The great fishing states of Utah and Montana both saw critical public access announcements earlier this week. On the good news front, a 4th District judge rejected much of the Utah’s legal “reasoning” defending a 2010 law that restricts public access to rivers crossing private land, ruling that the public trust doctrine protects recreational use of public waters. Montana’s Ruby River, on the other hand, continues to ride out its longstanding public access shitstorm with a new hurdle in the 11th hour.
About a year ago District Judge Loren Tucker ruled that public use of Seyler Lane didn’t guarantee public access to the Ruby from a bridge on that road—near Twin Bridges, about 50 miles southeast of Butte.
The Public Land/Water Access Association (PLWA) appealed Tucker’s decision in a case that will be heard by the state’s high court on April 29. The wrench, however, has been delivered by James Cox Kennedy’s cross-appeal, which seeks to stymie the state’s stream access laws and PLWA’s push to drop barriers on the Ruby. Kennedy owns 10 miles of the river. And his pockets run deep.
Back in Utah, the state has seen the light—possibly?—and determined it has a constitutional duty to manage river resources for the public’s benefit thanks to a new ruling from Judge Derek Pullan. That case, and the kicking to the curb, finally, of HB141, will likely be determined by the Utah Supreme Court. River access groups such as the Utah Stream Access Coalition argue the law bars access to Provo River stretches, even when boaters and anglers get on the river from public-access points.
“The Judge agrees that HB141 is problematic under the doctrine, but he is not certain about its true impact on the public trust resources,” said Craig Coburn, who argued the case for the stream access advocates two months ago in Pullan’s Heber City courtroom.
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.