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Op-ed: Farm Bureau, landowners should have taken stream-access deal

By Cullen Battle

First Published Mar 15 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 15 2014 01:01 am

The Farm Bureau’s Randy Parker omits some important facts in his op-ed claiming that the recently failed stream access compromise would have resulted in a "taking" of property rights ("Angler ‘compromise’ would be a taking," March 2).

From the earliest pioneer days, the people of Utah enjoyed complete access to all their rivers and streams — for work, for sustenance, and for recreation. This was true whether the streams flowed across public lands or private lands.

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From the 1850s to the turn of the century, our rivers served as public highways to transport logs, mining timbers and railroad ties from the mountains to market. During that time, no one ever questioned the rights of logging companies to drive logs on streams flowing across private lands. After the logging era, people in increasing numbers turned to the streams for fishing and recreation. In the 1920s Utah’s fish and game commissioner reminded us that "fishermen may wade any of the streams of the state… if ordered off the property of any owner, they cannot be ordered out of the streams." (Salt Lake Telegram, June 12, 1920)

Ignoring this history, some modern-day landowners have claimed that their ownership of land along the river gives them exclusive dominion over the river itself, including major streams like the Provo and Weber rivers. But our state Supreme Court has rejected these claims in several cases. The court has ruled that the public owns all natural waters in the state and that the streambeds are "easements," similar to sidewalks, over which the public is allowed to travel when making use of its waters.

And so a question for the Farm Bureau: how can something be "taken" from you if it wasn’t yours to begin with? In fact, the public’s rights were taken in 2010 when the Utah Legislature, at the behest of the Farm Bureau and other landowners, denied our ability to do anything but float on the water without so much as touching the stream bottom or bank.

Many dedicated individuals and organizations have come together to right this wrong. They have filed lawsuits to overturn the access restriction law, and to reinstate the public’s right to use its rivers and streams.

With the help of Rep. Dixon Pitcher, they offered a legislative compromise — one that would reopen access on the larger streams and still allow landowners to exclude the public from smaller streams. The Farm Bureau opposed this compromise, and the Legislature did not pass it. And so the public will return its focus to the courts.

But the Farm Bureau should know that if the people succeed in court, they may no longer be in a compromising mood.

Cullen Battle is a Salt Lake City attorney representing the Utah Stream Access Coalition.




Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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