STREAM ACCESS in MONTANA!!! by Montana Grant
By angelamontana

Posted: March 13, 2024

Montana is blessed to have an access law that allows anglers, boaters, hikers, and others to gain access to our watersheds. This law states that.

“Rivers and streams capable of recreational use may be so used by the public regardless of streambed ownership.”

It also states that certain activities require landowner permission. The law does not address recreational use of lakes. It applies only to rivers and streams. 

Access is limited only up to the High-Water Mark. The ordinary High-Water Mark means the line that water impresses on land by covering it for sufficient time to cause different characteristics below that line, such as deprivation of soil. The land below the land is not usable for agriculture. Flood plains next to streams are above the High-Water Mark and are not open for recreation without permission. 

Access from County roads at bridge crossings is allowed. Access to some bridges may be restricted by the county or state, due to public safety. This is usually due toa parking or other barriers. 

Most High-Water Lines are easy to see. Walls of detritus/debris or deposited logs, branches, leaves, and plants stack up along the line. Fence lines are not always at the High-water Mark. If you are not sure where the line is, stay in the water. 

 Hunting is not part of this law. You will need the landowner’s permission to hunt the edges of their property. If you are not sure, ask the landowner. You will often be surprised at their flexibility and generosity. 

Other states such as Wyoming do not allow anyone to set foot on land or in water without permission. You can drift the water but not anchor or wade. Landowners also own the streambeds. 

In Montana this Access law was established in 1985. This access law is a model for other states to consider. Anglers and water sports benefit from this wonderful law. Many private landowners hate it. Posting and blocking access to their land is a way to control their areas but also deny everyone else from enjoying our flowing waters. There have been several attempts to overturn the law but have failed. 

Streambank encroachment is a threat to our watersheds. Without a proper barricade of plants, roots, trees, logs, and natural debris, habitat and erosion concerns are a problem. The best way to protect our watersheds is to allow at least 100 foot of natural plants to protect the shorelines. Many landowners mow, farm, and develop up to the High-water marks and wonder why their soil and property erodes and goes downstream. 

You can get a brochure from the State Regional FWP offices that details this law. The MTFWP website also has pdf files that you can view and print out. 

Sportsmen are ambassadors and stewards for our outdoor sports. Leaving trash, damaging property, and abusing laws ruins the honest sport, and recreation for others. Please be respectful when enjoying our great public access. 

Montana Grant

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