- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah fishermen are celebrating a court ruling that reopens about 2,700 miles of rivers and streams that were off limits to the public.

State Judge Derek Pullan made the decision Wednesday to nullify a 2010 state law that restricted public access to the waterways. Pullan pointed out in the ruling that the law cut off access to about 43 percent of Utah’s miles of streams.

“Every parcel of public land, every reach of public water is unique,” said Pullan, explaining his decision. “The people of the state of Utah are constitutionally entitled to have public lands - including the public’s easement on state waters flowing over private lands - to be held in trust for them.”

The Utah Stream Access Coalition, which brought the legal challenge, hailed the ruling as the correct decision.

“This is a case where policy triumphed over profits; where law prevailed over lobbying” coalition president Kris Olson said in a statement. “The rivers and streams of our state are gifts of providence, and the lifeblood of this arid land. Since before statehood, these rivers have been used by all, and we’re grateful that the court prevented that use from becoming exclusive to a privileged few.”

The state is expected to appeal the ruling.

The law was passed by the Utah legislature five years ago in an attempt to protect private land owners after the state Supreme Court ruled that the public had a right to access rivers that went through private land.

Lawmakers passed the law after hearing from landowners who reported littering and damage to their lands by people using the rivers and streams.

Attorneys for the state argued that the law didn’t cut off access to streams and rivers, but simply regulated it. Lawyers for a private firm that regulated access to the Upper Provo River under the law, contended that the measure doesn’t impact the public.

Pullan disagreed, pointing to surveys from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources that showed that seven in 10 fisherman said they used streams that crossed through private land.

“The act closed these waters,” Pullan said.

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