Elk Mountain along Carbon County Road 400. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl on Monday refused to temporarily suspend his decision that corner crossing is not trespassing, denying a request by Elk Mountain Ranch owner Fred Eshelman.

Eshelman sought to suspend the judge’s ruling while the pharmaceutical magnate challenges it in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Eshelman sued four Missouri hunters for trespassing after they traveled through the airspace above his ranch in 2020 and 2021.

Skavdahl ruled that corner crossing in those instances was not trespassing.

“Corner crossing in recent years was largely treated as disallowed and was rarely attempted,” Skavdahl wrote. “Thus, the recent state of affairs has been altered by the Court’s summary-judgment order.”

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl (Wyoming Supreme Court)

But the judge warned public land users about the limits of his decision.

“[T]he Court takes this opportunity to remind readers and the public about the circumstances that were at issue in this case,” Skavdahl wrote in his seven-page decision. “Defendants peaceably crossed from public land to public land in the checkerboard area on foot without touching the surface of any privately owned land and without damaging any private property.

“A physical confrontation with a private landowner instigated by a member of the public, may prove to be the single surest way for Plaintiff to secure a stay pending appeal,” the judge wrote. “The actions of a few can ruin the opportunities for many.”

No strong showing

Corner crossing is stepping from one piece of public land to another at the common corner with two pieces of private property, all arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Across the West some 8.3 million acres of public land are inaccessible to the public without corner crossing.

Four Missouri hunters corner crossed to hunt thousands of acres of public land enmeshed in a checkerboard pattern in Eshelman’s wildlife-rich 22,045-acre Elk Mountain Ranch. A Carbon county jury found the hunters not guilty of trespassing in 2022. Eshelman filed his civil suit that year

“Plaintiff has not made a strong showing of likely success of an appeal,” Skavdahl wrote in his order. “The arguments Plaintiff now advances in favor of a stay were considered in depth and rejected by this court.”

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

The judge also dismissed fears that his ruling would disrupt the peace. Eshelman’s attorneys produced vulgar and abusive missives directed at the ranch owner and his employees as evidence of threats.

But those weren’t caused by his decision, Skavdahl said, addressing  threats that might have been made in the case.

“There is no contention that defendants acted in a threatening or aggressive manner toward [Eshelman] or employees,” the Judge wrote. “If anything, it was Plaintiff’s employees who harassed Defendants while Defendants were on public lands.”

Eshelman’s claims of lost property value caused by the judgment are misguided, Skavdahl wrote. Such a claim “is based on a fictitious right the Plaintiff never actually held under law,” the judge wrote. 

Skavdahl also said public-interest weighed in favor of rejecting Eshelman’s request for a stay and that preserving the status quo did not override it.

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. The Skavdahl family comes from ranching country in NE Nebraska – a Google search will find several other Skavdahls from Harrison, NE – Scott Skavdahl’s common sense comes from his up bringing in rural America – its no wonder his rulings reflect common sense.

  2. This is so easy to solve by simple stating that 60 inches from the corner of each square of property is neutral property to be used to access the public property by citizens would end this bull puckies and keep tyrannical landowners at bay from trying to cutoff public lands so they can in de facto control more land then what they have title to!

    1. “IF” he doesn’t want corner crossings then he and the other owner should agree to place a 10-12 foot fence at the corner and the other land owner do the same. Then crossing there will be more difficult.

      Thank God for the Constitution of these UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!

  3. My question is. Are these fences in question surveyed, or are they just like most in Wyoming? CLOSE ENOUGH!

    1. If the fences are used to enforce the land owner rights, it is the LANDOWNER who has to prove it was properly surveyed. As with most fences worldwide, the presence of a survey is very much unlikely. As this ruling contends, the landowner CANNOT bring charges unless that fence was damaged in the crossing or a real survey exists supporting the placement.

  4. “…the Judge wrote. “If anything, it was Plaintiff’s employees who harassed Defendants while Defendants were on public lands.” Once again why aren’t Eshelman’s organization and employees being charged with hunter harassment. This is clearly a violation of those statutes and both the Carbon County Prosecuting Attorney and WYGF have an obligation to and least file charges. To not do so may constitute malfeasance and should be investigated by the WY A.G. Do your job people!

  5. The judge is a reasonable man, as should be we, the public, in not challenging the guideline he has established — crossing from public land to public land without touching or damaging private property. Do not destroy this initial even if tiny
    “opening” to resolving the issue of access to public lands.

  6. Kudos to Judge Skavdahl for standing up for what’s only right, I will say those of you who plan on Corner Crossing please keep in mind to do it as legally as possible, don’t damage any fencing etc. Don’t harass livestock, if a Ranch Manager/Employee confronts you wish him a nice day and be on your way. And pick up any Litter. Threat it like it’s your property, It Is!! Let’s do it the right way and Beat this Beast.

  7. So when are we going to see hunter harassment charges pending against the landowner and his employees?