Business Journal that he likes to hunt mountain lions.”

    Lol…. he likes to shoot cats out of a tree after the dogs do all the work. There’s a metaphor there..

    1. Excellent point, Chuck Davis. I recommend that all BLM and state leases should be revoked until the national public has access to the land that they really do own. No corner crossing, then no grazing on public land. All farm animals violating this rule should be rounded up and sold to meat processors.

    2. This issue infuriates me! America’s public land is part of what makes America great. Public land is the great equalizer. It means the average person like myself can hunt, fish, or enjoy any type of recreation, look to my left or right and be standing next to the likes if Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. I have as much right to be there as they do. Unless of course we let them buy everything up and cater to the elite. The issue of corner crossing is legal by definition. How Wyoming let this happen is embarrassing. There should have been some oversight to avoid privately held land from preventing access to public land. I trust the justice system will “do the right thing”. If not, and this entitled landowner wins, take away his right to hire outfitters and/or take anyone hunting or fishing onto the public land he so desires to keep the rest us off. Remember the Golden Rule!