February 9, 2011
Action Alert on House Bill 309
Sam Wike
Sam Wike
Please write your Montana House Representative TODAY and tell him or her to vote AGAINST HB 309, an extremist bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon) that severely weakens Montana's stream access law, resulting in many streams you currently fish becoming off limits.
HB 309 creates a new definition for "ditches" in Montana's stream access law. It includes natural streams that have been altered by irrigation structures or irrigation return-flows.
HB 309 would classify hundreds of miles of natural stream channels as "ditches."  The stream access law already says the public cannot legally recreate on bona fide irrigation ditches (ie., constructed by humans).
Hundreds of natural stream and river channels in the state have long been used by irrigators. Though these channels have been hydrologically or otherwise modified by irrigation, they are still natural and have supported angling and legal access for recreation for generations.
If this bill passes, you would break the law if you fished these streams without permission of nearby landowners:
               Sun River
               Spring Creek in Choteau
           Marias River
              Milk River below the St. Mary's diversion
                Forks of the Smith River
The bill says waters that receive diverted water from irrigation – water moved from one channel to another, or which is not consumed by plants but which returns to the original channel -- can be considered irrigation ditches. That means these waters could become "ditches" and off limits to fishing:
              Upper Clark Fork River
              Bitterroot River
              Yellowstone River
              Beaverhead River
              Big Hole River
             Gallatin River
              Flint Creek
              And most streams and rivers located in irrigated valleys.
Contact your state House representative TODAY and tell him or her:
             The bill sponsor and supporters such as the Montana Farm Bureau and Montana Stockgrowers Association NEVER contacted anglers before this bill was introduced.
             This bill is NOT necessary. It fixes nothing and will result in needless division and lawsuits.  Montana's stream access law is clear, the public is not allowed to recreate on bona fide irrigation ditches nor do we want to.
             Tell them Montana's 26-year-old stream access law works just the way it is.
You can find your House member's direct e-mail and phone number by pasting this link in your web browser
Call the Legislative switchboard and leave a message for your representative at (406) 444-4800.
If you don't know who your representative is, paste this link click here for the Montana Legislature's Find a Legislator page.

What HB 309 Does:
*It turns live side-channels of rivers, streams, and even whole rivers into
private ditches.
*It essentially repeals stream access.
*A live, flowing braid or channel becomes a private ditch if there is any kind
of a control structure at the head of the live channel.
*Whole streams and rivers will be private ditches whenever return flows
from irrigation are the principle portion of the flow which is almost always
the case wherever there is irrigation.
*It replaces a clear definition of private ditches that works with a definition
that does not work.
*It will create endless litigation.
What HB 309 does not do:
*It does not add any protection for private ditches because the present
stream access law already protects them as private property.
*It adds no additional protection for the construction of a ditch using all or
part of an abandoned stream or river channel because these ditches are
already defined as private ditches and are already off-limits for recreation.
*It does not address any problems because no problems have been
*It represents a total failure to work with any other stakeholders.
*It violates the tradition of inclusion and collaboration that forged the
original stream access law in 1985 and later hammered out the terms and
conditions of county bridge access in 2009.
George Liknes
705 Forest
Great Falls, Montana 59404-3520
Phone: (406)453-9301

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