Wanted to post an update on the fence over the Thompson....
Fence across river lands rancher in hot water
By Pamela Dickman | © 2011 Loveland Reporter-Herald
Paul Ehrlich points at the spot on his property west of Loveland where he had strung a barbed-wire fence across the Big Thompson River. Fearing the danger the fence posed to rafters on the river, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office made him take it down.
LOVELAND -- Paul Ehrlich considers his 60 acres a gift.
He cherishes the view, the trees, the chirping birds and the bubbling Big Thompson River that splits his property on Namaqua Road west of Loveland.
But he does not cherish the rafters and tubers who, he says, frequently trespass on his yard and have gone so far as to shove him when confronted.
And he wants to buy 25 head of cattle to graze his land — something he said he cannot do unless he can string a fence through the river to keep his livestock from escaping.
Last month, he installed a four-strand barbed-wire fence across the river just east of Namaqua Park and found himself in hot water.
“That’s an absolute death trap,” said Battalion Chief Tim Smith of the Loveland Fire and Rescue Department. “We understand what his concerns are.
“We were more concerned about rafters in the water. If the water is high, and they come around the corner and don’t get out, it will kill them.”
The water will go through the fence, but the person will not, a situation that rescuers call “a strainer” that can be damaging and deadly, explained Larimer County Undersheriff Bill Nelson.
“A four-strand barbed-wire fence across the river that’s full of tubers is extremely dangerous,” he said.
“That’s something that will catch people in a heartbeat.”
After learning about Ehrlich’s fence, a sheriff’s deputy consulted with the county attorney, who provided him with a 1983 decision by the Colorado attorney general that prohibits fences across rivers. The deputy visited Ehrlich and told him he had to take down the fence.
The rancher did so, removing it after just over a week.
But he still believes the law is unfair and unenforceable.
Plenty of ranchers in the state have fences across a river, Ehrlich said.
County officials agree but say different situations require different solutions.
Gary Buffington, director of the county’s Department of Natural Resources, said he knows of others in Larimer County.
“Not all those areas are accessed by recreationists,” Buffington said.
The fence law is enforced on a complaint-only basis, which Ehrlich said is not fair.
But much of the law is enforced that way, and the Sheriff’s Office does not have the resources to patrol the river for fences or trespassers, according to Nelson.
“Unless somebody complains about it, we might not know,” Nelson said. “We don’t know about people’s burglaries at their houses unless they complain.
“An awful lot of our calls for assistance are complaint-oriented. It’s someone calling us to report a problem.”
By Colorado law, fences are not allowed to block rafters in the river, and residents are allowed to ride the rivers on tubes and rafts.
They are not, however, allowed to trespass.
Trespassing a Problem
On Ehrlich’s property, he said, tubers trespass all the time. His land is the last place to leave the river before a dangerous diversion structure just east of Namaqua Park.
He said he has had family picnics interrupted by tubers and even found people hanging out in his yard.
But when he calls the sheriff, the culprits take off before deputies arrive, he said.
“Can I come have a picnic in their front yard?” asked Ehrlich. “I’d like to know what their address is.”
Buffington hopes to help alleviate that problem with signs.
His department is working to find a place for rafters to get out of the river on public property before they reach Ehrlich’s land.
Then, the county will place signs and a map at Glade Park, where many start their river adventure.
But most of the land between there and Ehrlich’s property is private.
State Law a Mixed Bag
The dispute between property owners and rafters along rivers is not new nor is it uniform. Situations and official responses vary across the state.
“The way it is written, the law as it stands is that you are trespassing if you are in a waterway and you step out and touch the riverbed,” said Loveland-area state Rep. B.J. Nikkel. “That’s where you get into ‘deep water’ with the issue.
“The law is so different. In some places you can and some places you can’t. I favor them being able to use it while not trespassing.”
In 2010, some Colorado legislators tried to change the law to favor rafters over ranchers, but the bill failed.
Now, Ehrlich would like to gather a group and try to change state law in the other direction, to allow his fence.
He does not want to hurt rafters and had installed a large red wooden sign to warn them of the impending fence.
He is also willing to find another type of fence that would keep his cattle in but not hurt rafters.
But, he said, he is not sure what he can legally do.
“I can’t contain my cattle without it,” he said. “There’s just no way. ... I just want to make a living.”