Conservation Laws: A Delicate Balance

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

specifically found several other Missouri streams to be "public highways," including the Gasconade River in Pulaski County, the Current River, Indian Creek (in Washington and Franklin counties) and the Black River.

Thus, the law in Missouri is that adjacent property owners have ownership rights up to the edge of a navigable river since the bed of a navigable river is owned by the public. Adjacent property owners, however, own the bed under non-navigable rivers, subject to an easement for public travel by boat or wading if the river is suitable for use as a "public highway."

The 1957 case of "Sneed v. Weber" stated that, to be navigable under the Missouri rule, the stream must be capable of floating vessels or boats as are used in the customary modes of travel in pursuit of commerce. A stream is not navigable simply because a small boat may be navigated through a tortuous course. To be navigable, a stream must be navigable in its natural state, unaided by artificial means or devices; waters which may be made floatable only by artificial means are not regarded as navigable or as public highways. The Mississippi and Missouri rivers are unquestionably navigable rivers.

The 1920 case of "Hobart-Lee Tie Co. v. Grabner" took judicial notice that at the Gasconade River in Pulaski County may be found "the grandeur of the magnificent Ozark uplift; that the stream throughout the County of Pulaski is at many places narrow and its waters swift and beautiful; that in the bed of the Ozark streams there are shoals and bars which furnish a happy camping ground for the erstwhile fisherman; and an occasional rapid joins in the chorus of nature."

In the 1919 case of "State v. Wright," the court took judicial notice of the fact that the Current River is a "fine fishing stream." The 1973 case of "Burk v. Colley" acknowledged that the "cool, clear and sparkling waters" of the Current River are part of "many a float fisherman's fondest memory."

Hunting and Fishing Regulations.

In the "Elder v. Delcour" case discussed here, the Court stated that the title and ownership of fish in a Missouri stream are vested in the State of Missouri until an individual obtains possession of them in a manner permitted by law. Since the Meramec River as it passed over Delcour's farm was public water and a floatable highway, ownership of the fish in the stream belonged to the State of Missouri. The public had the right to fish in and take fish from the Meramec River as it crossed over Delcour's property, if done so in a lawful manner.

The Missouri Department of Conservation continuously reviews regulations pertaining to fishing and hunting. Before the adoption of new regulations or changes to existing ones, the public has a right to comment. Regulations are published yearly in the Wildlife Code of Missouri.

Hunting is clearly a dangerous activity. It is illegal to hunt with a weapon while you are intoxicated. In some states, a hunter who mistakes a person for game and fires at that person is presumed negligent as a matter of law and is strictly liable for the injuries to that person.

Missouri courts have not adopted this standard but have decided that a high degree of care is required when hunting and that a hunter should withhold firing until he clearly and unmistakably makes certain that he is shooting at game and not a human being. The "Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety" have been accepted as evidence in cases involving hunting accidents.

Laws to Conserve

The Missouri courts and Missouri legislature have attempted to fashion laws and regulations which conserve our state's natural and wildlife resources and, at the same time, balance the public good with private rights and interests. This is often a difficult task.

As so eloquently stated by the well-known Missouri conservationist, the late Leonard Hall, in his book Stars Upstream,

The need to preserve areas that are wild and natural increases in America with each day that goes by; for it has been truly said that wilderness is a resource which can shrink but never grow.

Hall firmly believed that we are stewards of the land with the duty to preserve inviolate our wild and natural resources and protect them from destruction in the name of progress, which, in his opinion, "takes no account of natural values." The conservation laws of Missouri, as well as the regulations of the Missouri Department of Conservation, attempt to uphold those ideals and preserve the bounties of nature for many generations to come

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