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Public Stream Access Update, with Land Tawney

Description: This week my guest is Land Tawney [25:52], CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and we discuss recent issues regarding public access on rivers in Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico. This is a timely topic, as public access advocates just won a big court victory in New Mexico (Phil please link to your blog post). I hope the podcast will get you up to speed on how stream access is handled by states, and I think you’ll see some positive news on all the great work Back Country Hunters and Anglers and other public access groups have been doing on our behalf. In the Fly Box this week, we have these questions and tips from listeners
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer, and my guest this week is Land Tawney. Land is the CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which is a terrific organization dedicated to continued access to public lands throughout the United States. And they do an awesome job. And since I did this interview, we had some recent good news in a battle that Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has been in the forefront in that the New Mexico Supreme court issued a ruling just recently, March 1st, that was strongly in support of public access to the state's waters, unanimously struck-down a regulation allowing landowners to close access to streams running through their properties. So great news for those of us who care about access to public resources.
But first, before we go to our interview with Land, let's do the Fly Box. And by the way, you're gonna notice that there are no phone calls in this week's Fly Box. I didn't get any appropriate phone calls that I could play on the air. So, if you do have a question and you'd like to hear your voice on the air, it's just easier for you to record it instead of typing it out. Please attach a voice file to your email, and that email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you don't feel like doing a voicemail or a voice recording, yeah, you can just type your question in your email. But I didn't have any good ones this week. And if you do send me a voice file, try to keep it under two minutes because sometimes the long phone calls... I get complaints when somebody rambles on a little bit too much on their phone calls. So try to keep it under two minutes, get your question ready beforehand. Don't read it from a script, but have a little outline so that you can do it in less than two minutes. I'd appreciate that.
Anyway, here are the emails. The first one is from Shane, from Kansas City. "I have a suggestion for the gentleman looking for natural materials for trailing shucks. I'm a traditionist and pretty much only use natural materials. While Antron for trailing shucks is pretty much my only exception to that rule, I have found a great natural alternative. I use natural brown or tan alpaca fibers. When wet it looks exactly like the shucks you see on the water. I won't mention the name, but you can find it on the app where people sell handmade goods. They sell it by the pound for animal bedding, so you can get a small bag of several colors extremely cheap or even free if you pay for the shipping. It's also very useful for other patterns like leaches, etc.
Also, I have a question for you that could probably be filed under fly shop etiquette. When people call in with questions about rods, reels, and lines, your answer is typically to go to your local shop and try it. So my question is when talking about trying out a rod, do you mean just picking it up off the rack and giving it a wiggle, or actually taking it outside and casting?
More specifically about lines, do you mean actually to ask the owner to open the box, spool it up for you, and actually let you cast it? Would this be reasonable to ask of the owner or would I look like a turd? If you don't end up buying it, will other customers still want the line that have been previously cast outside in the grass or even in the parking lot? I know my local shop would be more than happy to let me try out a line first. But would other fly shops be willing to do this for you, especially the bigger and more snooty shops? Just looking for some clarification because I always wanna try to keep from being that guy. Thanks and keep up the good work."
Well, Shane, thanks for the tip on alpaca, for I have used a little bit in the past. In fact, somebody, I think a podcast listener actually sent me a little bag of alpaca hair. And it is nice stuff. Flashups should start carrying it, it's especially nice for leaches. So thank you for that tip. Regarding fly shop etiquette, first of all, if you're gonna pay anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for a fly rod, you definitely want to take it out and cast it first. If the fly shop doesn't have the ability to let you cast that rod, then they're gonna miss out. You know, sometimes shops are in cities and it's really difficult. But one way or the other you should really cast that rod, especially with graphite rods. Just wiggling them in the shop because they're so stiff and they don't really feel like they're gonna feel with a line on 'em just by wiggling them, it's not gonna tell you that much.
So you really should, if you're gonna spend that much money on a fly rod, you really should figure out a way to cast it. If the fly shop doesn't have a casting area available, maybe you can ask 'em to take it to a park somewhere or just someplace open where you can cast that rod, because you really should be able to do that.
Regarding fly lines, as far as I know, most good fly shops have demo lines available that they already have spooled up on reels because they're gonna be sending people outside with lines to cast on rods. So, you know, you might be spending $100 bucks or more on a fly line, again, you don't want really don't wanna buy that fly line until you try it out. And, you know, perhaps you might not be able to get the exact size line, let's say you're looking for a four-weight and they only have a five and a six spooled up, you're still gonna be able to get a good idea of the characteristics of that line.
So I would urge you to try out a fly line before you buy it. Because again, they're not inexpensive purchases. And as far as the snooty fly shops, well, don't go to snooty fly shops. If you go into a fly shop and people are snooty, find another fly shop where they're friendly. There's lots of fly shops around and there is no excuse for people in fly shops to be snooty.
Here's an email from George. "Tom, thanks to you and Orvis for the invaluable podcast. When tying freshwater pattern size 8 to 16, if using a head coating, when do you choose head cement versus UV cured cement?" Well, thank you, George, that's a good question and I get it frequently on my live tying sessions. I am not a huge fan of UV coating unless it's something that you're putting on a wing case or the back of a fly, the abdomen of a fly or something. I worry, when you apply head cement to a fly, you want that cement to soak in a bit into the thread and into the materials toward the head of the fly, and it's not always possible to get that UV light to fully penetrate into those materials.
With head cement, you're using a solvent and you know it's gonna dry and you know it's gonna cure, but with UV you're not so sure. And UV tends sometimes to be a little bit messier. So I personally, I would say for flies that size I would just use a normal head cement, whether it's water-based head cement, or high-gloss head cement, or deep-penetrating, all of those work fairly well. You're just trying to keep those threads at the head of the fly from unwinding. So you can even use super glue but that leaves kind of a white-ish residue on the head. It doesn't look so good but it works just fine.
But, you know, I would save my UV curing for, you know, larger streamers and salt-water flies, and then again, backs in win cases where you wanna coding on top of something.
Here's an email, well, they're all emails this week, from Bill, from Central Louisiana. "I have a short story and a question. First I wanna echo the sentiment of many listeners with a huge thank you for everything you and Orvis do to promote and support fly fishing and conservation. Your weekly podcast not only expands my knowledge of our sport but helps connect me to the people and issues in fly fishing.
A short story to illustrate. This past Friday when I was driving from Louisiana to Texas to attend the Texas Fly Fishing & Brew Festival, I listened to your episode with Kirk Dieter on native trout, which I found very interesting and quite thought-provoking. When the festival began the next day I was pleasantly surprised to see Kirk Dieter as the first session presenter. I arrived a bit early and was able to have a nice conversation with him related to the podcast. Kirk seems to be a great guy and a wonderful presenter, and your podcast helped make that connection. This is just one example of how you and your podcast connect the community of fly fishers.
Now for my question. Back in the mid-'90s, I used Orvis braided leaders for both nymphing and dry fly fishing. If you remember them, and I do remember them, they had a loop on both ends to attach the tippet. I simply tied a perfection loop in the tippet and made the loop-to-loop connection. Though I now use knotless tapered leaders, the habit of attaching my tippet to the leader with a loop-to-loop connection has persisted because it is so quick and easy and doesn't shorten my leader with each tippet change.
After a few fly changes with a new tapered leader, I trim the leader back to just above the level tippet section and tie a perfection loop to which I connect my tippet with another perfection loop. However, I have never seen anyone else using this connection with most sightings creates a hinge. I've found that if there is not a great difference in size between the end of my leader and tippet, it is a hingeless connection with all the benefits of a tippet ring without the extra piece of gear.
I'm curious to know your thoughts on this method of connecting tippet and if I should consider changing my long-running practice."
Well, Bill, thank you for the story and the compliments. You know, the idea of using, you know, perfection loops for connecting tippet has been around for quite a while. In fact, before we had tippet rings, a lot of people did it this way. Not a lot of people, but some people did it this way.
Here's my take on it. First of all, yeah, it doesn't create a hinge, it casts just fine. The problem I find is it creates the...those two loops create another opportunity for something to tangle. So that's one issue where you got, you know, you've got two pieces of a loop on one side and two pieces of a loop on the other side. It's a little bit more air-resistant than just a thin piece of leader. And you can tend to catch your fly or your strike indicator, something on those loops. So that's one reason not to use it.
The other reason not to use it is I have found that the... I think I don't have any statistically valid data on this, but I suspect that the perfection loop is not a very strong connection in smaller diameters.
It's great for the butt section of leaders and for the really heavy amount of fillment. I'm not so sure how strong it is when you tie it down in, you know, 3X, 4X, and 5X. I know that when I have tied a tippet to a sinking line or a Polyleader, I found that my connection always breaks at the perfection loop when I'm tying, you know, 2X or 3X. And so I suspect that it's not that strong in that situation. What I do is I that situation, I double my tippet over with a Bimini twist and then put a perfection loop in it so you get a double strand which makes it much, much stronger, but that's beside the point.
But if it works for you keep doing it. As I said, people have been doing that for a long time, and if it works for you and you don't get tangles and it's not breaking at that connection then I would just keep doing it.
But, you know, using a tippet ring is a little bit cleaner situation and you only need to tie on a tippet ring once a season. It's not like you've gotta carry a bunch of tippet rings around with you because that's gonna be a permanent connection for an entire season or more where you keep tying the new tippet on. So, that's my views on it. As I said, if it works for you then just keep doing it.
Here's a note from... Notice I didn't say email because they're all emails. Here's a note from Noah, from Columbus, Kansas. "Big fan of the show and appreciate everything you're doing for fly fishing. I have a question about preparing for a trip. I'm traveling to Northern Utah, in a few months and will be fishing a couple of days while I'm there. What sort of research should I be doing to get ready? What do you do before fishing in new water? I've looked at maps and read reports from local shops but I don't know if there's something better I could be doing. Thanks again for everything you and Orvis are doing for fly fishers."
Well, Noah, that's a good question. There are a number of things you can do and it sounds like you're doing the best two things. First of all, is talking to local fly shops. They're gonna have...they're on the ground, they're in rivers every day, they're gonna know it, and, you know, reading their daily stream reports or looking at the Orvis fishing reports if they're covered in the area you're going to, is gonna give you a good overview of what's going on there.
And when you look at maps, you know, I look at both the topographic overlay to see, you know, to see where the steep spots are, where the canyons might be, where the more wide-open flats might be, and then I look at a satellite view of the water I intend to fish if it's big enough to show up on satellite view, and it looks for riffs and pools and, kind of, try to envision what kind of water to expect.
And then I also look for, you know, places where there's roads close to the river or places where there's towns or industrial areas that I might wanna avoid. And so, that's, you know, that's gonna give you a pretty good idea.
Now, two things. First of all, of course, the conditions can change overnight, so you can prepare and prepare and prepare and then you can have a sudden rainstorm and all of a sudden everything's out the window and that's fishing, that's weather and that's fishing and we're subject to those things. The other thing you might look for though is, there are often usually done state by state regional books. And I find these books to be extremely helpful. They're sometimes called like the no-nonsense guide to fishing such and such, or, you know, there are various guides, usually fly shop stock these titles for their area but you can find 'em online or in bookstores as well.
But sometimes these books are really, really helpful. And I think a little bit more solid than some of the information you might find on the internet, plus you get to look at some more pictures of the area to get an idea.
But, you know, what I do is basically what you did. I'm lucky enough to have been in the industry for a long time and typically will know somebody from the area so I can call 'em up and ask 'em, but you call a fly shop and ask 'em and I'm sure they'll be quite helpful. Make sure then when you get to the area that you go in and you patronize that fly shop for the free information they gave you.
This one's from Patrick, from Detroit. "I wanted to put this in a voice message..." But I wish you had Patrick, "...but after numerous butchered attempts, I figured you could say it better. So here it goes. Quick, funny story. One of my first jobs in my now career in construction was the expansion of the Royaloak store about a decade ago. I like to mess with the clerks and ask for the remodel discount. I haven't gotten one yet though. This spring will be my fourth year of fly fishing and I wish I had gotten into it sooner. With the discovery of the podcast over a year ago it has helped exponentially to figure this all out. So much, so last season I managed to land my first rainbow on a fly and brown trout ever. Although they were stockers, I was still thrilled and they were great fish. I also got my first gorgeous wild rainbow even at six inches. Enough about me, I have a comment, a tip, and a question for the podcast.
I just finished the recent podcast with Noel, and you brought putting hand warmers on your wrists onto your gloves. I heard this tip from another listener about a year ago while framing a building last winter. I can attest to that and say it's been a game-changer. I've not tried it for fishing, but working outside in below-freezing temperatures, keeping my hands warm is crucial. I tried this the next day on a frigid 12-degree day and my hands were more than warm all day.
I know you hate fishing with gloves as I do, but I bet if you got some retro wrist sweatbands and stuck them in there, I'm sure it would still help. My tip to the podcast is probably more toward the new tie-ers. I've been tying for a little over a year and I'm absolutely obsessed. The problem I found was as I accumulated more materials storing and organizing materials became an issue. I do have a roll-top desk for storage, but organizing was still an issue."
And by the way, I've been doing this for a long time and organizing is still an issue with me too.
"I picked up an expanding file organizer and you'd be surprised how much you can stuff in there. I have one dedicated to feathers and inside has about eight slots that I can then separate into different categories, like marabou, ostrich, dry hackles, wet hackles, etc. I have a smaller envelope size folder I use to organize flashabou and other materials. I'm sure some of the more established tie-ers would need 1,000 of these, but for someone getting started it's a great way to keep things contained and organized as your collection grows. My question can also be taken as a podcast suggestion.
Recently I've been intrigued in tying classic salmon flies. I still have a long way to go to catch up on the podcast, but I've yet to hear one exclusively on classic salmon flies. If there is one I'm yet to hear please point me to one, but I would like to hear more on some history on them from influential tie-ers, patterns, techniques and what it's become today. If you have any suggestions on literature, or videos, or people to look into, I would love hearing them.
I see now that it wasn't much of a question, so I guess what I'm asking is who or what is your go-to on tying these full dress flies. Thank you for your time, hope to hear response podcast or not and insert cliche comment. Thank you for all you and Orvis do."
Well, thank you, Patrick, those are great tips and I like that file folder idea. I may try that for some of my material as well. That sounds like a great idea. Regarding tying classic salmon flies, a little bit difficult to do it on a podcast but it's good idea. I might look up one of the classic tie-ers and see if we can talk about that. A lot of it these days is substituting materials because you can't get a lot of the...materials are either difficult and expensive to obtain or they're prohibited and illegal to use. But I did do a podcast about three years ago on a book called "The Feather Thief," which is a terrific book. And we talked about... I talked with the author about the substitution of materials in classic salmon flies. And there are many substitutes that we can find these days and still tie classic salmon flies. Good idea and I will put it on my list of future podcasts.
Here's a note from Jody, from Los Angeles. "I was disappointed in your answer to a listener's question during the February 10th Fly Box. I wanted to write to suggest an alternative response. The question was about the spiritual aspects of fly fishing and why the Orvis Learning Center does not mention that aspect of our sport. Although I agree with you that the Orvis Learning Center should be primarily a place for providing the nuts and bolts of how we fly fish and that spirituality, in general, is a deeply private and personal topic, I don't think that should keep the center from directing readers to other sources of information.
To date there are more than 20 organizations in the U.S alone that use fly fishing as part of an approach to healing, therapy, mentoring, fellowship, and other topics that fall loosely under the umbrella term of spirituality. Casting for Recovery, for example, which you mentioned in the first chapter of your book on "Family Friendly Fly Fishing" linked to the Orvis Learning Center has been helping victims of breast cancer for more than 25 years.
Project Healing Waters has been helping disabled veterans for 17 years. Both of these organizations and others have endorsed a book on "The Spirituality of Fly Fishing." Ed Nicholson, founder of Project Healing Waters went so far as to call that book "Required Reading" for all the participants and volunteers of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing in the book's preface.
Fly fishing has been shown to help people suffering from problems as wide-ranging as addiction, depression, PTSD, cancer recovery, and more, and people can be helped by knowing that. There are at least two retreats annually that focus on the spiritual aspects of fly fishing and a number of books on the topic. Last year for the first time the annual expo of Fly Fisher's International even featured a session devoted to this topic. Even if to you these writings and efforts fall flat as you put it, I don't think that should keep you or Orvis from pointing your listeners toward help when they are seeking it."
Well, point taken Jodi, and thank you very much for expressing that opinion. And yes, I should have mentioned those organizations and the learning center would be a great place to list them, and under the resources we have available. They are available on the Orvis website itself because we support those organizations. But it would be a good idea to add 'em to the learning center, so I am going to put that on my list of things to do the next time we upgrade the learning center or change the content. So Jodi, thank you very much for your note and point taken.
All right. That is the Fly Box this week. No phone calls. So take that as a hint. Anyway, let's go talk to Land Tawney of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
Well, my guest today is Land Tawney. Land is president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which if you're not familiar with the organization, it's an awesome, very effective, very... I think very powerful organization that works to make sure that we have places to hunt and fish in this country's land. We wanna talk just a little bit about your mission statement and what you guys do before we get into the nitty-gritty?
Land: Sure. And Tom, thanks again for having me on the show.
Tom: My pleasure.
Land: Yeah. So, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, you know, we were formed around a campfire and we were formed around a campfire in 2004, to make sure that you have access to public lands and waters and then the quality efficient and wildlife habitat when you get there. And so our work, you know, is from on the ground restoration to, you know, the halls out in DC, you know, whether that's at a legislative level or administrative level, we're trying to, you know, really work on making sure again, you have access to public lands and waters and then the fish and water habitat when you get there.
And, you know, we've grown to 30,000 members, we've got chapters in all states besides Delaware and Hawaii, we're north of the border up in Canada, and our organization is driven by our grassroots leaders, I would say on the ground and just their engagement and the idea is to give people a voice. You know, a lot of people don't think their voice counts in this country anymore, and, you know, we're trying to make that easier for them to connect and make a difference, and not only with their voices but also on the ground, you know, with their hands getting dirty on projects.
Tom: Yeah. And you're based in just a horrible place. I'm so sorry that you have to live in Missoula, Montana, you know. Everybody is...
Land: What was the quote from Riverfront Show that is like the [inaudible 00:27:44] like increases the farther you get away from Missoula.
Tom: Yeah.
Land: So, you know, I'm living in a pretty good place, it's when you get away from Missoula.
Tom: All right. So we're gonna talk about a couple of public access issues that affect Anglers in particular because this is the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast."
Land: Yeah.
Tom: In Colorado, Wyoming in particular, and we could maybe take a step back, Land, and talk about the access laws in both states and how they've historically evolved and where they stand right now and then talk about the issues. How's that?
Land: That sounds good.
Tom: Okay. Take it away.
Land: So... And do you wanna talk about stream access in particular or access to public lands?
Tom: Let's talk about stream access in particular.
Land: Yeah. So, you know, I think that the laws for stream access are different in every single state. And that creates this patchwork of inconsistencies, you know, across the country, and particularly here in the West. So, you know, you have a state like Montana where you have, you know, access up to the high-water mark. So in the spring, you know, and the water IS running high and you have that change in vegetation, you know, I can float my boat down the river and I can pull over, I can have lunch, I can fish a riff as long as I'm underneath that high-water mark. Now, if I'm just wading, I can do the same thing. And so I fish a lot that way, I hunt ducks a lot that way here in Montana.
In Wyoming, in Colorado, you know, that's different and, you know, I've been thinking about like Colorado in particular, as of late because we just got a win, but you know, in the early, you know, early, I guess 1945, there was a case in New Mexico that I think helps like talk about like other states as well, is that, you know, they determined that anything that was navigable, which means that it could float a log, was used for commerce, then that was public water. And so like that is being challenged in New Mexico right now, but that's kind of like an interpretation, I guess, across, you know, many other jurisdictions.
And so in Colorado, you know, that's been interpreted a little bit differently to where if there's a private landowner that is on either side of the river, they also own the bottom of the river, and so if, you know, if we get out of our boats, or even in extreme example, if our boat touches a rock in the middle of the river and we get stuck, then we're ultimately touching the bottom and so we're trespassing. You know, if there's public ownership on either side of the river, that's a different story we can, you know, wade and, you know, beach our boats anywhere. And then if it's split-half then that's in the middle of the river.
And so that has recently been challenged. There was a gentleman by the name of Roger Hill, on the Arkansas River, who, you know, would always...would utilize...would only use the water and he would wade into his favorite fishing hole and a private landowner disputed that every single time and said he was trespassing.
And so finally Mr. Hill took him to court and ultimately was just ruled that actually because this water is navigable, that water is actually open to the public and opened up just this stretch on the Arkansas River. Now that precedent that that sets, hopefully, is that, you know, that we can have a conversation statewide in Colorado about those rivers that are navigable, so can float a log down them, were used for commerce at the time of statehood, and that those will be ultimately open to all, you know, fishing opportunities or any kind of wading or river activities. I hope that happens at a state level, Tom, instead of river by river.
Tom: Yeah.
Land: Now that this, you know, the precedent that this case sets, now that it's been decided is that yes, the ruling is on the side of the people and the people being the general masses of the public instead of the private landowners, and so, you know, every single case or every single stretch of river can be challenged but would be better hopefully to do that at a statewide level. And so, I think, you know, there's conversations going on right now in Colorado about what that would look like.
Tom: Wow.
Land: And we're excited about that, I think, and I hope that it can be done at more in a state-level than at individual river stretch level. One, because it'll take so much time but it's also, it's super expensive both for private landowners and for, you know, the public.
And I would hope that, you know, again like, this should be a compromise that is good for everybody. And I think the thing for us is, you know, hunters and anglers or anybody that uses the rivers... Cuz we gotta be good stewards out there and for the majority we are, but it only takes a few bad actors to leave garbage behind or, you know, people to pull over on the side of the river to go to the bathroom and leave white flags of toilet paper. Like that's how these problems get created...
Tom: Yeah.
Land: ...and so, one of the biggest things is I think is relationships really at that local level and working together as a community.
Tom: Yeah. That doesn't mean that we still must absolutely respect private property rights and private land and it doesn't mean you can walk across somebody's field if they don't want you to. It just means that you have access to the water.
Land: Exactly.
Tom: To the high-water mark.
Land: Exactly. Yeah. And not intrude their place. And I think that's a huge mistake.
Tom: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
Land: And I know that... Go ahead.
Tom: Yeah. I just wanted to back up a little bit about the navigability issue. And as I understand it, it was a federal ruling, I don't know if it was part of the constitution, but if a river was in commerce at the time of statehood, then the water is held in trust for the people. Is that the wording of it?
Land: That is right. That is right. And that was part of the requirement of becoming a state. Right. Was to sign off on that piece. So yeah, that's been...and it's been on the books for a long time and that's really what the basis of this lawsuit was and that's why they won.
Tom: It's a federal law. Right?
Land: Exactly. Exactly.
Tom: So, I have another question regarding that. If a river had a mill on it, would that be considered having been in commerce? So would that entire river be considered navigable?
Land: I mean, I think that, again, like the standard that I see most consistently is can it float a log or did it float a log at some point?
Tom: Okay.
Land: And so if there's a mill on a river, I'm guessing that the reason that mill is on the river is because their were floating logs to it.
Tom: Oh, it might have been just a mill using a water power for running a drill or, you know, a grain mill or something like that. I'm just curious. I'm just curious.
Land: Yeah. I'm not sure about that one.
Tom: Okay. Okay. Because of a lot of the... Vermont has an access law similar to Montana, but most, nearly every little tiny stream had a mill dam on it at one point. So I'm just wondering.
Land: Okay.
Tom: Not that we have any problems in Vermont with access, we don't ever, but, you know, I'm just curious if it ever comes up. So that's Colorado where we stand today.
Land: Yep. And...
Tom: And the one thing that I've always been frustrated by or mystified by in Colorado is that you're not required to post your land if you have no trespassing, and boy it's really difficult unless you carry around a property map with you, it's really difficult to determine what's private land and what's public.
Land: Yeah. I think that it is but it's on us. Right. I think the onus should be on us and, you know, that law is the same here in Montana...
Tom: Okay.
Land: ...and, you know, I think now and then I've got, you know, OnX on my phone, and I dunno if you use that, I mean, it's awesome. I will say it's helped me find a lot of sneaky ways to get into public lands that I didn't know about before because I did have the exact question that you're, you know, proposing. It's like I kind of knew, you know, and you could look at a map and kind of look on the ground, but now that I know exactly where I am when I'm on my OnX, like I can access a lot more, you know, public land that I couldn't before. So I think the onus is on us and, you know, again, I think if there is a question that you should air on the side of caution.
Tom: Yeah. OnX, Gaia, BaseMap, there's a number of really good apps that have property map overlays.
Land: Yep. Yep.
Tom: Okay. So should we talk about Wyoming a little bit?
Land: Yeah. We can talk about Wyoming.
Tom: Okay.
Land: So I'd say the hottest thing in Wyoming right now relates to corner crossing. And corner crossing, and I'm not sure, you know, how much you're aware of that or how much your listeners are aware of that and how it relates to fishing.
Tom: Let's assume nothing.
Land: Okay. So corner... Which, you know... And I'm not... And like, I don't know, hopefully, people will learn something from this. But, so let's look at a checkerboard, right, and let's look at the black and red squares on a checkerboard. So let's think about the black squares as private land and then the red squares as public. And so back when the railroads in particular were expanding out west, the federal government gifted them every other section, you know, along these railroad lines, and so that they had, you know, an opportunity to develop them or, you know, sell them to other folks and to help pay for the railroad going forward. And so that creates this checkerboard, the black and red squares in the west in particular, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, these places like these checkerboard exists. And it creates this, you know, like this kind of question about who has access to these checkerboards.
So if you're sitting on that square right now, on that black square which is public and you gotta go through the red, and you're jumping over that square when like those two squares touch, but do you have access to that because your shoulder is potentially violating airspace on the private land as you step over that corner. And so it's huge issue. There's 3 million acres inaccessible here in the west, 3 million acres, and so that's, you know, it's what should we do with that? And so I can talk about like solutions here in a minute but I'll tell you exactly what's going on right now.
Tom: Okay. Three million acres of public land. Right? That's inaccessible.
Land: Public land that's inaccessible because of this question about, you know, is it legal to access or is it not? And the majority of time that land that is public, that is, you know, kind of made inaccessible, it's managed as the part of private land because nobody else can get to it besides the private landowners that are near it. And so this has been going on and there's this legal kind of gray area, and so there was some out-of-state hunters that went down to Wyoming, and they've been hunting down there for a long time and they wanted to get into a certain spot. And so, a couple of years ago they talked to the sheriff and talked to the Fish & Game down there and they got all their ducks in a row and they went hunting and really with no problem.
The next year they decided to bring in a...basically a big bridge and so that there would be no way that they would be walking over private landowner's property when they were hopping from corner to corner. They talked to the local sheriff again, they talked to Fish Water From Park down there and they went to go. And when they went down there, they were told that they were trespassing by the landowner, and that was actually the landowner's ranch manager. And ultimately after that landowner I think called the district attorney 17 times and don't quote me on that piece, but definitely wanted these folks to get in trouble, they have now been charged with trespass.
And so now this is within the legal courts, you know, I think that the gray area hopefully, potentially is there's a precedent set with this lawsuit, but at the same time I think that legislation is probably needed to clarify this at a state level.
And just like stream access, you know, there's trespass laws that are different in every single state, and so, you know, we really think that there has to be a fix that goes state by state just like the south and west stream access.
But these folks, there's been, you know, quite the support for these four, I would say, you know, I think they tried to do everything they could, you know, to avoid trespassing. They were not trying to trespass on purpose and ultimately they didn't step foot on private land. So again, we're watching very closely, we helped raise some money for their legal fees, our chapter in Wyoming did, and then we'll donate the rest of that back to their kind of public access to the private land program in Wyoming.
But it's something we're watching real closely and, you know, again, there's potentially, you know, a federal fix here, Tom too, when it comes to I think federal to federal land, you know, if you're out there, but what happens when it's, you know, state to federal or different agencies, the federal government, like there's a lot of complications when it comes to the checkerboard that's out there, but we're watching this one really closely.
Tom: Land, how big are those checkerboards? How big is each square?
Land: I mean, you're looking at... So the majority of 'em are 640 acres. Right.
Tom: Okay.
Land: And they're sectioned. So it's like every other section. So sections are 640. So a lot of 'em are 640, sometimes they'll get bigger than that. You know, there was some consolidation that's already happened and so they can be bigger. I guess another, you know, a couple of the fixes would be, you know, with the full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund two years ago, and The Great American Outdoors Act, that's $900 million now that we have that could be put to use for access. And so in places where we have landowners that are willing to, you know, provide, you know, an access easement or even, you know, fee title in a short strip, like we could be doing these deals all across the west right now.
So I think if there's willing landowners that are out there, that program is there, another program would be the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, which sounds like a mouthful and is, but that is really a fund that, you know, when there is a sale of public land, that money stays in a fund to help purchase other land that helps consolidate access.
And, you know, instead of that money going from the sale of public land to the treasury, which we'd never see again, it actually stays in this fund. And so on initial, like it might sound bad but it's actually been used in a lot of positive ways to consolidate access and to provide corridors for not only access but also for wildlife.
Tom: So you're saying that in some cases you're not so upset about public land being sold to private individuals if it goes into the fund.
Land: No. If it goes into the fund and if it's... You know, I think if... Like these are case by case basis, but if it's, you know, providing... You know, if it's smarter around access, smarter about wildlife habitat, smarter about management, yes, like we're totally supportive of that. But, you know, the ones we're against are these, you know, these large blanket sales just to divest public land. That's what we're definitely against.
Tom: Yeah. And you were talking before we turned on the microphone about another issue that's pretty hot right now.
Land: Yeah. So back in 1997, a law was passed that said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should look at as many compatible hunting and fishing opportunities on National Wildlife Refugees as possible. And it compelled them to look at that and every administration since then has really looked at our National Wildlife Refugees system and proposed and ultimately come through with expanding opportunities to hunt and fish. A lot of times it's adding species or adding, you know, more like, you know, more season, like dates, like adding time, so it hasn't, you know, resulted and I would say anything that's super significant, but it's also been a positive thing.
And so the Trump administration just did it during in their last administration, the Biden administration proposed an expansion this last fall, and then the Center for Biological Diversity sued them in December of 2021, saying that they shouldn't be expanding hunting and fishing opportunities because of the threats to wildlife.
Now, hunting and fishing is very compatible, I would say with National Wildlife Refuges, and their spirit. National Wildlife Refuges are paid for by the duck stamps, you know, that all duck hunters are required to purchase every year. It's $35, and I proudly pay that and that helps pay for the management of these refuges. And so there's a long-standing tradition, I would say of hunters being a part of refuges.
So this lawsuit, you know, they proposed it I think, you know, the hunting and fishing communities back in December when they filed this United against this lawsuit in support of, you know, we were in support of the U.S. Fishing and Wildlife Service and these expansions. And then just this week there were some legal proceedings from that where the, you know, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has to sit down, kind of as a standard operating procedure with the Center for Biological Diversity.
You know, we're hopeful that there is no compromises that are put there. Martha Williams, who just got confirmed last night as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she comes from Montana, she was the director of our Fish, Wildlife & Parks here in the state, I'm very confident in her standing up for the opportunities that have been proposed and moving forward.
So that's hot right now. I will say that there was some confusion that there was like negotiations happening, and with the Biden administration and the Center for Biological Diversity, but that's all just legal things that they have to do as part of the process of this lawsuit.
Tom: Okay. And you...
Land: I dunno if that... Do you have any questions about that? I know that like, maybe that was a little inside baseball, but that's the skinny, at least right now.
Tom: Okay. No, that's good to be aware of. And I know you have a lot of balls in the air, there are things that are constantly going on. Any other issues related to fishing access that you guys are working on right now?
Land: I mean, down in New Mexico, I talked about that earlier and, you know, we're only...we've engaged in a handful of lawsuits in our lives, but in New Mexico, we're engaged with one right now where we're suing the governmor of New Mexico over stream access.
And so down there, as I talked about before 1945 Supreme court ruled that, you know, water was navigable, you know, where logs were floated as we talked about before. And so just recently, you know, there was some influence by some private landowners, and so their Fish and Game Commission, you know, put forward some opportunities to limit access on rivers so designated in New Mexico.
And so we got together with Adobe Whitewater Association in New Mexico Wildlife Federation and sued the government for allowing that to happen because it goes against, you know, the Supreme court ruling back in 1945. And so we're waiting for a ruling on that right now, but, you know, that they were trying to limit access really to, again, large private landowners that didn't wanna see people on the river. Again, we're not talking about trying to get into private property, we're talking about the river that we've always been able to access. So that's going on right now in New Mexico. We're waiting to hear there.
Tom: Land, what river... Do you wanna name a couple of rivers?
Land: The Pecos in particular is the river that's at stake right now.
Tom: So people had been historically wading there, floating that and fishing it and private landowners wanted to try to keep 'em out of the water?
Land: Exactly. Exactly. And I think... You know, and again, I mean, there's a compromise here and I think that I never want, you know, it to be perceived or even, you know, felt that anybody's trying to take private property rights, because this is just about, you know, again, protecting the historical nature of the public and the public waters that should belong to everybody.
Tom: Good.
Land: The only other one I would talk about is like, here in the Crazy Mountains here in Montana.
Tom: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Land: And this is one that everybody should be aware of because it's pretty interesting. So it's not rivers but it's access to high mountain lakes, I would say, for the folks that are, you know, the Angling entities.
And so, basically, you have these prescriptive easements. And the prescriptive easements means that these are trails and roads that have been used historically by the public. So dating back to, you know, late 1800, the federal government or county governments or state government have spent money to maintain these trails or maintain these roads, they're on maps and have been for decades. And so these trails and the easements that go across private lands with these trails, with these roads, they're called prescriptive easements.
And so, you know, it's again how the public gets to public land and respects private land as they pass through. There's the Crazy Mountains, which is a lone mountain range in Montana, it's surrounded by private land in most cases. There's a couple of access points but there's been these prescriptive easements on trails and there's been some private landowners again that don't like people walking through their private property even though that that was historical use and something when they bought or inherited that piece of property, that was, you know, definitely known to them.
They've, you know, they've put up signs, threatening signs about trespass, they've put up gates. And so, you know, working with the Forest Service, you know, they worked to take down those signs and to make sure the trails were signed and they'd been historically defending the people's right to access these trails.
And that was all working really well until some private landowners got really fed up and talked to some higher political folks, and then all of a sudden the Forest Service stopped defending, in this particular place, in the Crazy Mountains, the public's access to these trails.
Once that happens, if no public uses those trails, here in the state of Montana, after five years, those trails are considered abandoned and then that prescriptive easement is no longer valid.
So in 2017, the Forest Service decided to...although that was the last time they supported these trails and said that they would defend them. Quickly there afterwards they stopped defending them. And so we have a lawsuit, again, we've only done like a half a dozen in our lives. I'm talking about two. But we're suing the Forest Service right now for not doing their job to keep these trails open.
And so that's hot, and I will say that, you know, the Forest Service has very conflicting answers when saying why they're not defending them. At first they said that, you know, they were still defending them back in 2017 and nothing had changed, but it definitely had changed on the ground. Then they'd said that, "No, these aren't the trails that we're talking about." And that is, you know, definitely not the case. And then the last piece that they're talking about now is like, "Well, nobody's used them for five years and so we've abandoned them." And that's not the case either.
And so we're looking, you know, I think we have a great champion in Senator Heinrich from New Mexico and Senator Tester from Montana, that are holding the Forest Service accountable and having conversations with them at a very high level. Hopefully, we can come to fruition there without the lawsuit, but this lawsuit is in front of a judge right now, and was heard as recent as like three weeks ago and we're just waiting for a decision.
Tom: So you sense it was mainly political pressure that was placed on the Forest Service?
Land: That's the only thing we can point to and we don't have a smoking gun there at all, but like, there's been some politicians that asked people to look into this, and so maybe that's what started it, but yeah, the Forest Service definitely changed their tune from 2017 directly thereafter in 2018.
Tom: Okay. All right. Well, those are issues that everyone should be aware of, and thanks to you they are now. But just want people to know that Orvis is a big supporter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. You'll see it in our conservation pieces and in the catalogs and you should as well.
And if you're not familiar with the organization, the website is, and you can go in and find out more about this great organization.
And thank you, Land for all that you guys do for all of us who enjoy public lands, because we've got such an amazing resource in this country in public lands.
Land: Well, Tom, we need partners in that, and Orvis is an amazing partner. I'll tell you that. And, you know, I thank you for the, you know, the work that you all do as well and I think we're all in this together. Right?
Tom: Yeah.
Land: Like, what we have didn't happen by accident and is not gonna be carried forward by accident either. So, you know, like, podcasts like this and, you know, the work that you do, the work that we do, the work that many folks do, that keeps what we have, and that's all we really, I think are here to do.
Tom: Great. All right, Land, well, I wanna thank you so much for taking the time. I know you're a really busy guy and I just appreciate you coming on the podcast to fill us in on some current events.
Land: Tom, thank you for the opportunity and appreciate it, and anytime, and I hope as we're coming out of this pandemic, that I'll get to see you soon.
Tom: Yeah, me too. Me too. I know you guys have a rendevous in... When's your rendevous, in April?
Land: No, it's on May 12th through 14.
Tom: Oh.
Land: Right here in Missoula, Montana.
Tom: Yeah. And that's open to the public. Right?
Land: Open to the public, tickets are on sale right now on our website.
Tom: Great.
Land: So I would say the greatest public land party that you'll ever go to.
Tom: And the good...
Land: Lots of good food.
Tom: Good excuse to go to Missoula too. So...
Land: Missoula. Right? You know that horrible place we were talking about earlier.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Okay, Land. Thanks again and I hope to talk to you soon.
Land: Yeah. All right. Thanks, Tom.
Tom: Bye-bye.
Land: Bye.
Tom: Thanks for listening to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast" with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show, have a question or a comment, send it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in the body of an email or as a voice attachment. You can find more free fishing tips at