House Acts to Protect Public Fishing Stream AccessToday, the Alaska House of Representatives passed HB 144 protecting access to Alaska's favorite fishing spots. The bill, sponsored by Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage), would require the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to submit an annual report on its efforts to maintain and enhance public access to fishing streams.
"Protecting and enhancing public access to the hunting, fishing and recreational uses along the state's waterways is of primary importance to many people and a wide variety of user groups," said Ricky Gease, Executive Director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. "This legislation ensures that these areas will remain open for the public."
Although the state is charged with maintaining fishing access, it has historically done little even as fishing stream access has started to disappear. For example, according to reports from state agencies, there are approximately seven miles of undeveloped, privately owned fishing stream banks along just the Anchor River, Salcha River and Montana Creek where Alaskans fish for rainbow trout and grayling. People are allowed to fish those coveted areas today, but may not be in the future unless easements are purchased from those willing to sell them to the state.
Other states have lost public fishing stream access, forcing people to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to fish stretches of prime water.
"We're trying to be proactive. Once access is lost, it's too expensive to buy back," said Gara. "In places like Wyoming and Montana, the state hasn't tried buying back fishing access until it's too late, and then the access is damaged or the costs are too high."
Gara's bill aims to negotiate voluntary fish access easements from landowners before the lands are developed, when access purchases are affordable. It will also have the side benefit of making everyone's property more valuable.
"It's better to know you can fish a whole stream than just fish the 50 feet in your backyard," Gara says.
Bob Churchill, former president of the Alaska Flyfishers Association, states, "In my experience as a member of a fish and game advisory committee, Alaska Subsistence Council and Board of Game, public access is often the critical issue in Alaskans being able to enjoy our resources as allowed in Article 8 of the constitution."
Gara asserts that taking someone's private land is not acceptable, but the state should pursue voluntary easement agreements so fishermen and their families can still access Alaska's best trout, grayling and salmon streams in the best fishing state in the nation.
Gara is also a fishing writer and lifetime member of the Alaska Flyfishers Association.
You may contact Mr. Churchill at 279-8927, or Mr. Gease at 262-8588.
State of Alaska documents concerning stream access are here.
Posted: April 12, 2011
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