Ruby River Bridge Access Ruling Final

Southwest Montana's Jefferson River, south of Whitehall MT.

Southwest Montana’s Jefferson River, south of Whitehall MT.

For various reasons, many were happy to see the year 2016 shuffle off into oblivion, what with acrimonious politics, and deaths of notable Americans, with the deaths, last month, of an American hero, John Glenn, and beloved actors, Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, putting a somber close to the year.

Still, in that last week of the year, there was one bit of good news, or more precisely, the absence of bad news. This came in a release from the Public Land/Water Access Association.

On June 27, 2016, Judge Loren Tucker ruled that the public road right of way for Seyler Lane, a county road crossing the Ruby River, was roughly 47 feet wide at the bridge, the same as other bridges crossing the Ruby, allowing, in the process, space for recreationists to access the river.

In 2014, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that Seyler Lane was a public road, even though it had been created by prescriptive use, but remanded the case back to District Court to determine the width of the public right of way.

On December 27, six months after Judge Tucker’s ruling, no appeals had been filed, either to the Montana Supreme Court or to a Federal Court. Thus, Judge Tucker’s ruling on the case became final.

This case is the most recent of what has become a fairly large body of law and court decisions upholding Montana’s stream access law, one of the best stream access laws in the country. The courts have, time and again, ruled on the validity of the stream access law that guarantees the public’s right to access the state’s waters within a stream’s high water mark.

A lot of money has been spent by a lot of wealthy people, corporations, and other interests trying to overturn Montana’s stream access law and all those attempts have failed, and each succeeding court decision just adds to the stack of precedents validating Montana law.

New Years Day marked the close of the 2016 upland bird-hunting season. Right now, waterfowl are the last of the general hunting seasons, and those days are slipping away.

In the Pacific Flyway portions of Montana, both duck and goose hunting will close temporarily on this coming Sunday, January 8. The seasons will reopen on Saturday, January 14 and then closes for good at sundown on January 18. Central Flyway regulations are slightly different; so check the regulations before heading east for a final hunt.

Those temporary closings and reopenings, incidentally, are to maximize opportunities for hunting under the Federal framework of numbers of days in the waterfowl season. Without that, those last five days of the waterfowl season would be during weekdays. Waterfowlers cursed with the need to earn a living would be figuratively chained to their nice, warm worksite instead of huddled in a goose or duck blind, savoring the joy of their fingers and toes turning into ice cubes while waiting for birds to come into the decoys.

After the final closing date, waterfowl remaining in Montana can concentrate on surviving the rest of the winter, as well as pairing up for the spring breeding season, while perhaps occasionally regretting not going further south.

Finally, now that we’re well into the first week of 2017, I’d guess that most of us have had ample time to break whatever New Year resolutions we might have made.

I normally don’t make resolutions, other than the usual futile self-promise to lose 20 pounds and some of that spare tire around my middle.

Still, I do resolve to continue having fun. My ideas of fun often have something to do with spending time in the outdoors, whether standing in a Montana trout stream with a fly rod, in an aspen thicket in search of ruffed grouse, or a prairie creek bottom looking for pheasants.

While my high school English teachers are probably still turning in their graves at the thought of my eventually becoming a writer, I think that writing about the outdoors is fun, so I’ll keep on sharing those days afield with you.

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