Utah set to halve river access
According to author Frank Hugelmeyer who is President and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association, a new river access bill could prove to be a tragedy for Utah anglers.
One of the great moments in the life of any sportsman is that special introduction of a son or daughter to the wonders of the great outdoors. Millions of young outdoor men and women have been thrilled as they learned about the skills and secret fishing holes passed down over generations. This wholesome tradition has brought families closer together and become deeply ingrained in our Western values. Over time, sportsmen and their children's children fueled the emergence and growth of a $700 million angling industry within Utah that has become vital to the economic health of the state and many communities. Tragically, a new law recently passed by the Utah legislature threatens it all.
Most Utahns do not know about — or even realize — the severity of the situation. In one week, more than half of the premier fisheries within Utah may close. Utah HB141 places an immediate one-year moratorium on all land access to and on rivers and streams crossing private land. While the rights of private property owners are obviously important, Utahns, like citizens in other Western states, have had a long-established public easement for river access to enjoy hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. This new legislation brings an unceremonious and abrupt end to generations of riparian access.
For reasons not fully transparent, the Utah Legislature hastily approved a bill that radically changes river access law without collaborating with sportsmen, angling outfitters or outdoor businesses. The impact of this bill will prove to be particularly devastating to the angling business communities statewide. As Utah's summer tourism season begins, access to sections of nationally renowned waters like the Provo and popular local waters such as the Weber, Ogden, Logan, Blacksmith Fork and Huntington, among many others, will disappear. HB141 will have a severe and lasting impact on local businesses still struggling to recover from the recession. Job losses will be noticeable as visiting anglers choose to spend their valuable dollars in neighboring states that boast exceptional and open access to high-quality fisheries like Idaho, Montana and Colorado.
The fate of generations of Utah's outdoor sportsmen and businesses now rests in the hands of Gov. Gary Herbert. Only his veto can preserve the public's access to these venerable rivers and streams and ensure Utah's national competitiveness as a sportsmen-friendly state. For Utah's sake, let us trust that Herbert will choose to support the generations of anglers that have befriended these great waters and protect the quality jobs in outdoor businesses that depend on public easements to exceptional rivers and streams.