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In what seems to have become Standard Operating Procedure for the GOP Senator Debby Barrett R-Dillon sent a letter to the editor of the Missoulian this week attacking Montana Trout Unlimited for its opposition to HB-309 to limit recreational access to Montana streams.

House Bill 309 is another good example of Trout Unlimited staking out an extreme position to the detriment of Montana agriculture and other water users.

This is now  a common tactic for the Right. If they are unable to defend a position logically or make a coherent argument, they simply attack those who disagree with them as being “extremists” or “radicals” or worse. Let’s examine a few of the “radicals” who support the views of TU on this issue.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Chief Legal Counsel Bob Lane: “HB309 almost completely repeals the public’s right to recreate on rivers and streams: by making any stream or river a private stream or river where the return flows from irrigation are the majority of the flow~ and, by privatizing side-channels of braided rivers and streams. All of this in the guise of clarifying the present, clear statutory definition of private ditches that are offlimits to public recreation.”

Field and Stream Magazine, Kirk Deeter: “Montana…your rivers are great, but the real reason you’re the envy of people like me and others from states like Colorado (and the reason you make millions in fly tourism) is that you have enlightened stream access laws, rather than the “feudal” systems other anglers in other states are stuck with. Take that away, and you watch and wait (not long) for the dollars to disappear.”

Jim Posewitz, founder of the Orion Hunting Institute: “The bill pretends to have something to do with irrigation. It is really all about public access and there is the potential for a damaging outcome given today’s conservative anti-conservation political ideology.”

Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana: “House Bill 309 overturns current Stream Access Law as we know it through a redefinition of what exactly is a ‘ditch’ for irrigation purposes.”

“Tony Jones, president of the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, said the legislation appears be an end run around the Mitchell Slough ruling and could impact thousands of miles of rivers and streams around the state.

Montana Sporting Journal: “Montana’s stream access law is under siege by HB 309. With its supposed intention of “Clarifying the prohibition of recreational use of water diverted from a natural water body…”, HB 309 seems innocent enough, but a closer inspection of the bill’s language reveals its inherent evil.”

Montana Walleyes Forever: “Opponents of HB 309 like George Goldy stated, “Mt. Wildlife Federation Is going to oppose any legislation this session that ends access to any recreational opportunity for the citizens of MT.” To be fair, Walleyes Forever did not endorse the bill, but merely alerted its members to contact their representatives and voice their opinions.

These are merely a few, along with nearly every fly shop in Montana, almost every sportsman’s organization and environmental group in the state. By Ms. Barrett’s argument it appears that most every outdoorsman in Montana is “staking out an extreme position“. Of course, in a reality-based world outside of Conservative rhetoric, there is nothing “radical” or “extreme” in opposing legislation that is poorly written, confusing and that attacks long-established rights of Montana citizens. HB-309 fails to accomplish its stated goals and its confusing and conflicting language will only force the state into litigation which we will all pay for. Utah tried to restrict stream access in their last legislative session and was almost immediately embroiled in several lawsuits from sportsmen’s groups.

HB-309 gets a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Ag committee. Please let the committee know that Montana doesn’t approve of this attack on our rights to use the public resources of our state. Call the legislative switchboard at 406-444-4800 or use the online message form to contact the committee or your local senator. These folks need to hear from Montana sportsmen. Let’s not keep trying to settle this issue through the courts.


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