Opinion pieces have recently appeared in several newspapers around the state claiming the Public Land and Water Access Association and the Montana Wildlife Association are engaged in undermining private property rights.
The folks making that claim should recognize they are actually railing against reality.
Much of the lands and waters of Montana is steeped in history. That history cannot be ignored, regardless of the status of the purchaser.
In Montana, our public trust resources of water and wildlife are protected by our state Constitution, by our laws, and by the courts. That same protection is afforded our transportation system of roads and trails that have a long history of public use; in many cases old stage coach routes or pack trails that have been in public use for over a hundred years.
It is these public trust resources that Public Land and Water Access Association defends. Although most of our legal activity involves maintaining public use of established transportation routes that serve as access to public land or water, we recognize that we must also be prepared to defend public ownership of the resources themselves.
We believe anyone purchasing property in our state is obligated to make an effort to recognize the existing conditions of acquisition such as the public water, in its natural channel, that flows across the land and the public wildlife that will utilize that land as it has done for centuries. Perhaps less clear cut, but equally important is the existence of roads and trails that have been used by the people for years without a challenge from the owner of the land they cross.
Montana law provides for public use of these routes thru claims of a prescriptive easement created by thus continuous use.
As far as Montana water, the case is very clear. Our state Constitution states that all waters in the state belong to the people. Our Stream Access Law then provides the public the right to recreate on these streams below high water mark. The Montana Supreme Court has upheld that claim.
All these are matters of existing law and should not be ignored by those who consider purchasing land in our state.
We respect private property rights but we also recognize public property rights as equally valuable. Our success in court cases shows this to be the case.
PLWA and the Montana wildlife Federation will continue to protect these public resources because we believe they are important components of the quality of life afforded Montana citizens as well as those who visit our state from other locales.