Montana’s Stream Access Law: Landowner Claims to Own Water on Ruby River
I’ve got fishing on the brain lately. The salmon fly hatch on Rock Creek is in full bloom and we’re...
I’ve got fishing on the brain lately. The salmon fly hatch on Rock Creek is in full bloom and we’re only a few days away from prime fishing conditions throughout all of western Montana’s trout water. Golden stoneflies are dancing through my dreams. Flotillas of guides and sports lazily float down the Missouri.
But Montana’s Stream Access Law is under a more serious assault than a salmonfly in front of a pig brown trout. At a recent Supreme Court hearing in Bozeman, the lawyer for one Mr. James Cox Kennedy, an absentee landowner who owns a significant chunk of southwestern Montana, stated:
“My client not only owns the land under the Ruby River in Montana. He owns the water in the river and the air above it. So, no member of the public has the right to be on the river running through Mr. Kennedy’s property without his permission.”
With more money than a Gilded Age robber baron, and a team of lawyers that could get OJ Simpson out of his current stint in jail, Mr. Kennedy continues his attempts to erode the nation’s best stream-access law. His lawyers have even gone so far as to call Montana’s Stream-Access Law unconstitutional. That’s a pretty far stretch, since stream access is actually guaranteed under the Montana Constitution. In fact, that little bit of nonsense gave one justice enough ammo to scold the lawyer during the hearing.
Grassroots groups like Montana Trout Unlimited and The Public Land and Water Access Association are gearing up to fight this battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States if they have to. It’s an expensive fight, and one that won’t be won without some help from folks who care about the ability to access publically held rivers and streams rather than turn Montana into some version of the United Kingdom, where only the elite have access to wildlife.
Hunting and fishing define who we are in Montana. Being able to access these public resources is a large part of our economic portfolio as well.
Mr. Kennedy, we’ve invited you once before to go fishing with us. The invitation still stands – your place or ours. We’re happy to discuss this and get your side of the story. As it sits right now, the public record is fairly damning. It’s one thing to contest the legality of accessing bridges under a prescriptive easement, it’s another to try and put Montana’s multi-million dollar fishing economy at risk simply because you seemingly want to keep the unclean masses out of your kingdom.