By Michael Howell
Trespassing charges filed against a fisherman on Mitchell Slough for leaving the water and walking on the bank to get around a bridge were dropped last week. George Thompson, of Missoula, was cited by Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Albright for trespassing last March following a complaint by Ed Hebner, a landowner along the slough. The ticket said simply that Thompson was accused of trespassing for walking on the bank of the slough to get around a bridge whereupon he re-entered the slough.
Signs posted at the three existing official portage routes into Mitchell Slough do state that fishermen are required to stay in the water, the banks being considered beyond the ordinary high water mark. The public is advised to stay in the water and go under fences.
Thompson entered an initial plea of not guilty.
At his omnibus hearing last Thursday, May 16, Deputy County Attorney John Bell told Justice Robin Clute that, after consulting with the Undersheriff, the County Attorney decided to drop the charges against Thompson. He said it appears that he was apparently not intentionally trespassing and was not wandering around the property but returned immediately into the stream after going around the bridge. He said it was decided that the act did not warrant prosecution.
A request for additional portage routes on Mitchell Slough and a revision of the current signs because they are in violation of the Stream Access Law, which does allow for recreationists to exit the water to circumvent man-made obstructions, was made last December to the County Commissioners by Andy Roubik.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist Chris Clancy told the County Commissioners at a meeting in March, when the commission decided to take up the issue, that he agreed with Roubik that the signs were not in compliance with the law and should be changed. He also offered to host a tour of the slough for the commissioners and help arrange meetings with the landowners who may have fences or bridges that obstruct the use of the slough to develop appropriate portage routes at each of those sites. That process is still underway.