Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks says access from public-road right-of-ways is a fundamental part of the public's constitutional right to use the state's streams and rivers for recreational purposes in a request for the state Attorney General to resolve criminal trespass issues that have erupted along the Ruby River in Madison County.
In a letter to Attorney General Joe Mazurek, FWP Director Pat Graham says his agency needs the public-access issue resolved because anglers and boaters who want to access the Ruby River from public roads at bridge crossings are finding some of these traditional entry and exit points blocked by landowners.
"FWP needs the Attorney General's direction because the Department wardens have the duty and authority to enforce criminal trespass on private and state lands being used for hunting and fishing," Graham states in his request. "An Attorney General's opinion would help resolve the controversy by giving direction to enforcement officers and the county attorney. It would help prevent direct confrontations and preserve the peace."
Graham said such an opinion would have state-wide application and guide wardens, sheriffs, and county attorneys throughout the state.
Graham said it is FWP's firm belief that a member of the recreating public may gain access from the right-of-way of a public road at a bridge crossing to a stream or river between the ordinary high-water marks.
Copies of FWP's request to the Attorney General are available from FWP's Legal Unit at PO Box 200701, Helena MT 59620-0701. Those wishing to comment on the legal issues involved may write to the Attorney General at 215 N Sanders, Helena MT 59620-1401.