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Governor says strong economy, public access linked

BUTTE - No state has rivers like Montana, and if it wants to keep its
economy booming, then the public must continue to be able to access those
rivers, Gov. Brian Schweitzer told a crowd of stream access advocates

"It's not only that Montana has rivers that make us different, it is that
you have the right to access our rivers that makes us different," he said.

The governor spoke to more than 80 members of the Public Lands/Water Access
Association at a rally at the Copper King Hotel. The group is pressuring
state lawmakers to support a proposed law that would require landowners who
attach fences to county bridges to provide some form of access to the
streams they cross, such as a gate.

Schweitzer, in casual dress with an undocked shirt and blue jeans,
encouraged the crowd to talk to any Realtors they know to get the word out
that the state's rivers and streams belong to the public. Too often
out-of-state "big shots" buy land and claim afterward they have never heard
of the state's stream access law, he said.

He also pledged to restore $15 million for Access Montana, a state program
to buy new fishing access sites and state parks. House lawmakers cut the
money from a bill funding the state's building and technology needs for the
next two years, instead redirecting it to agricultural experimental stations
and other projects.

"You've been watching this Legislature in action and you just assume it's
going to go to hell in a hand basket," Schweitzer said. "Trust me, its not."

Madison County has been ground zero over the fight about access from
bridges. Some landowners there have put up fences blocking access to the
Ruby River.

The county was sued by the Public Lands/Water Access Association after it
allowed landowners to get permits to attach fences to county bridges.

The issue is providing access at the points where two public rights-of-way
intersect, Montana Attorney McGrath told the crowd. State roads are public
and so are its streams and rivers, with both crossing at bridges.

"One of the challenges as Montana grows ... is to maintain that public
access and maintain a program to educate people about what we have here," he

There is much talk in the Legislature about protecting private property
rights, McGrath said.

"We're talking about public property rights" when talking about streams, he
said. "And that is an important distinction we have to make."

Senate Bill 78 would give property owners the ability to attach fences to
bridges, but only if the public is still able to access the stream. It has
passed the Senate but is now in the House, which is likely to be more
critical of the legislation given its votes on similar bills in the past.

Groups such as the Montana Stockgrowers Association have spoken against the
bill, saying landowners need the fences to keep livestock from wandering
onto roads.

A hearing on the bill is set for Tuesday in Helena, and it is likely to
bring a heavy turnout.

John Gibson, president of Public Lands/Water Access Association, encouraged
young people to continue fighting to keep public lands open.

"Believe me, if we're not active, those who want exclusivity will take this
access away from us," he said.

New construction is what's currently driving the state's strong economy,
Schweitzer said. People are coming here because of the quality of life.

"These bright young families are choosing Montana because we can still
access our public lands," he said.

Schweitzer urged policy makers not to shut the state's economy down. "Make
sure the gates are open to our public lands."

related articles

Ruby River Stream Access Victory
( 07/01/2016 )   7/1/2016PLWA, once again, has been victorious in the battle for the public's stream access on the Ruby River, from the Seyler Lane Bridge, likely the original stagecoach route from Salt Lake City, north to Virginia City and Helena.It has been over a decade that PLWA (formerly known as PLAAI) has been involved in a lawsuit over public access to the Ruby River from Seyler Lane and the Seyler Bridge, a public prescriptive easement right-of-way in Madison County.

"Dark Money" Brought to Light
( 07/01/2016 )   The June-July, Newscasts section of Fly Fisherman reported on the recent investigation by Montana's Commissioner of Political Practices, Jonathan Motl, into a dark money campaign that could overturn Montana's Stream Access.Fly Fisherman recounted the Montana Growth Network's campaign contributions to District Judge Laurie McKinnon's run for our Montana Supreme Court.

public land issues

Seyler Lane Update
9/24/2015Seyler Bridge Easement - More Than Just RecreationUpdate - Kennedys attorney requested a postponement of the September 21 hearing.

Tenderfoot - Four Years and Counting
9/24/2015Tenderfoot Creek is a tributary of the Smith River, joining the Smith a mile or so north of Camp Baker.

    18 more public land issues

The governor spoke to more than 80 members of the Public Lands/Water Access

John Gibson addresses Banquet

Public Land/Water Access Association Inc. or PLWA, is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.

Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice. Legal counsel may be needed in dealing with specific access situations and issues.
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