Check out this prime stretch of Colorado trout stream. Once depleted by cattle grazing, recent conservation efforts have brought this water back into form, and it’s now home to naturally reproducing cutthroat trout, some of which are surprisingly large. This is a shining example of what can and should be done to promote and protect quality trout habitat throughout the country.

The one hitch: you and I cannot fish here. You see, this is private water, and under Colorado’s stream access law, unless you are invited to be here, you can’t plant your feet on the bottom of this river.

The real question is, should groups like Trout Unlimited, and the Division of Wildlife, and others expend any time and effort supporting private river habitat?

The question isn’t that easy to answer. The gut reaction might be “public money for public places only,” but remember fish swim up and downstream, just like big game animals migrate through private land, and ducks breed on private marshes. Good habitat is good for fish and game, period.

And let’s be honest. If it takes scratching Mr. Big Donor’s back to make good things happen on public water too, that might be worth it. Ted Turner might do more for native cutthroat species in his private ranches than the Feds might ever hope to accomplish in those places. I guess I’m glad to know these species will still exist somewhere on the planet, even if they’re on a private mega-ranch playground.

Then again, it makes me sad to think that the purest, most protected watersheds might be inside high fences.