HELENA – Attorney General Steve Bullock released the following statement regarding Montana’s stream access laws in response to inquiries regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on riverbed ownership in PPL Montana LLC v. Montana.
“Montana has some of the strongest stream access laws in the nation, preserving the ability of all Montanans to hunt, fish, float and recreate on public streams and rivers. This decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, while disappointing, doesn’t take away or affect that right.”
“The ability to access public lands and rivers is an integral part of our heritage as Montanans – and something that I want my three kids and the next generation of Montanans to inherit. But hunting, fishing and recreating on public lands is about more than just our heritage – it’s about the economic viability of rural communities and small businesses. I will always fight for them.”
As an assistant attorney general, Bullock wrote the landmark opinion in 2000 which established stream access from publicly owned bridges. While previous attempts to codify that opinion into law had failed, large bipartisan majorities passed HB 190 in 2009. That legislation was written by then-Rep. Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings, and supported by Bullock.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in PPL Montana LLC v. Montana has no impact to Montana’s stream access law. Montana’s access law says the public can recreate on any natural stream — irrespective of who owns the bed and banks — as long as that stream is capable of supporting recreation and as long as those using the stream do not go above the normal high-water marks where the banks are owned by private interests.
The ruling, issued this week, applies to the riverbeds immediately under the PPL dams in question and whether the state can or cannot charge rent for their use.