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Who owns the rivers?


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#1 Guest_Duckman77_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 06:27 PM

On several occasions while collecting I have had landowners attempt to chase me off of the creek, river, etc.. claiming I was trespassing.  A friend of mine handed me this article, which I plan to keep in my car on collecting trips in the future.  I thought some of you may find it useful also:


http://www.adventure...aw-who-owns.htm

#2 Guest_fundulus_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 07:26 PM

View PostDuckman77, on Feb 9 2007, 05:27 PM, said:

On several occasions while collecting I have had landowners attempt to chase me off of the creek, river, etc.. claiming I was trespassing.  A friend of mine handed me this article, which I plan to keep in my car on collecting trips in the future.  I thought some of you may find it useful also:
http://www.adventure...aw-who-owns.htm


Interpretations can vary from state to state. In the New England states, if a stream is even close to navigable you can be out in it, and on beaches below the high tide line; these are old British Admiralty decisions. Other states have more exclusive laws or practices, certainly they can have more hostile attitudes which is bad enough; arguing with a drunk with a gun is a tough proposition (it'll be in my autobiography).

#3 Guest_edbihary_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 07:40 PM

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week:
http://www.post-gaze.../758103-358.stm

It affirms the rights of the public to access a stream in south-central Pennsylvania.  A legal victory for collectors and anglers alike!  I myself have been wanting to sample the Little Juniata River sometime.  Anybody want to join?

The legal reasoning was based on the navigability law described in your article, Duckman.  Let's hope for many more rulings like this.  Actually, let's hope the rulings are seldom necessary.

#4 Guest_teleost_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 09:44 PM

Duckman and I once visited a river that I'd been wanting to sample but found it difficult to get public access. He found a bridge with roadside parking. We saw it this way....The bridge is public and the road is public and the river is public.....we were chased off. In my state (as I understand it) if you can gain legal access and your feet are in the water of a navigable water, you're in the clear. Since we used the public easement to gain access and we were certainly in the water, I see that we had every legal right to be there.

I want to act within the law but I don't want to be arrested finding out exactly what the law allows me to do. Is there some easy way to know when you're in the right and better yet I would love to print out a document showing my rights to public water so I can have the warm feeling I know I'm right when the police take me away.

#5 Guest_edbihary_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 09:56 PM

What I would like to see is a map of all streams that are considered to be "navigable", and therefore publicly accessible.  It would be useful in planning trips, as well as defending against bogus claims by landowners and ignorant authorities who try to enforce those bogus claims.  Just produce a map issued by the state which says "this is a navigable water of the Commonwealth".

#6 Guest_Carl_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:28 PM

View PostDuckman77, on Feb 9 2007, 06:27 PM, said:

On several occasions while collecting I have had landowners attempt to chase me off of the creek, river, etc.. claiming I was trespassing.  A friend of mine handed me this article, which I plan to keep in my car on collecting trips in the future.  I thought some of you may find it useful also:
http://www.adventure...aw-who-owns.htm
I have spoken with a  game warden here in Ohio. They told me if it is a major trib of a river you are allowed to canoe or Kayak it. However the landowner owns the ground under the stream so as soon as you step out of your boat you are tresspassing.  Now I don't know how accurate that game warden was but that is what I have been told. I have found it better to ask permission and try to avoid the confrontation whenever possible. Hope this helps.

#7 Guest_teleost_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:43 PM

I've been told by a game warden that as long as your feet are wet (touching the streambed) you're fine in my state (Illinois). Once you step onto land, you're trespassing. I've searched the state code and can't find any information on the subject. I guess it comes down to who owns the land and how far does that property extend into the water.

#8 Guest_farmertodd_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:45 PM

View PostCarl, on Feb 10 2007, 03:28 AM, said:

However the landowner owns the ground under the stream so as soon as you step out of your boat you are tresspassing.

This is true in Ohio due to some obscurity in the law, but not in most states, where in the water, you are in the 'Waters of the United States'.  Just don't step on the bank...

However, I find it easiest to avoid immediately (or ever) begin quoting the law, appologize profusely for the fuss (not for tresspassing, mind you, but that your presence caused a reaction), explain what I'm doing and build rapport.  I've never been asked to leave even after it was apparent a heated exchage was well on it's way.  

This even after a cop had pulled a gun on us in Alabama, I got snippy, about it and we started off on the wrong foot lol.  

If they're still a jerk after that point... Leave.  No fish is worth it.  And then you'll know that the things muttered under your breath about that ---------- are well founded  :)

Todd

#9 Guest_arnoldi_*

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 11:53 PM

Every state is different on this subject.  It is more clear cut the further west you go.  Wyoming, for instance, you cannot touch the stream bed but the water itself is fine.  In Montana all water is public up to the high water mark, and you can get in the water using any bridge crossing or public access point.

It starts to get murky in the older states, especially the ones that were once colonies.  In Virginia there is no clear law any many owners use the original Royal Grants written up before this country even existed.  Landowners in some instances own the bottom, the water, and even the fish!

#10 Guest_edbihary_*

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Posted 10 February 2007 - 02:45 AM

View Postfarmertodd, on Feb 9 2007, 10:45 PM, said:

...but not in most states, where in the water, you are in the 'Waters of the United States'.  Just don't step on the bank...
That's a new one to me.  I never heard of "Waters of the United States".  In Pennsylvania, all navigable waters are considered to be "Waters of the Commonwealth".  And navigable doesn't mean it has to appear to be boatable.  If somebody floated logs downstream to a sawmill 300 years ago, then it is navigable.  The lands under these waters are "lands of the Commonwealth".  If you build a dam (with a permit, of course), and impound water over the stream where logs once floated, you create "submerged lands of the Commonwealth", and you must obtain a lease for use of these lands from the Commonwealth.  I'm not sure whether that lease grants you exclusive use of these lands, or just the right to submerge them.  So whether you could fish in such an impoundment, I don't know.  But we do now know that you can't string piano wire across a navigable waterway to create your own private fishing stream!  (If you don't know what that means, read my first post on this thread.)

#11 Guest_sschluet_*

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 08:04 PM

I am not fully clear on the specifics but here in New York case law states that you can float (or navigate) but can't get out or even anchor a boat.  The court case involved anglers on the salmon river (eastern basin of Lake Ontario).  The "Row vs. Wade" debate.  Most salmon/steelhead fisherman wade while fishing but there are plenty of drift boats used.  An ex-govt official (Cong/Senator?) owns a large track of land with the river on it (Douglaston Run).  He charges anglers to fish(wade).  Well, drift boat fisherman were coming down and anchoring in the good spots.  This conflicted with his pay-to-fish clientèle, so he sued the river boat captains.  Unfortunately, he won.  I could dig this up if anyone is interested.  Contact me off-list.

#12 Guest_harryknaub_*

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 07:39 PM

View Postedbihary, on Feb 10 2007, 02:56 AM, said:

What I would like to see is a map of all streams that are considered to be "navigable", and therefore publicly accessible.  It would be useful in planning trips, as well as defending against bogus claims by landowners and ignorant authorities who try to enforce those bogus claims.  Just produce a map issued by the state which says "this is a navigable water of the Commonwealth".


Ed, There is a map called the Stream Map of Pennsylvania. I used to have a laminated copy of  it but I'm not sure where it's at now. If I remember correctly, The streams were color coded in some fashion. I still see ads for it from time to time in our local paper.

Harry

#13 Guest_RIVERRUNNER_*

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Posted 19 July 2007 - 12:21 PM

Hey all. Late post here, but I'd love to hear of any more experiences with landowners. I live in Greene County, TN and once was asked to leave the Noli R. (I was standing in the water with my young son & brother) years ago by the landowner joining the river. He said I was tresspassing, asked how I got there, etc. Well since I didn't want to set a bad example for my son, I left. Since then, the access I and many others had legally used (bridge) has been cut off by a guardrail so that there is no place to park nearby. I also recently heard that part of the taxes on all fishing/camping gear etc. is supposed to be used to provide & maintain access to waters, along with other "needs" of the State's game. Anyone in TN know the Law on rivers/creeks? The way I understand it, water & land to the "ordinary high water mark" are federal property given to the States in the Public Trust Doctrine.

Love to hear more on this.

#14 Guest_JohnO_*

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Posted 19 February 2008 - 08:28 PM

I had to research this subject when I had a problem with people invading my farm. Here in KY, the water rights rules are fairly simple. All free flowing water can be used for transportation without restriction. This, however, does not affect the ownership of the land over which the water flows. If you touch sides or bottom, you are committing trespass.

And a message for the town dwellers who seem to think that anything not surrounded with razor wire is fair game... We live out here, we've paid dearly for the land, and we pay dearly in property taxes to keep it. If you don't know where you are, you probably shouldn't be there. I don't like being hardline, but my beautiful old growth forest and spring fed creek have been abused so many times that I've had to adopt a scorched earth policy towards trespassers and poachers. I've had trash and appliances dumped, fields torn up, walnut trees cut down and hauled off, and dope crops planted. I've had inebriated deer poachers with loaded rifles wander past my house. I've had people march in and then try to sue me when they fall in the creek. So if we seem hot under the collar, it's because our farms have been trashed too many times in the past, and we just don't have the time to sort out the good people from the bad.

#15 Guest_mikez_*

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Posted 19 February 2008 - 09:29 PM

This is a debate that has gone round and round on fishing forums. Lots of advice to carry copies of obscure colonial laws yada yada.
Bottom line is, if the cops get called, they're gonna always side with the landowners. If you argue, you make it worse. Small consolation to find you had the letter of the law on your side after some officer gets it into his head to spoil your day. Best to avoid putting yourself in that position.
I've been called a coward by fellow fishermen for taking that attitude. My point of view is I'm too old to be adding needless stress to my day.

#16 Guest_Newt_*

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Posted 19 February 2008 - 09:50 PM

I've collected on the properties of hundreds of landowners, but I always ask first.  In many areas there are GIS coverages available online that will tell you who owns each parcel, but even lacking that you can always knock on doors.  I've been turned down a few times, but usually politely.  It's really not that big a deal.

#17 Guest_smilingfrog_*

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 04:04 AM

This thread reminded me of a news report from a few years back.  
First of all though, in Minnesota, from the fishing regulations hand book: "A stream or lake is lawfully accessible if there is a public access, or if public land or a public road right-of-way borders the surface of the water, or if you have permission to cross private land to reach the surface of the water.  This includes walking in the water or on the ice in connection with such activities regardless of who owns the land beneath the surface of the water."
A few years ago there was a news report about some resort owners on a popular lake that were getting in trouble for harrassing icefishermen.  These resorts spend a lot of money plowing and maintaining several miles of "roads" on the lake during the winter and charge people to use their private access to get on the lake.  The roads of course go out to the good fishing spots and start at the resorts private access.  
If there hasn't been a lot of snow, sometimes someone with a plow on their truck will make a connecting road from a public access.  Apparently a few years back this happened and some of the plow drivers for the resorts, faced with the loss of revenue, were harassing fishermen who didn't have a tag on their car indicating they paid at the resort.  The harrassment ranged from use of a few choice words to actually plowing up snow to block in the fishermen's vehicles and leaving them stuck on the lake.

#18 Guest_JohnO_*

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 02:28 PM

Just a follow up on this:

There are no federal laws regarding inland waterway rights. The rights to inland waterways were ceded to the individual states back in 1861. There hasn't been a federal law regarding inland waterway rights since then. (I believe this was done to get Missouri and a couple of other states bordering major rivers to come into the civil war on the Union side)  All states adhere to USCG regulations regarding boat safety, but they are not legally required to do so. So references to the US Supreme Court are either vey dated or incorrect. They are certainly inoperable today.

State laws vary a lot. Some define the banks as the limit. Some, such as KY, say that free flowing water can be used for transportation, but it does not affect the land over which the water flows - meaning that touching sides or bottom is not legal. In fact, there was a fascinating legal battle between KY and IN when casino boats were legalized by IN, to operate on the Ohio river. The exact state border was determined, and it was found that Indiana only had a narrow section of water where they could operate a casino boat and not cross into Kentucky. (KY AG had promised to bust them if they did) The river itself did not affect the border, and the federal government said up front that they had no jurisdiction over the dispute.

Edited by JohnO, 17 March 2008 - 03:20 PM.


#19 Guest_mander_*

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 04:44 PM

My uncle owns some property which a creek runs through. With great expense and hard labor, he built a pond and stocked it. Most folks consider the pond "natural," it certainly looks that way. He considers it his. He has also said, if he catches any more people poaching his fish out of his pond,  he is going to shoot the tires off their car.

I see it this way, he's in his 80s, I don't trust his aim. There isn't a fish on the planet worth getting shot over, no matter what any laws may have to say about it.

#20 Guest_rjmtx_*

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 05:10 PM

Thanks for posting that great article.  I've had my run-ins with hostile landowners, and I will definitely add this article to my arsenal.  What I've found is that it's best to hold your ground and lay down the law.  I just treat it like I'm a defendant in a courtroom, except sometimes the man trying me thinks he should act as executioner with his gun.  My goals are to a) let the hostile landowner know that my crew and I know the law, and are confident in our right to be in the water, and b) to at least plant the idea in the landowners head that he might not actually know what he's talking about which may lead to a change in character down the line (I know, very idealistic).

From truly hostile landowners, I've always ended up backing down.  No matter how much in the right we are, whether doing research or recreation, it's never worth getting shot.  
You just can't reason with the barrel of a gun.  I'm also always ready to call the game warden if they call the sheriff.  It's never come down to that because it hasn't been worth our time yet to hang around and wait for a standoff, but it won't surprie me if one of my crewmates or I make that choice in the future.

Anyway, thanks again.



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