Utah stream access case heard


Want to fish this part of the Provo River? You can't anymore... Photo Courtesy Corey Kruitbosch

“Friday March 9th was a big day for Utah Stream Access Coalition, and for restoring public access to our waters here in state. The Honorable Judge Pullan presided over oral arguments in our Provo River (Public Waters) case. It was very clear that he had done his homework, as he cut straight to the meat of the issue and asked very direct, penetrating questions to both sides. Our representation was outstanding, and we owe Craig Coburn, Cullen Battle and Kallie Smith a tremendous debt of gratitude. USAC would like to thank everyone who has been involved in bringing this case to court. Judge Pullan has 60 days to write and issue his opinion. Regardless of the outcome, both sides have acknowledged that this will be appealed to the Utah Supreme Court. In the mean time, cross your fingers.”  Kris Olson – USAC



  1. Right On!! Its great to hear the public is at least being heard. We only hope that they “being the governering bodies” of country will make their decisions based on “all peoples”rights not just the rich!! Thank You. Other states will have the same battles as this one in the future you can bet on that.

    • Always blame the rich – that is pretty common amongst folks anymore. I understand and value public access but I also value and appreciate private property rights – and the efforts underway across this country to take them away from folks are shameful. Are there cases out there that are blatant attempts by an affluent person? Yes but that his the exception rather than the rule. My only word is be careful for what you wish for because the next set of rights that are “taken” might be yours. Live next to a park? Now, perhaps people will have a right to walk through your yard to get to it rather than going around the block. Have off street parking – hell, just park in your drive because you “rich homeowners” don’t know what it is like to have to pay for parking. Instead of bashing ranchers, land owners and farmers, why not try to work out an arrangement for access? Christ, going and knocking on the door is a simple thing to do and shows respect. You might be surprised on how many people let you access water just by asking and being courteous. You don’t have a right – it is a privilege to use something that others paid money for.

  2. Jacqulyn Hooper on

    It seems to me that people who buy property by rivers, lakes, creeks etc. should need to make access to them a part of their plan when building, to protect them from the public and to make it possible for the public to use the public rivers, lakes, and streams without bothering the property owners personal living etc.
    A fenced path, with gates or a road if need be to reach the recreation area. This should just be part of the deal when buying that kind of property.

    • Your kidding, right? Again, it sounds like we are telling people what to do with their property (at their expense) that benefits everyone but them. What’s next, when you build a house you should plan to add an extra bedroom so that a homeless person has a warm place to sleep? Come on folks, I understand that everyone wants access to the streams but let’s realize that the “populist” views are not the way to do it. Put yourself in the landowners shoes – all we are doing is pissing them off and the result is that they will not even come to the table to discuss options for access agreements. All this discussion is just making them say “NO” a whole lot easier. Wake up and realize that they owe nobody anything, they have the right to say “NO” (or “YES”), and they have spent their money on the property and rights that accompany that property. Perhaps you folks need to get your wallets out and buy a public access easement. That is a completely legal option but that would require you folks to put YOUR money where YOUR mouths are. Something I don’t think you are very interested in doing, afterall your comments clearly paint the owners of property having the obligation to gate, fence, clean, etc. THEIR property to the standard of and for the enjoyment and benefit of everyone else but the people who own it. This is f’d up.

  3. Stop pissing in the wind! As an avid fly fisherman AND a property owner I realize this is a hot button issue. I have people ask to fish often on my property – generally speaking they are allowed to go but not in all cases because frankly, if they are idiots that don’t respect me or my property then they don’t have the right to go and use my property to access a stream or lake. I often ask landowners all around the West and when I talk with them in a POLITE, RESPECTFUL, AND UNDERSTANDING WAY they generally let me go fish – NO QUESTIONS ASKED. You “socialists” out there don’t realize that you are hurting yourselves in this battle. You may win a battle here or there but you will loose the war – that I guarantee you. Property owners are fed up with the mentality that is prevalent throughout the nation: What’s mine is mine, but what’s yours is mine too.

    You bad mouth them (ranchers, farmers, landowners), you drag their efforts and legacy’s through the mud yet you want them to save resources and do all the improvements on their dime AND PROVIDE THE ACCESS. Why don’t you free-loading hippies steep up to the plate and put in some money to buy an access corridor to streams? Yes, that would make you pony up your resources but you don’t want that. You want everything on someones dime other than your own.

    Do I value access? Yes. Do I dream of fishing the Provo or some little gem? Yes. Do I fish them? Yes. And I will tell you how I do it. I walk up to the landowner with hat in hand, introduce myself and ask him/her how I can help them with their property. I give them a day or two in labor or companionship and then they grant me access to fish at my leisure. Do some tell me to hit the road? Yes but generally speaking that is less than 10% of all of the property’s that I fish tell me that. I understand what they go through, I understand that without private property then we would have no wildlife, no fishing opportunities, and trashed public property everywhere. The public treats public their ground like crap and everyone here knows it because they don’t have any skin in the game. When you own something then all the sudden you realize that mistakes cost money, they cost money to fix and they take years and decades to do so. On public ground I see ATV’s running all over the hillsides, see trash everywhere, see crimes taking place all the time, seldom have tranquility, seldom see wildlife acting wild and constantly see red-necks shooting up the countryside. We have nobody to blame but ourselves for a landowner telling us “NO” because that is what we have EARNED from them. We trash them in the newspapers, call them a bunch of “rich” folks when generally speaking that is far from the truth. Most landowners are just folks that have owned property in their family’s name for a long, long time. We owe them a thanks for not developing the property into 3 acre homesites, we owe them a thanks for taking care of wildlife, and getting their hands dirty in taking care of the property so until you are ready to realize/recognize this then we have no right to talk down to them. We should all be ashamed that we bad mouth them but do absolutely nothing to police ourselves and call out the idiots who destroy options for us by littering, tearing up ground, misusing property and much more. Today is a society of “ME” and the ranchers, farmers, and other landowners have a right to worry about themselves because we sure as hell don’t! Remember, every time you point the finger at them, there is four fingers pointing back at you!

  4. Let the dirt owners own the dirt, waterways are separate entity’s that flow through and are not permanently attached to the land and should be regarded as such, a public domain resource, including reasonable access. It works in Hawaii, all the beaches up to and including the mean high tide line are public domain. You can not own or build on or restrict access. Very few take advantage of this (trashing, vandalizing) most see it for what it is, a beautiful natural resource that belongs to everybody. My experience is that 99% show respect
    When it comes to my Fly Fishing on private property, I have been met with handshakes and handguns, shown honey holes and bullet holes. It’s about change and adapting to it, for both sides. For the time being, ask permission, it’s really not that big a deal. Like TB said, most will say yes.

  5. Uplandguide on

    Trout Bum,

    Too bad you were not around 150 years ago to give the Native Americans a voice when the land that these, how did you say it, “… landowners” ancestors came west and stole it . Before these land-grabbing, greedy folk came along and there was no private property, there was no trash, there was game, there was tranquility and there were no red -necks shooting up the country side. However, when the land-grabbers came along that all changed.

    I resect land owners rights, I always ask for permission and on a yearly basis with landowners as things can change, I never assume on previous agreements. Also, I own a piece of land and my family owns land in the east. It’s just the idea that you are conveying, that these landowners are some sort of ‘stewards of the land’, that’s just a crock. Their ancestors had no thought in their mind of preserving the state of the land, they were greedy and they WANTED IT.

  6. Chickenlittle on

    Trout Bum,
    You are painting some mighty broad strokes.
    Anglers are not looking to trespass on anyones property. Trespassing is against the law and anglers are in agreemant that anyone trespassing should be prosecuted. The same thing goes for vandals.

    Anglers want to work with landowners in Utah. Many anglers spend numerous hours last spring filling sandbags to help protect private property. Many anglers carry trash bags and carry out any trash they find on the way out. Clubs like Trout Unlimited and other angling groups have organized river clean-ups, have help the DWR and DNR plant willows and other streamside vegetation to help stop erosion and beautify the riparian habitat.

    There have been individual anglers who have worked with the legislature and the landowners to come up with some type of compromise. Most anglers are very courteous. Last year, I asked for permission to access three different areas. I was told no by each landowner I asked. All three places I asked for access where quite removed from the actual landowners dwellings. I told them I would follow the fence lines and not walk through open fields, that I would stay right in the water and only get out if the water was too swift or difficult to wade and then I would stay right on the bank. I told them I would pick up trash and even bring them a trout or two for dinner if they wanted. Still the answer was no. The three I asked were very cold.

    Trout Bum–you talk of all the bad that anglers do. Are you familiar with the damage that is done to riparian systems by ranchers’ livestock? How about the fertilizers and farm chemicals that enter the waterways? Have an old car? They look real nice stacked up against the bank of a river. How about diverting, dredging, and denudding vegetation?

    The finger pointing has got to stop. I’m not sure why the ranchers and farmers are so scared of a man standing in a river waving a stick and catching a few trout.

    A compromised bill was presented that supposedly all interested parties could agree to, yet behind the scenes legislative deception was taking place.

    The bottom line is that the water in Utah has always been held in common. It is a resource for the public. Alll anglers are asking is for a way to access “some” of this water in the pursuit of fish, which are also managed for the public. I think you will find that the majority of anglers don’t want to fish in someones back yard, but to limit access on stretches of water that have been historically fished, or are somewhat removed from dwellings is extreme.

    Thank you to the landowners who have allowed step-overs on your property, who are not afraid of anglers and are willing to share a stretch or two of water. If you need sandbagging or any other type of assistance on your land, please feel free to let us anglers know. We’d be more than happy to assist.

    • Your right – some landowners have done a bad job in managing cattle waste, riparian corridors, etc. While I don’t agree with it there is nothing (other than EPA issues) that states they MUST do this. Should they be held accountable for contaminating water resources – YES, no arguing that point. I would be the first to throw the book at those that do it.

      I ask for permission all the time and I would dare to say that I am turned down less than 10% of the time because I offer them help BEFORE I ask for permission. Getting access to private ground means that you must gain the trust and respect from the owner(s) and simply knocking on the door sometimes is not enough.

      Are there good groups such as TU, etc. out there – Yes. Are there good anglers – Yes. However, we are only judged by our weakest members and it is up to the angling community to seek those folks out and shine the light on them. A bad apple rots the entire lot – remember that. And when one of us bad mouths the ranchers and farmers then understand they are going to throw us all out on the street so to speak. They don’t know who is good and bad so they error to their safe side and throw all of us into the “bad” guy category.

      Others talk of the fact that rivers are “community property”. I both agree and disagree with that statement. Yes, water is the public domain – no arguing that point. I don’t have an issue with folks floating, fishing, or anything else in using the water. The sticky issue comes when we discuss who owns the ground under the river. I am very familiar with what the law states currently and what is proposed but the issue that concerns me is the fact that “interpretations” change over time and that is a real concern of property owners. Case in point as the “interpretations” have been changing for years now in Utah so there is a great deal of distrust on the part of landowners towards anglers, etc. They view it as stealing and we have to respect that feeling. Remember, I want access too but we need to also put ourselves in their shoes and view the issues through their eyes. I am and a big enough person to realize that my dreams, wishes, etc may not be that of someone else and I am very cautious about mandating my beliefs on someone else. Bottom line is that the legal course that some groups are taking will hurt the angler community in the end (my opinion). We need to work with landowners to gain the trust of them and yes, that may takes years to do so. Simply throwing them under the bus because I feel I have a right to walk through their land to access a water body is flat wrong in my book because where does that stop? If you live next to a park and the neighbors want to use your backyard to access the park – is that OK too? What if you have a great view from your property, do people have the right to get on it for the esthetics? Some may role their eyes at this but understand that some out there are manipulating this to other areas and in the end it will all come back to the anglers – something I don’t want to see happen.

      My final point is be careful with farmers and ranchers for this reason – would you rather they be on the land or would you rather they split it up and sell it off into 2 acre home sites? Think you have issues now – wait until that starts happening. Next time you see a farmer or rancher you may want to thank them for being on the land because they do have options that will completely and utterly screw us.

  7. Richard Strauss on

    Trout Bum,

    Understand the difference between private and public access, lawful and unlawful access and *use of* and *access to/from* public waters.

    Read (or re-read) the lawsuit(s) and base your comments on its language. See http://utahstreamaccess.org/usac-wp/public-waters-case/

    Rather than the issue of the lawful (by permit) or unlawful (by trespass) access to or from waters over private *up* lands, the USAC Weber River lawsuit issue is expressed as about “the right of the public to lawfully access (via public lands or rights-of-way) and use Utah’s public waters and their beds for recreational or other lawful (commerce, navigation, fisheries, environmental, scientific study, aesthetic, etc) purposes, and securing recognition that the public owns title to the beds of all navigable public waters and that the State of Utah must manage those waters and beds in trust for the benefit of the people.”.

    Utah has already resolved the private access issue that you write to by providing an existing adjacent up-landowner permitted *Walk In* Access program for fishing and hunting (view at https://vimeo.com/4034526 ). *Walk Over* access by strategically locating, prioritizing and building safely distributive footbridges from public to public lands to gain access to far-shore lawful activities such as fishing and *Walk Through* access at public ROW county bridges (see Montana’s 2009 Public Bridge Access law) to provide public interest gated fence access to/from waters in exchange for private interest property management and livestock control round out the solutions for the 3 types of access issues.

    As for the *use of* and touching of *bed* lands, whether privately or publicly owned, incidental to that use of navigable waters, the resolution is also found in the lawsuit’s language and, I believe, will ultimately be ruled in favor of USAC and Utah’s public interest by the Utah Supremes.

  8. Richard Strauss on

    Further, once the Utah Supremes favorably rule and those crezzy boys and girls over in the legislature repeal that unconstitutional Act, USAC may want to advocate that the legislature adapt the 2010 Oregon draft bill SB 1060 language at http://www.leg.state.or.us/10ss1/measpdf/sb1000.dir/sb1060.intro.pdf as a compromise legislative framework to “Use State Waters” so that All Win.

    PS See 2009 Montana Public Bridge Access law at http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2009/billpdf/HB0190.pdf

  9. Chris Barkey on

    Nice replies by Richard and Chickenlittle, thanks for getting Troutbum more informed.
    One point I would like to make, or ask of Troutbum, have you ever been to a USAC meeting? Legislative meeting on the subject?
    There has never been any bad mouthing amongst those talking. There has been a lot of talking about all the interests and complaints of all sides. There has been a lot of tempering those fears. There has been a lot of the same ol shit. They haven’t come up with anything new. They haven’t offered to turn back the clock and get back to the table.
    They ride the cape of 141 and wait for the legal rulings so we can waste more time and public money for the few. They continue to stick to “cut fences, open gates, trash” and refuse to acknowledge “local yahoos” are not anglers and that laws already exist protecting their private rights. Enforcement is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed, not taking a public resource like water and fish and making it an exclusive club.

    • Chris,

      Have I been to an event – yes. Do I talk with legislative folks – yes. Perhaps I am not clear on the issue so let me be very clear with you.

      Do I understand the law – yes
      Do I want access – yes
      Do I understand the proposed legislation – yes

      Have ranchers/farmers been badmouthed – yes. Some deserve it, most don’t. This problem has taken over a 100 years to get to hear so thinking that we are going to change it and the attitudes of it with the ranchers/farmers in a couple years is just f’ing stupidity/ignorance.

      Folks can try to spin this anyway they want but in the end, I guarantee, that we will look back at this and realize that we went about this in the wrong manner – the same can be said for some of the ranching/farming community. We are only sowing the seeds of more hatred/distrust amongst groups that more or less on the same page. Most ranchers/farmers love the resource as much as anglers; it just comes down to mutual respect and until both sides understand that they there is absolutely no hope – regardless of what the courts say. I say we take the high road and show landowners that we mean no harm, find common ground and get the courts and politicians the hell out of this issue.

      • Chris Barkey on

        Troutbum, Go tell Karrus Land Systems, Talisker, ATC/Realty 16, Farm Bureau, Cattleman’s Assoc., Utah Realtors and above all else Utah’s Legislature to get out of the way then. Go ask all your “property brethren” to step up to the table and speak the truth rather than let the “lobbying groups” already mentioned handle it for you.
        Anglers did not organize the USAC until the legislature stonewalled the issue for their biggest donors. Anglers have been preaching for more than 3 years that we want to help and we still have nothing but rhetoric and hyperbole coming from the Farm Bureau leaders. We have met repeatedly with Farm Bureau since the passing of 141 to convice them to get the legislature to start over, they won’t. We have met with key legislator’s to ask the same, they won’t until the court rules on 141.
        You have not acknowledged the real proplem, ENFORCEMENT of existing laws. Trespass, littering, vandelism are against the law.

      • Bryan Gregson on

        written over a ‘100 years’ ago… go figure

        “All existing rights to the use of any of the waters in this State for any useful or beneficial purpose, are hereby recognized and confirmed.”

        Utah State Constitution
        (Ratified May 8, 1895)
        Article XVII

  10. Glad to see the heated exchange here. Shows this is one of the most critical issues threatening public recreation, and thus the industry that sells to that public. I am a big believer in private property rights, but I’m also a believer that folks shouldn’t be sued for using what has been deemed public by riparian landowners who want to limit enjoyment of our public watercourses via intimidation. While our case in Virginia is technically not an access case, it has the same frightening ramifications and, if it breaks the wrong way, is sure to be repeated by unscrupulous riparian landowners on many rivers across our state. How simple it will be to pick out a boy scout floating down the river and sue him civially when he pulls his canoe up on a rock. Once he folds (not wanting to rack up the legal expenses we have) and an injunction is issued, that landowner (note I didn’t say river bed owner), now has a virtual cable across the section in front of his property.

    Several equipment manufacturers have stepped up to donate to our defense fund, I assume because privatization of rivers is bad for their business. I hope more on this board will follow.

    The disease is spreading east!


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