From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 3 - April 17, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

You can float, but please don't anchor

by Cat Urbigkit

With free-flowing rivers drawing spring fishermen, Sublette County Sheriff Hank Ruland is reminding floaters and private landowners of their mutual responsibilities. There have been increasing numbers of conflicts between landowners and fishermen and floaters in Sublette County in recent years as river running has grown in popularity.

Under the Wyoming Constitution, all natural waters in Wyoming are owned by the State of Wyoming.

Ruland said, "If a river flows through someone's land, the water belongs to the state and the land under the water belongs to the landowner."

Ruland said, in a nutshell, Wyoming water law on the subject is grounded in the Wyoming Supreme Court case called Day v. Armstrong, decided in 1961. That case stated: "... that riparian owners of lands bordering upon or through which the river flows may not in any manner obstruct the flow of the river's waters so as to interfere with or prevent the free passage of any craft used commercially or for recreating or for floating ties, logs or timber..."

But that case also stated: "... that as an incident to the full enjoyment and use of the State's easement for its waters over and across the lands held in private ownership, persons so floating in useable craft, may, when necessary, disembark and walk, or wade upon submerged lands in order to pull, push, or carry craft over or across shallows, riffles, rapids or obstructions. ..."

To wade or walk on the private property constitutes illegal trespass. Anyone with legal questions related to this issue is encouraged to consult an attorney.

Floaters should consult land status maps before venturing out. The Bureau of Land Management office in Pinedale sells these maps and can also point floaters and fishermen to put-in and take-out points on public lands.

n Floaters should:

You may float any river, but must stay in the boat and only get out of the boat to navigate around an obstruction in the river;

Floaters cannot leave the boat and get out on the bank; and

You may not anchor in the river.

n Landowners should:

Keep the river open for navigation;

Build no obstruction;

Allow passage in the river channel; and

Do not harass floaters in their boats.

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