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Stream Access Bill Dies In Committee

We all live to fish another day!!  House Bill 309 reopened a simmering dispute over a slough running through the Bitterroot Valley property of musician Huey Lewis and others. The courts ruled several years ago that the slough be open to fishermen under the state’s stream access law.

Ranchers and others had sought to make clear that irrigation ditches are not open to anglers. But anglers argued that the legislative proposal would have closed to access more than just ditches.

The measure had cleared the House, only to face a large crowd of opponents in the Senate. It was tabled late Tuesday in an 8-3 vote in the Senate agriculture committee.

Butte anglers applauded the committee’s decision.

Bob Olson, president of the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said anglers across Montana were abuzz following the tabling of HB309. Olson said anglers from throughout Montana and beyond contacted lawmakers to voice their opposition to the bill, and packed a Senate hearing on the matter earlier this month.

The lawmakers listened, and references to the bill’s large opposition were made before Tuesday’s vote.

“It just proves that all the hard work pays off,” Olson said. “We’re just elated we were able to stop what we didn’t think was a very good bill at all. Now we fish.”

Steve Luebeck, also of the George Grant chapter, said the committee’s decision is “about as good of a result as we could expect.”

Luebeck and others were concerned that a revised version of the bill would survive committee, and that the fight would continue over stream access.

Committee members opted against advancing even a significantly revised version of the bill, however, following strong angler opposition.

“It’s an outstanding day for people who like to fish Montana’s rivers and streams,” Luebeck said.

Luebeck said he hopes lawmakers learned a lesson from HB 309, and warned against similar legislation during future sessions.

“Stream access is so near and dear to the hearts of Montanans,” he said. “I hope they realize that this is a bad idea and we don’t have to play these childish games in the Montana Legislature. I hope this is the last time we see a bill like this.”

Mike Marcum, co-owner of the StoneFly Fly Shop in Butte, called HB309 vague and said it “could have done a lot of bad things” for stream access.

If the bill accomplished anything, he said, it was uniting Montanans and encouraging them to become involved.

“I think it proves that people need to stand up for what they believe in,” he said.

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