[Legislature] The worst fears of anglers are coming true on Capitol Hill in the form of a just-filed bill that purports to take away river access recently granted by the Utah Supreme Court.
The “Recreational Use of Public Waters” bill written by Rep. Ben Ferry, R- Corinne, not only undoes this summer’s 5-0 decision granting the public recreational use of state rivers, it would make river access worse than before the ruling. So complain the Utah Rivers Council and the Utah Council of Trout Unlimited, which are gearing up to fight the bill.
“We don’t want the Legislature to take away what the court has given,” says Bob Dibblee, chairman of the Utah state Trout Unlimited chapter. He’s hoping a healthy showing of some of the state’s 400,000 anglers on Capitol Hill will help lawmakers see that House Bill 187 isn’t the compromise between private-property rights and river access Trout Unlimited thought it was negotiating with lawmakers.
HB 187 and a companion bill would rewrite state trespassing law, making fisherman criminals for crossing some lands traditionally used for gaining access to rivers. Many currently-fished river sections would be made inaccessible by that provision alone. The bill also says fishing won’t be allowed on rivers within 500 feet of homes.
The widest restrictions come in a provision of HB 187 that purports to limit public river access to 17 river sections throughout the state. Few river forks or tributaries are included on the list.
Critics argue that undoing the Supreme Court’s decision misses the boat on new money-making tourism opportunities, not to mention the hundreds of millions the state Division of Wildlife Resources estimates anglers already spend each year in Utah. (Ted McDonough)