Monday, February 14, 2011

Stream Access Again? This time in Montana.

Montana HB 309-Limiting Stream Access

Yesterday The Montana House of Representatives pushed forward "the ditch bill," a piece of legislation opponents say would gut the hard-won consensus between landowners and sportsmen over access to streams

This bill would effectively repeal the Mitchell Slough decision that upheld Montanans' rights to float, fish, and enjoy our rivers and streams. HB 309 aims to limit Montanans' right to access the public waters of our streams and rivers by more broadly defining irrigation ditches.

Please Read the following:

The 2008 Montana Supreme Court decision unanimously ruled that Mitchell Slough in the Bitterroot Valley is a natural stream and therefore open to public recreation under the state's stream access law. In other words, Montanans have the right to fish, wade or float the stream so long as they are below the high-water mark, even if it passes through private property. HB 309 seeks to elliminate such access to a number of streams by defining them as private irrigation ditches.

Mark Aagenes, a lobbyist for Montana Trout Unlimited, said that while the bill "purports to clarify what an irrigation ditch is ... it clarifies it to the point that many side channels (of) most streams and lots of rivers would no longer (be applicable) under the stream access law.

"The whole Bitterroot would be considered an irrigation ditch. ... The Sun River would be an irrigation ditch," he said.

Aagenes said the Montana stream access law is "super clear" in not allowing for recreation on irrigation ditches. He added that as far as he knows, no one has argued for or pushed for access to irrigation ditches.

"That is trespass, clear and simple," Aagenes said. "This is a completely unnecessary bill unless you are trying to dramatically erode (the) Montana stream access law. The point was missed on the floor today on just how clear Montana law is on irrigation ditches."

The bill would reopen an issue decided by the state Supreme Court in 2008 declaring that a slough running through the Bitterroot Valley property of 1980s rocker Huey Lewis and others is a public waterway and as such is open to recreational use under the state stream access law.

That ruling followed a 25-year struggle to reach an agreement over landowner rights and the rights of recreationists to access streams.

PLEASE ! Contact your representative and tell them to uphold the Montana Supreme Court decision and maintain public access to the public waters of our streams and rivers. You can find your House member's direct e-mail and phone number by clicking here. Or you can call the Legislative switchboard and leave a message for your representative at (406) 444-4800 . If you don't know who your representative is, clickhere for the Montana Legislature's Find a Legislator page.

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