by Matt Tourtlotte
Matt is a Montana sportsman who has served on the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission as the Region 5 Commissioner since 2013
Montana’s stream access laws are among the most valuable treasures possessed by the citizens of Montana and the millions of people who visit our state each year. For over a quarter century, our State’s stream access laws have been under attack by out of state billionaire landowners and those who loath the public trust. Professor Kristen Juras is among those who would seek to curtail or even eliminate Montana citizens’ right to use and enjoy Montana rivers and streams.
Professor Juras’ family has a history of opposing and attacking Montana’s stream access law. Professor Juras has hidden the fact that she is the niece of Jack Galt. In the mid 1980’s, Jack Galt sued the State of Montana, asking the court to declare Montana’s stream access law unconstitutional and to block access to one of Montana’s greatest treasures, the Smith River. More recently, Juras’ cousin, Bill Galt, referred to those of us who enjoy Montana’s stream access laws as thieves.
Fortunately, Jack Galt lost his case before the Montana Supreme Court and Montanan’s have continued to use and enjoy Montana streams and rivers, including the Smith River, for recreational purposes, as provided under the public trust doctrine and derived from the Montana constitution. Unfortunately, Jack Galt, and his anti-stream access friends did succeed in chipping away at Montana’s stream access law.
While the Court substantially upheld the law, certain subsections relating to the use of the banks, such as unrestricted overnight camping, the right to build duck blinds and boot moorages, and the right to big game hunting, were deemed unconstitutional. In 2015, the law was amended by the legislature to allow for overnight camping and temporary duck blinds. However, these new provisions could be challenged again by the Galt family or other wealthy landowners who want to eliminate the public’s access to the treasures of Montana’s rivers and streams.
Throughout her campaign Juras has tried to claim that issues surrounding Montana’s stream access law is settled. This is not true and contrary to what she has written in past law review articles and in recent speeches she made to Montana voters. Indeed, stream access to the Ruby River in Madison County is presently under attack and rich landowners actively litigate in Montana courts to stop stream access.
In her guest opinions to Montana newspapers, Juras has been careful not to reference the Galt v. State case by name, or that she is the niece of Jack Gault, the lead plaintiff in that case. Juras doesn’t tell the Montana voters that she believes Montana’s stream access law is subject to other legal attacks, which she has written about in a law review article that is posted on her website, or that her article was cited as persuasive legal authority by the James Cox Kennedy Plaintiffs who are actively seeking to prohibit public access to the Ruby River. Juras doesn’t tell Montana voters that she believes in the riparian property owner’s right to exclude the public from rivers and streams, or that she characterizes Montana stream access laws as a “monumental erosion” of private property rights.
The fact of the matter is, Juras has a thirty-year-old axe to grind against Montana’s stream access law. Her family used the court system to launch a constitutional challenge against the law and just this year, while she was ramping up her campaign, they called Montana’s stream access laws “thievery”. Blood runs thicker than water in the Galt family and if the issue of stream access for fishing, rafting, floating, hunting, or other recreational activities, is even remotely important to you as a Montana voter, you simply cannot trust Kristen Juras to protect and uphold the Montana stream access laws, should she be elected to the Montana Supreme Court.
A PAC called “Montana Prosperity PAC” is sending out these pro-Juras flyers. According to the group’s 8/31 disclosure, Bill and Errol Galt each contributed $5,000–so they paid for it. Bill Galt was on the Anthony Bourdain show and called Montana’s public access law “thievery” which is referenced above. Sure looks like the Galt family is trying to get one of their own on the Supreme Court to defeat public access.