I fish a lot of smaller rivers and streams in the summer, just because I like the fishing better. I also like being able to walk 3-4 miles and fish how I want to. But that access is always under assault. Whether it’s the legislature or billionaire tycoons, us everyday, blue collar Montanan’s are facing a battle that never ends.
Luckily, there are groups like the Public Land and Water Access Association who look out for us little guys. Right now, PLWA needs your help though. They’re willing to take our ability to access streams and rivers all the way to the Supreme Court, but they need that extra kick in the pants that your dollars can provide. PLWA has set up their Stream Access Defense Fund and they need your help. They've teamed up with Magic City Fly Fishers and the George Grant Chapters of Trout Unlimited to help generate enough funding to continue the fight.
As the folks at PLWA say:
In April of 2012 Madison County district Judge Loren Tucker ruled against PLWA in a case about a Seyler Lane road bridge - a "prescriptive" county road - a road created by public use rather than a formal process. The court held the prescriptive easement for the road was, in effect, two easements - one a public easement for just the road surface itself and a secondary easement of the full 60 feet for repair and maintenance. Thus, there would be no recreational legal access at bridges on prescriptive roads if this ruling holds.
PLWA strongly disagreed with this theory and appealed the case to the state supreme court. We believe that case law supports the policy that prescriptive rights include all legal uses within the prescriptive right-of-way. If the two easement theory were to hold, would it not mean school kids waiting for a bus would be trespassing - or a guy pulled off the road to fix a flat would be trespassing ?
The landowner involved with the bridge is James Cox Kennedy, an Atlanta mogul of the Cox Communications empire. He has filed cross appeal challenging the "constitutionality of any act of the Montana legislature." We are not sure what this means but it sounds like a challenge to the stream access law as well as the bridge access law.
No one knows how many prescriptive county roads there are in MT, but it is not wise to let Tucker's precedent setting ruling hold - or let the Kennedy cross appeal prevail.
Montana is lucky to enjoy the best stream access in the U.S. We cannot stand by and see it eroded by this case or any other cause. (Keep in mind that our current stream access law came about when an adverse lower court ruling was overruled by the supreme court. Many times the lower courts deliver a "home town" verdict.)
You’ve spent the summer running every river you can find either in a tube, a pontoon, raft or drifter. You’ve eaten enough caddis at dusk to feed a pod of Missouri River Bruisers for a week. You’ve got raccoon eyes. You’ve blown hundreds of bucks at the local brewpub, a cool grand at the fly shop and donated a day or two to help clean up some trash infested stretch of river that apparently has been ravaged by a horde of Natty light aficionados and you’re just getting primed for hopper season.
But what are you gonna do about preserving your access?
It’s easy to ask folks for their time, to write a letter, or come to Helena to testify against those who would steal what is not theirs. It’s tougher to ask folks for a $50 bill. I never got that. The truth is simple, if you don’t pony up some cash, then groups like PLWA can’t afford to hire the attorneys who are working at cut rate prices to maintain what we’ve all fought for.
I’m in for $50, are you?