Montana, home to some of the world’s best fly fishing, is also home to the country’s most far reaching law protecting their stream and river commons.
The catalyst was a 1984 ruling by the Montana Supreme Court that any river or stream capable of being used for recreation purposes such as fishing and floating, can be used by the public regardless of whether or not the river is navigable and who owns the streambed property. The 1985 Montana Stream Access Law codified that ruling.
Ever since that Law was passed, wealthy, mostly out of state landowners and large fishing guide companies have fought to overturn it.
Obviously wealthy landowners who thought that they were buying their own private Montana are angry. The conflict comes because the Montana Stream Access Law says the public owns the rivers. For recreation, including hunting and fishing, everyone has a right to get access to virtually any waterway that flows through private land. But many landowners have put up fences to keep people away from the streams, an act that is now in violation of the Stream Access Law.
So far Montana has fought off this new water enclosure movement. Governor Brian Schweitzer insists, ”If you want to buy a big ranch and you want to have a river and you want privacy, don’t buy in Montana. The rivers belong to the people of Montana.”