As has been widely reported, not quite two weeks ago the defendants in a trespassing case on the Jackson River gave up their fight.
Some streamside landowners, joined by the developers from whom they purchased their lots, had sued the men saying that they were trespassing by wading the river. The plaintiffs claimed that centuries-old grants from the King of England proved they owned the river bottom (on which they are still taxed).
The anglers claimed that they were simply following the maps published by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. (They hoped the state would join them in their fight, a hope that was in vain.)
The plaintiffs won and the defendants eventually opted to withdraw from the fight rather than to pursue appeals and keep racking up massive legal bills. (And you better believe the plaintiffs racked up massive legal bills, too.)
Although the judge’s order prohibiting the defendants from trespassing on the river pertains to those anglers, it sets a precedent. Will anyone else care to challenge the landowners now? Would you?
But plenty of questions remain. For example, what will happen with those DGIF maps? Will the agency alter them by marking as off limits the section that was in dispute in this latest case?
Also, this case was about anglers stepping on the river bottom, not about fishing. Can we still float through and fish? Even though signs erected by the above-mentioned developers state that public fishing is not allowed. Do those crown grants support that (as they were legally found to on sections upriver)? Does the right to “privatize” the water extend to areas where the developers don’t own the shoreline, but rather lease it?
Looking beyond the section claimed by the Rivers Edge on the Jackson River developers, what will happen on the rest of the river? Most riverside landowners have been fine with public fishing. Will they be emboldened to now claim the river as theirs? Or will the public still be welcome to float and fish most of the river between Gathright Dam and Covington?
And what about other rivers where streamside landowners can trace ownership back to those crown grants?
A thread on the Jackson that I started this summer has featured some interesting discussion. Some folks are clearly passionate about this, which is understandable. Take two of the most vocal: King George III and Patriot Paddler. Some interesting back and forth between those two!
Much of the discussion on that thread has focused on what has happened. We need to think now about what will happen.
Anyone care to make predictions?
I’ll start: I predict I will be spending some time in the coming on a story about the potential future implications of this case.