Gov. Bill Ritter appoints Steamboat rancher Jay Fetcher to river group
Steamboat Springs — A North Routt County rancher has been appointed to a task force charged with creating methods to resolve river access disputes.
Gov. Bill Ritter named Jay Fetcher on Monday as one of 17 members of the River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force. The group has until Dec. 31 to prepare a report for Ritter and the state Legislature that recommends methods for resolving disputes among landowners, commercial rafters, boaters and anglers on a case-by-case basis as disputes arise.
River access long has been an issue across Colorado. In Routt County, for example, tubers, anglers and kayakers share use — sometimes less than cordially — of the Yampa River through downtown Steamboat Springs.
A dispute arose this year on the Taylor River, north of Gunnison and east of Crested Butte, when owners of a ranch with a private fishing reserve opposed actions of commercial rafting outfitters seeking access to that stretch of river.
The dispute fueled debate at the state Capitol and could have placed as many as 24 conflicting ballot measures before Colorado voters in the fall. The landowners and rafting outfitters reached an agreement in June that resulted in withdrawal of the ballot measures and creation of the task force.
“Clearly, river access issues were very controversial during the legislative session this year,” Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said. “We were looking for a very balanced and very diverse (task force) membership, and the diversity is represented in a variety of ways.”
Fetcher was a logical choice for the task force, Dreyer said.
“Jay (Fetcher) and his family have owned land and ranched in Northwest Colorado for decades and decades,” he said. “They have a unique perspective from a landowner’s viewpoint that will be extremely valuable to this task force and this process.”
The Fetchers’ stretch of the Elk River spans about two miles in North Routt near Clark.
Jay Fetcher said that when he saw the application for task force membership, he thought he “could offer a perspective that may be different than other people who had applied” because of his long experience with access and use of the Elk.
“My feeling is, if you ask, you can fish,” Fetcher said about his family’s stretch.
Working with the state Department of Natural Resources, the task force will conduct at least six open meetings in the fall to gauge public input and discuss options for dispute resolution.
Fetcher is the regional director for U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
Fetcher said he checked with Udall’s Denver office to ask about potential conflicts of interest and received positive feedback on his application.
“I got some encouragement from my other job,” he said.
“I’m very excited about it; I haven’t done this kind of thing for a long time,” Fetcher added. “This is something I thought would be worthwhile doing.”
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