February 21, 2013
Battle Over Public Access to Rivers Heating Up in Utah
By Kirk Deeter
It seems like every time I turn around, there's another attempt afoot to limit public access to rivers. The battle is really heating up in Utah right now. And that's just sad, because there's no way for me to see how privatizing public natural resources—and that's really what this boils down to—can possibly be an act of good faith. How we collectively approach the issue of stream access is either going to keep fly fishing alive for generations or effectively kill the sport dead within years.
My personal opinion is that we should embrace a "what is, is" philosophy. Different states have different stream access laws. We know the deal. If you own riverfront property in places like Michigan or Montana, you can expect anglers to fish through your area, because the laws allow them to wade within the high-water marks. If you want to fish in places like Colorado and Pennsylvania, however, you must respect the laws that say you are trespassing if you stand on the river bottom if someone else owns it. If you don't like the existing laws, go fish or own property somewhere else.
What I have a problem with are the efforts by some to make places where we could all access and fish a few years ago inaccessible in the future. That makes no sense. And in my opinion, that's not in the public's best interest, let alone the interest of anglers. The bad news is that the big money is behind the privatization efforts. They'll find ways to interpret laws (some of it dating to colonial times, as is the case in Virginia) to shut rivers down. So what are we to do?
Maybe civil disobedience is the answer. Maybe we need hundreds or thousands of anglers to organize "wade-ins" on waters where we could all fish before if they become ringed with no-trespassing signs.
I'll tell you who should really "wade in." The manufacturers of fly fishing gear, and the shops that sell that gear. Too many shops are quick to embrace the "pay-to-play" philosophy. That might be a way to make short term profit with a guide business, but it's not going to develop new enthusiasts in fly fishing. And the industry as a whole has been woefully light in its support of those who are fighting to maintain public river access.
That's my two cents. But it isn't terribly deep thinking.
Sure, the adage from "Field of Dreams" is true: "If you build it, they will come." But if you build a fence around it, they will not.