Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Incident at Milesnick's could reignite debate

I heard this morning that an angler on the MZ- Ranch - better known as Milesnick's - was recently electrocuted when his fly rod touched a power line. It is a horrible, unfortunate incident about which details are sketchy, but Tom Milesnick confirmed to me via e-mail that there is a lawsuit pending from the angler or his family, and that he could not comment further.

He also confirmed that access to fishing and hunting on all of their properties has been suspended pending the outcome of the lawsuit. If the outcome favors the unfortunate angler, they may never allow access again.
Thompson Spring Creek, just above its mouth.

The Milesnicks allow access to two spring creeks on their property north of Belgrade, Montana for a fee, and have a sign-in system that allows anglers free access to their property on the East Gallatin River.

They have a longstanding record of cooperation and allowing access to anglers. They are model landowners from sportsmen's perspective, which is why burning the bridge to them would set a scary precedent for the other pay fisheries including Armstrong's, Depuy, and Nelson's spring creeks in Paradise Valley and other creeks and lakes on private property statewide. Moreover, it sets us up for another stream-access battle.

The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks brochure on stream access does say: “the Legislature has limited the situations in which a landowner may be liable for injuries to people using a stream flowing through his property...The law states that landowners and others covered by the restriction on liability are liable only for acts or omissions that constitute ‘willful or wanton misconduct’.” So to rule against that (which would be the cast if the angler wins), would be a ruling that directly contradicts the stream access law. Once that seal is broken, the rest of our beloved law could be up for grabs.

Let me be clear, however, that many details about the incident and litigation are not known at this time.

In my opinion, anglers need to take responsibility for themselves, and if and when an accident occurs, they shouldn't seek reparations from those who allowed them to be there (not that it's anything new or unique to Montana or fishing). It's a tragedy and I feel for the angler and his family, but responsibility should not be spread where it does not belong, especially when so much is potentially at stake.

UPDATE: As of 2014, the land is no longer open to access the creeks via a rod fee. Apparently, so the goes the story I've heard, the property is under the management of different family members who are not interested in this aspect of the business. The creeks should still be open to fishing, as they still fall under Montana's stream-access law. Access, however, must be gained legally which can be difficult here (thus, the advantage of paying the rod fee - you could hike across their property to the creeks).


Josh Bergan said...

Hat tip, BL.

HighPlainsFlyFisher said...

No good deed seems to go unpunished in todays society. It's a real shame that we have a judicial system and money-hungry lawyers who are more than happy to accomodate those who choose to sue someone else for their own negligence. Hopefully the good guys win out on this one.

Josh Bergan said...

I just think we all, not just hunters and anglers, should understand that we assume certain risks when we wake up each day. It's not necessarily someone's fault when something goes wrong. And for folks like these to be held responsible, unknown details notwithstanding, is a shame, imo.