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Can a Landowner Fence Across a River ?
Even though we have a stream access law and an accompanying bridge access law, this does not prevent landowners from fencing across the river, or from putting a fence part way into the river. (In any river with a significant spring run off this is often not feasible because of damage caused by stuff floating down the river.) However, a recreationist using a river, can portage around the fence obstruction using the "least intrusive manner" .
There is no requirement for landowners to construct or pay for official or umnofficial portages. .
While a landowner can fence to a bridge abutment , subject to the provisions of the bridge access law, it wolud seem that a fence across the river right under a bridge would constitute an illegal encroachment of a public right-of-way. .
Here is the exact text of the law in this regard :
" MCA 23-2-311. Right to portage -- establishment of portage route. (1) A member of the public making recreational use of surface waters may, above the ordinary high-water mark, portage around barriers in the least intrusive manner possible, avoiding damage to the landowner's land and violation of his rights.
(2) A landowner may create barriers across streams for purposes of land or water management or to establish land ownership as otherwise provided by law. If a landowner erects a structure which does not interfere with the public's use of the surface waters, the public may not go above the ordinary high-water mark to portage around the structure. "
(Note: The last paragraph refers to things like "float gates" - hanging PVC pipe - which keep cattle in, but do not obstruct floaters.)