ALAN SUDERMAN Associated Press Writer
HELENA Gov. Brian Schweitzer sided with anglers seeking guaranteed access from public bridges to favorite fishing holes Wednesday, reviving a stream access plan widely supported by sportsmen groups. Schweitzer proposed changing a bill to prohibit counties from spending state money on bridges that do not provide public access to streams and rivers. The original bill, which makes no mention of stream access and simply lifted a $500,000 cap on a county’s capital fund for bridges and roads, sailed through the Legislature with almost no opposition. The governor’s proposed amendments now have to be approved by both chambers. Republicans took issue with the governor’s action, saying it was a major policy decision that had already been decided by the Legislature. A Republican-controlled House committee tabled a stream access bill with similar language as the governor’s amendment last week. “(Schweitzer) is trying to make substantive law by an amendment that is totally unrelated to the bill we passed,” said Sen. Keith Bales, R-Otter. Bales opposed the other stream access bill because he felt it encroached on the rights of landowners. Schweitzer said he was well within his rights to offer the amendment and felt it was necessary to make sure state money wasn’t being spent on bridges that violate Montanans’ guaranteed rights to stream access. “I’m just protecting the rights of Montana’s citizens,” Schweitzer said. He said his amendment had “commonsense language” that addressed the concerns of landowners, by allowing them to attach fences to bridges to keep their livestock on their property as long as their fences didn’t prohibit boaters from accessing streams. “You can call it a bull and boats bill,” Schweitzer said. Chris Smith of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates there are 1,200 bridges regularly used as access points to streams in Montana. He said the governor’s amendment would help solve problems at the 130 bridges in the state where there has been tension between landowners and the public. Schweitzer added that instead of opposing his amendment, Republicans should welcome it. “There are members of the House that probably regret voting against the interests of Montana’s sportsmen,” Schweitzer said. “This will give them the opportunity to vote with sportsmen.” The bill is House bill 426.