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Oped: Is stream access law doomed?


From an opinion by former state Rep. Diane Rice, of Harrison, appearing in today’s Montana Standard:

Is stream access doomed? That is the question sportsmen are whispering across Big Sky Country, as a special interest group pushes a bridge access case it lost through the state appellate court.

In a rare 9-0 decision in PPL v. Montana, SCOTUS summarily struck down the legal theory Montana used to assert rights in streambeds. What’s more, it reasserted a bright line rule that the original stream access cases dismissed: Montana can’t assert ownership-type control over streambeds it doesn’t own — period.

In short, SCOTUS informed Montana that title to streambeds always matters. Gen-X stream access came full circle and face-to-face with Montana’s past. Title to streambeds determines who can wade and fish — something older generations of Montanans have always known.

And so it seems clear, even to most sportsmen, that for the same legal reasons Montana cannot usurp control the bed of the mighty Missouri River at Black Eagle Falls, Montana also cannot take control of the 68,000 miles of non-navigable streambeds winding across the state. Logically, if Montana can’t charge rent on streambeds it doesn’t own, it certainly can’t purport to grant public easements on them either.

Click here to read the full opinion in theMontana Standard.

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