Tag Archives: Conservation

Last Best Streams: 2.0


I had a perfectly good plan last year: winnow down all the streams in the US to the last best ones, the ones science say are least disturbed, their annual pattern of flow today most similar to the historic record.  Add in the nation’s system of Wild and Scenic Rivers, and spend the rest of my life focusing on those…

But there’s better data out there, more exhaustive- not just the great streams, the nice streams, the ones which are protected.  There’s data on the streams that should be protected, if only we had the will- political, social, or otherwise- to do so.  I’m anal about these sorts of things, so I dumped them into the existing list: something like 2,110 streams across the nation, notable for their ecological, fisheries, or cultural significance.  It’s a couple lifetimes worth of work, but I’m happy to try.  You can check out my progress on the Last Best Streams page.

Shared: Who owns the Arkansas River?

A federal lawsuit pitting an angler against a landowner on the Arkansas River seeks to clarify Colorado’s murky laws governing public access to streams and rivers. Colorado Springs fisherman Roger Hill has had repeated run-ins with Mark Warsewa, whose property spans the Arkansas River between Texas Creek and Cotopaxi. Hill likes to wade from public land nearby and fish in the river near Warsewa’s place. “I own the bottom of the river,” said Warsewa, who bought the property in 2006. Hill on Friday sued Warsewa in U.S. District Court, arguing the bottom of the river actually is public property. His lawyers point to a federal doctrine called “navigability for title,” which holds that if a waterway was used for commercial activity at the point of statehood, the state owns the stream bed and the public has access. Roger Hill fishes the South Platte. The lifelong fisherman has sued an Arkansas River landowner, hoping to spur changes and clarity in Colorado’s murky stream access laws. With historical records showing loggers sending hundreds of thousands of railroad ties down the Arkansas River before Colorado became a state in 1876, Hill’s attorneys hope to prove “navigability for title” and, therefore, unfettered public access. If Hill wins, the Arkansas River could be open for wade fishing through private land, and the standard could apply to just about every Colorado waterway. It also could resolve a thorny public-access issue that Colorado’s Western neighbors — New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah — have cleared up in recent years. “There has been a lot of confusion around this. Private landowners have been led to believe that they have the right to block access to waterways in front of their property, but that is only true if that river was not navigable for title purposes,” said Mark Squillace, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School who, with Dillon attorney Alexander Hood, is representing Hill. “This case has the potential to bring some clarity to the law and show that, yes, like any other state in the country, we have the right to access state-owned river beds under navigability for title.” Stream-access issues erupt every several years in Colorado. A landowner on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River in 2001 sued to block a river outfitter from floating guests past his property. Owners at a private fishing community on the South Platte River above Cheesman Gorge once chained a gate to the riverbed to block kayakers from passing through the property. Still, little has been done to permanently resolve stream- and river-access conflicts in Colorado. No state laws or regulations define navigability. The Colorado Supreme Court, in the seminal 1979 People vs. Emmert case, upheld a trespass conviction against rafters who floated on the Colorado River through private property in Grand County. In 1983, the Colorado attorney general sought to clarify the court’s decision with a legal opinion that paddlers floating through public property only commit criminal trespass if they touch the river bottom. The boaters could, however, be charged with civil trespass. Colorado still relies on the 1983 legal opinion, which is not binding and has not been tested by a Colorado court. (Colorado and Arizona recently finished below six other Western states for stream access in the annual Western States Conservation Scorecard by the Center for Western Priorities.) In 2011, then-Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter created a River Access Mediation Commission to help resolve access conflicts between landowners and boaters. That commission has not been appointed since 2015. The Hill lawsuit highlights “an interesting point” with the evidence of commercial activity on the Arkansas River before Colorado’s statehood, said Nathan Fey, the Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater. But he’s nervous. A victory or loss could have sweeping impacts across the state, he said. “Regardless of which way this goes, there’s going to be trouble,” said Fey, whose job entails traveling around the state dealing with river access conflicts on a case-by-base basis. If Hill wins, Fey said, the next issue will be to address whether the state has the right to claim a riverbed property that previously was considered private property and how much, or if, that landowner should be reimbursed if that property is deemed public. If Hill loses, Fey said, “it could have much broader implications for a pretty robust outdoor recreation economy surrounding water in Colorado, especially on the Arkansas, the nation’s most rafted river.” “I think there’s a lot of risk here,” said Fey, noting that wading fishermen are clearly contacting the river bottom in violation of the 1983 legal opinion and this case could force a decision that impacts floating boaters. [related_articles location=”right” show_article_date=”true” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”] Warsewa, who learned of the lawsuit Friday, said he doesn’t have issues with rafters or fishermen floating the Arkansas River through his property. He does have problems with fisherman walking on the river just past the riverbank below his home. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to a menacing charge after firing a handgun when fishermen were in the water. Warsewa said Hill has sent him documents detailing access laws in states such as Utah. “I said, ‘Well, go to Utah then,’” Warsewa said. Hill, who wrote a popular flyfishing guidebook for the South Platte, said he just wants to fish. He recognizes that he’s taking on an issue much broader than his pursuit of wily river trout, but he is passionate about access and spreading out on a river to limit impacts on fish at heavily trafficked public access points. “No one wants to press this. Well, I’m 76 now — and if not me, then who?” he said. “All I would like to see come out of this is the ability to go fishing in my favorite spots legally without being threatened, harassed or shot at.” [dfm_iframe src=”https://extras.denverpost.com/app/mailer-rules/email-signup.html?which=news&name=Mile%20High%20Roundup” width=”100%” height=”120px”] [dfm_iframe src=”https://extras.denverpost.com/app/mailer-rules/app-promo.html” width=”100%” height=”100px”]

via Who owns the bottom of the river? Lawsuit pitting fisherman against landowner on the Arkansas River could answer the question — The Denver Post

Red dot blues.


There’s a little local blue-line trout stream I won’t fish because it’s so low- not the typical mid-winter seasonal low, but 40% below average for this time of year.  It’s the same story for a tentative August trip out west, looking at SNOTEL, with much of the Rockies well below average.


Here’s hoping things pick up….and soon.



Someone Hug Mitch McConnell.


In a part of the world decimated by logging and mining, The Nature Conservancy and Kentucky’s top Republican have partnered for a $5 million grant to protect 25,000 acres of Appalachian landscape.  The strange bedfellows’ cooperative effort will protect threatened amphibians, bats, birds, crawdads, fish, and freshwater mussels all benefit, with the mixed hardwood and hemlock forests affording carbon sequestration for generations to come.

Let’s take the win.

The Blue Heart of Europe.

Biodiversity isn’t the first thing that registers when it comes to the Balkans.  That may be even more true in the coming decades, with nearly 2800 dams slated for construction.   At risk is the region’s unique aquatic fauna- insects, freshwater mussels, and a handful of trout species found nowhere else on the planet- and these folks are making certain that loss is weighed carefully against development.

Lurching into the new year.

There’s nothing motivating about six degrees Fahrenheit, especially after spending the week between Christmas and New Years down with the flu.  Maybe it’s a metaphor for 2017 as a whole: an exercise in irrational optimism, in refusing to let the bastards get you down.


This stream will never look the way it did in my lifetime; record-shattering floods slicked off every tree thirty feet up the bank.  Most of the local streams are fundamentally altered from the places I know.  Elsewhere rivers became more vulnerable to human alteration, access became tougher, watersheds burned.


It’s easy to be cynical.  It’s easy to say there was better fishing, easier access, and fewer assholes a generation or two ago, and maybe even some of it is true.  But none of it is useful.  It’s a sentiment which justifies poor treatment of our natural resources, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2017 it’s that our last best streams aren’t accidental.  People worked to protect them for every subsequent generation.  As the people who use those outdoor resources we should be more conscientious of that, more willing to practice that sort of forward-thinking in our everyday life.  Disinclined to squander the opportunities our parents afforded us.

I’ve thought a bit about this space in the past couple weeks, about its direction and the expressive opportunities it affords.  I have every intent of being more proactive in its management during the upcoming year, and have been cooking up new content and features which will hopefully be of interest.  Best of luck with your endeavors during 2018, and take care.



Last Best Streams: #200.


This one’s tough because it’s home.  I fished this river first, it maintained my sanity during the Recession, just out of college and underemployed.  A friend in similar circumstances would tag along, two or three times a week, sometimes, paying five bucks to stay in a nearly abandoned campground across the gravel road from the access.  Folks with full-time gigs weren’t going to risk losing them and the ones retired or underwater had bigger things on their plate; most days we had the place to ourselves.

A hundred years ago the watershed was a moonscape. Between 1888 and 1903 timber companies cut 375,000 acres of white oak and shortleaf pine, rafting logs downstream where industrial sawmills turned 800 trees a day into the beams and boards building midwestern metropolises.  By 1920 the roughest hollows and bottoms were the only timber left. After failed attempts to grow corn and wheat, locals who didn’t or couldn’t sell turned out hogs and cattle to forage what they could.  Thousands of acres burned annually, or nearly so, to rejuvenate meager pasture.


With the Depression came federal buyouts, state parks, and national forest.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects replanted native pine, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built roads, bridges, fire towers, park offices, picnic shelters, and campgrounds.  When the war was over, everyone from Aldo Leopold to the artist Thomas Hart Benton clamored to protect the natural beauty of this landscape, and in the 1960s those protections were codified in federal law.


A third of the watershed is now publicly owned. Mixed hardwood forests are again the dominant landcover, although fire suppression makes the forest more closed than historical conditions.  Imperiled bats and birds call the rivers home, rare flowers and ferns carpet dolomite bluffs, and hundreds of species of fish and aquatic invertebrates- some found nowhere else on the planet- call the river home.


In a century threats to the river shifted one-hundred eighty degrees.  The river is no longer threatened by logging and livestock, but by ATVs, illegal roads, and poorly maintained horse trails.  Canoers, kayakers, and jet boats rove the river throughout the warm season, dotting gravel bars with black pocks from bonfires and leaving litter in their wake.  It’s a diverse crowd- there’s not many places you’re as liable to run across a baptismal as you are a yoga retreat.  But there’s just too many for the river and the infrastructure to support, and it’s the number of visitors and their diversity which confounds management.  Open houses and public forums are met with protests and counter-protests, one recreation group pitted against another, resentment welling up along the urban-rural divide.

It’s still pretty.  And there’s still good fishing- stocked browns and a few wild rainbows up at the top end, smallmouth bass and rock bass plus panfish, pickerel, and the occasional walleye downstream.  There’s a reason people still visit.