Anglers and boaters who hailed a Utah Supreme Court ruling that allowed them to walk on any stream and riverbed, even those on private land, aren't happy with proposed legislation that limits that access.
HB187, sponsored by Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corinne, and made public Wednesday, would designate the beds of sections of 14 Utah rivers as open to recreational use by anglers and boaters. All others would be closed, leaving recreationists open to trespassing citations.
The bill also would create a seven-member board representing anglers, agriculture interests, the Division of Wildlife Resources and the Utah Department of Agriculture to make future recommendations for additions to the list.
Water users complain the bill not only undoes the court ruling, but puts more rivers out of reach.
"The list [of the 14 rivers] is way inadequate," said Ted Wilson, who heads the Utah Rivers Council and promised that recreational river users would be at the Legislature early next week working to change or kill Ferry's bill. "It is leaving lots of good fishable water out. This a $700 million industry that we are harming here. We are losing what we had before the court opined."
Wilson said the groups tried to work with Ferry to craft a bill but as the process progressed, Ferry began favoring farmers and real estate brokers at the expense of anglers.
Ferry did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment. Calls to the Utah Farm Bureau and the Utah Cattlemen's Association also were not returned.
Draper angler Chris Barkey said the 14 waters listed in the original bill are already too popular and that restricting access to other waters would put even more pressure on them. He lamented that waters such as Diamond Fork, Huntington Creek, Thistle Creek, the Beaver River and Currant Creek were excluded.
The bill would limit access to areas where anglers' money and time, as well as taxpayer dollars, were used to re-establish native cutthroat populations, Barkey said.
"We're not trying to harm anybody's land or cow," he said. "We just want to enjoy some peace and quiet."
Division of Wildlife Resources director Jim Karpowitz said last summer's Supreme Court ruling raised a number of questions that needed to be clarified by legislation. He said his agency has been working with Ferry on the bill, which was expected to be controversial. Karpowitz got his first look at the bill Wednesday and said he has several concerns, including how the process of adding waters to the list would work.
"We've tried to represent the interests of the anglers in this bill," he said. "At the same time, we recognize the rights of property owners and the fact they provide for significant habitat for wildlife in this state. We are trying to balance those two things and so has Representative Ferry."
June 2000 » Roy anglers Kevin and Jodi Conatser are cited for trespassing on the Weber River in Morgan County, after which Kevin Conatser intentionally leaves his raft to walk in the Weber and fish. He also moves fencing strung across the river by a landowner. A Morgan County Justice Court finds the Conatsers guilty. The couple file a civil suit against the landowners, seeking a court ruling on their right to walk in the river.
July 19, 2008 » The Utah Supreme Court issues a unanimous ruling that says Utahns have the right to walk on the beds of all streams and rivers, no matter who owns the land beneath them.
Wednesday » Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corinne, introduces HB187, which designates sections of only 14 Utah rivers as open to recreation and creates a seven-person board to hear requests to add streams or rivers to that list.
HB187 would open sections of these river beds to recreation: Bear, Little Bear, Logan, Price, Jordan, Duchesne, Strawberry, Sevier, Weber, Provo, Ogden, Ogden South Fork, Lower Sevier, and White.