THESTATES OFACCESS

Field and Stream - - SPECIAL REPORT -

EF­FORTS TO PRI­VA­TIZE WA­TERS ARE ON THE RISE AROUND THE

U.S. HERE ARE NINE STATES WHERE FIGHTS HAVE BEEN WON, BAT­TLES LOST, AND WHERE SKIR­MISHES CON­TINUE IN THE EF­FORT TO MAIN­TAIN AC­CESS TO AMER­ICA’S SPORT­ING TRA­DI­TIONS

Ari­zona

• The Ari­zona Nav­i­ga­ble Stream Ad­ju­di­ca­tion Com­mis­sion (ANSAC) has de­ter­mined that the Colorado River is the only nav­i­ga­ble river on which the pub­lic can float through pri­vate land with­out the landowner’s per­mis­sion. De­ci­sions from ANSAC have de­ter­mined that the Gila, Up­per Salt, and Verde rivers are all non­nav­i­ga­ble, and more de­ter­mi­na­tions are forth­com­ing.

Colorado

• You can be cited for tres­pass­ing in Colorado if you float over a streambed ad­ja­cent to pri­vate prop­erty, be­cause the state has never de­clared what con­sti­tutes a nav­i­ga­ble stream. A court case is cur­rently un­der­way be­tween an an­gler and a landowner on the Arkansas River, but the state of Colorado has moved to dis­miss the case, cit­ing it doesn’t have stand­ing.

Florida

• A state law, ef­fec­tive July 1, 2018, has barred the pub­lic from the drysand beach above the high-tide line in cer­tain coun­ties, set­ting up a pub­licwa­ters-ac­cess fight. The law held that any county that had on the books by Jan­uary 2016 a “cus­tom­ary use law” al­low­ing pu­bic ac­cess to the beach could keep it, but else­where pri­vate landown­ers could close the beaches.

The law is widely viewed as tar­get­ing the Pan­han­dle’s Wal­ton County, par­tic­u­larly, where 4 mil­lion tourists a year aren’t ap­pre­ci­ated by wealthy beach­front landown­ers.

Maine

• Here, a colo­nial-era law guar­an­tees pub­lic own­er­ship and ac­cess to the state’s 2,600 “great ponds”— any fresh­wa­ter lake larger than 10 acres—as long as you walk in over “unim­proved land.” But in­creas­ing lakeshore devel­op­ment is shut­ting out more and more an­glers as the lands around the lakes are be­ing snapped up by pri­vate buy­ers.

Mon­tana

• Up­held by the state supreme court in 1984, Mon­tana’s Stream Ac­cess Law is con­sid­ered the pin­na­cle of pub­licwa­ters-ac­cess rules: It al­lows the pub­lic to wade any nav­i­ga­ble streambed and walk on the ad­ja­cent shore of pri­vate land as long as they stay be­low the or­di­nary high-wa­ter mark.

New Mex­ico

• An­glers in New Mex­ico ap­plauded in 2014 when the state at­tor­ney gen­eral is­sued an opin­ion that all state fish­ing streams are pub­lic-do­main wa­ters and open to fish­ing and walk­ing, even when flowing through pri­vate prop­erty. But that was an opin­ion, not a law. And in the clos­ing days of 2017, the New Mex­ico Game and Fish Com­mis­sion adopted a rule that al­lows pri­vate landown­ers to ap­ply for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that their streams are non­nav­i­ga­ble and off-lim­its to the pub­lic.

North Carolina

• In De­cem­ber 2016, the state supreme court let stand an ap­peal of a lower rul­ing that up­held the pub­lic’s use of the state’s beaches be­tween the high-tide line and front edge of the dunes. A New Jer­sey cou­ple had sued the town of Emer­ald Isle in a case that could have cre­ated a domino ef­fect of beach­front own­ers

bar­ring ac­cess to surf an­glers, surfers, and beach­combers.

South Dakota

• In an un­usual twist, South Dakota is strug­gling with how to man­age sur­face wa­ters that have ap­peared only over the last few decades. In­creased rain­fall in the 1990s cre­ated “non­me­an­dered lakes” in the north­east part of the state as low basins filled with wa­ter. Many of these de­vel­oped prize perch and wall­eye fish­eries due to stock­ing by the state and were long ac­cessed by the pub­lic. But a law passed in a 2017 spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion al­lows landown­ers to pe­ti­tion the state to close non­me­an­dered lakes on their pri­vate prop­erty, re­sult­ing in a lock­out of an­glers who helped pay for the fish and im­proved wa­ter ac­cess in the first place.

Utah

• The Utah Stream Ac­cess Coali­tion has sued to chal­lenge a law that makes it il­le­gal for the pub­lic to touch the bot­tom of pri­vately held streams and would elim­i­nate wad­ing ac­cess to more than 2,700 miles—43 per­cent— of state wa­ters. An­other court case is be­ing tried that could for­mally rec­og­nize which streams and rivers are des­ig­nated as “nav­i­ga­ble” and there­fore open to pub­lic ac­cess. —T.E.N.

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