Saturday, January 10, 2009

Stream access from county bridges

I'm co-sponsoring House Bill 190, an act to clarify public access to rivers and streams from county bridges.
Last session, I carried Senate Bill 78 in the House to clarify public access from county bridges, but SB78 died in a contentious legislature.

There are many findings for public access to waters in Montana law and case law. Montana’s Stream Access Law, passed in 1985, states that all Montanans have the right to use their rivers and streams for recreation. Our Montana Constitution in Article 9, Sect. 3 (3) provides for the use of the waters of the state for its people and to hunt and fish. It also describes what I term our “harvest heritage”—to harvest wild fish and game (Art. 9, Sect. 7). Attorney General Mazurek’s opinion (which carries the weight of law) found that the intersection of two public rights-of-way (county roads and waterways) is a public intersection, and a bridge crossing a waterway is a public access point, but as you know, some landowners have challenged that finding in court. Last year, the Tucker case on the Madison River (and other cases of late) have found for public access, and have upheld Mazurek’s opinion.

House Bill 190 attempts to codify our Attorney General’s opinion and also references court actions that have challenged and failed to overturn that opinion.

House Bill 190 has my full support. You can be sure that I’m working the Representatives and Senators of this 61st Legislature to support HB190. I will always fight for our right to access our rivers and streams. Trout, beware!

Kendall van Dyk, a representative from Billings, will present the bill to the House Fish, Wildlife, and Parks committee on Tuesday. I serve on the House FWP committee, and will be proud to hear the bill's proponents, opponents, and informational witnesses. I and many others are doing our best to ensure the passage—finally—of a stream access bill. For me, it’s a continuation and refinement of last session’s attempt, and the final result, I hope, of many years of actions, findings, and reaffirmations of public access to our rivers and streams.

Montana's heritage of sporting and access to our state and federal lands has much to do with the character of this place and of our people. House Bill 190 helps to continue our Montana sporting tradition.