Colorado Supreme Court deals setback to stream access

Jun 6, 2023

A long-running stream access dispute in Colorado came to an end on Monday when the Colorado Supreme Court held that Roger Hill, a Colorado angler, did not have legal standing to make the argument that the Arkansas River is public property, that the public has the right to wade in it, and that the owners of private land adjacent to the river do not have the right to exclude him from the segment of the river that passes through their property.

The case had the potential to overturn a Colorado Supreme Court decision from 1979 in People v. Emmert, which held that the public could not float on public water through private property, and a subsequent Colorado Attorney General opinion which advised that the public could float through private property as long as they did not touch the riverbed or shore.

Hill’s argument was that the Arkansas River was navigable at the time Colorado became a state, and therefore is public property that the public has the right to access for wading and fishing. However, in a 7-0 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court found that Hill did not have “a legally protected interest that affords him standing to pursue his claim for a declaratory judgment ‘that a river segment was navigable for title at statehood and belongs to the state'” according to the opinion released on Monday.

With this decision, which effectively maintains the status quo, Colorado will remain unique among Western states for its lack of protected public stream access. “These are rights that are enjoyed by the citizens of every other state in the country and it is, frankly, shocking that here in Colorado, a state renowned for its outdoor recreational opportunities, our Supreme Court would deny a member of the public the right to even raise the issue,” said Mark Squillace, a University of Colorado Law School professor who represented Hill in the case.

BLM Restoration Landscapes: Blackfoot-Clark Fork

In celebration of the Bureau of Land Management’s $161 million investment in Western landscape restoration projects, Look West is highlighting a different Restoration Landscape each day for 21 days. Today’s landscape is the Blackfoot-Clark Fork in Montana. Just east of Missoula at the confluence of two rivers, this landscape has been impacted by past industrial logging. The $9.5 million investment will include decommissioning old logging roads and restoring streams to improve habitat and watershed health.

Quick hits

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Quote of the day

”BLM’s mission is multiple uses, and it is crucial that conservation be treated equal among all uses.”

Picture this

With rock formations that resemble something out of a science fiction movie, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area calls upon the imaginative spirit. The area is known for its stunning badlands and geological formations that have been sculpted by erosion over millions of years.

Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness in northwestern New Mexico is a designated wilderness area, which means it is protected and preserved for its natural value. Visitors are encouraged to practice responsible outdoor ethics, such as staying on designated trails, leaving no trace and respecting the fragile desert ecosystem.

Photo by Jessica Fridrich

(featured image: The Arkansas River in Colorado, Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management)