Elk Mountain Ranch owner Fred Eshelman and four Missouri hunters he is suing for some $9.4 million are listed as potential witnesses in a federal corner-crossing trespass trial scheduled for June 26.
Attorneys for Eshelman and the hunters filed the lists earlier this month in federal district court, naming a total of 20 prospective witnesses. The lists outline some of the testimony attorneys expect to hear at the trial.
Eshelman’s civil suit claims Bradly Cape, Phillip Yeomans, John Slowensky and Zachary Smith trespassed when they stepped from one piece of public land to another and across the airspace of his ranch in 2020 and 2021. The hunters say they never set foot on Eshelman’s property as they hunted on federal and state property intermingled among Elk Mountain Ranch holdings.
The lists also include the Elk Mountain Ranch property manager, law enforcement officials, surveyors and a fly-in public-land hunter from Colorado. Pilot Kyle Scott may testify that Eshelman harassed him and scared away game after Scott landed a plane or helicopter to hunt on public land adjacent to the ranch.
A Carbon County jury found the four Missouri men not guilty of criminal trespass last year. They never took the stand.
Eshelman did not appear at their trial in Rawlins. The separate federal civil case he brought is scheduled to be heard in Casper.
Corner crossing involves stepping kitty-corner from one parcel of public land to another at their common corners with two pieces of private land, all arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Some 8.3 million acres of public land in the West are “corner locked” by any definition that corner crossing is illegal.
Laws, suits and criminal charges have not settled the issue.
The hunters’ witness list includes Wyoming Game and Fish Game Warden Ryan Kenneda, who was responsible for the Elk Mountain area for some time around 2015. He may be called “to testify about whether the Wyoming Game and Fish Department or he recommended that Plaintiff [Eshelman and his company Iron Bar Holdings] should install t-posts, signage, chains, or locks at the corner … to manage or limit trespass,” the court filing states.
Two fence t-posts were placed on adjacent private Elk Mountain Ranch parcels and chained together across the first corner the hunters crossed, according to photographs and descriptions that are part of the legal cases. The hunters used a ladder in 2021 to climb over the obstacle.
At other corners, which the hunters found by using a GPS device and then locating survey markers, they stepped across apparently unimpeded.
The hunters and others have asserted that the Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885 prohibits blocking passage to public land and applies to hunting and corner crossing as well as grazing and wildlife movements.
Colorado hunter and pilot Scott, who is not named as a defendant in Eshelman’s civil suit, may testify about flying to public land adjacent to the Elk Mountain Ranch in 2020. While hunting and walking on public land in the area, Scott and his wife “were confronted by [ranch manager] Steve Grende and Dr. Frederic Eshelman on motorized vehicles … with accusations that the Scotts were trespassers,” a description of his potential testimony states.
Eshelman and Grende “scared off game the Scotts were pursuing and ruined their ability to use and enjoy the public lands,” the court papers state.
Those actions were “intended to scare, threaten, and or intimate (sic) Mr. Scott and Mrs. Scott from continuing to visit, travel on or hunt on public lands adjacent to plaintiffs private lands,” the filing states.
The Missouri hunters said they, too, were harassed by Grende while hunting on public land adjacent to the ranch.