The Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Sigurd F. Olson Award recognizes outstanding effort conserving rivers, lakes or wetland habitat. Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) Co-Chair Don Holmstrom is the 2023 recipient. Don was recognized at a ceremony during the BHA North American Rendezvous in Missoula on March 18.
Don is BHA life member and coordinates the Colorado BHA Habitat Watch Volunteer (HWV) program in conjunction with his chapter Co-Chair duties. Don has had a career as a lawyer and technical advisor related to chemical safety and environmental issues. He retired from the US Chemical Safety Board as the Director of the Western Regional Office in Denver. Floating and fishing Colorado streams since the 1970s, Don has been a longtime advocate for stream access and habitat protection issues and leads the Colorado BHA Stream Access Initiative (SAI).
In early 2022, the Colorado Court of Appeals decision in Hill v. Warsewa delivered a stinging rebuke to powerful interests and the State Attorney General by paving the way for public access to Colorado streams flowing through private land that were navigable at the time of statehood. Now that decision is headed to the Colorado Supreme Court. A win in the appeal would allow Mr. Hill to go back to a trial court to establish navigability and consequently the ownership of the streambed by Colorado.
Roger Hill, the plaintiff in the case is a Colorado fly fishing legend. He wrote the first guidebook for fishing the famed “Gold Medal” waters of the South Platte River. Mr. Hill wants to go back to his favorite fishing hole on the Arkansas River, but he doesn’t because he’s afraid that a private landowner will attack him again and threaten to sue Mr. Hill for trespass as he did several years ago. To secure his right, he sued the landowner and argued that segment of the Arkansas has been navigable since the time Colorado joined the Union in 1861.
“Colorado has the worst stream access laws of any Western state. Colorado, despite its reputation for outdoor recreational opportunities, has failed to implement the well-established federal legal doctrine of ‘navigability for title,’” Don explained. “This test—well-recognized by the US Supreme Court—established rivers that were commercially navigable or susceptible to navigability at the time of statehood must be held in trust for the use and enjoyment of the public. This includes essential fishing activities such as floating and wading. Nearly all Western states, including Arizona and Utah, have applied greater public access under this doctrine.”
Don has worked tirelessly on public waters access issues in Colorado, spearheading chapter efforts in support of the Hill case by contacting state decisionmakers and educating the BHA community on this issue. One result of Don’s hard work was when the BHA team was able to speak up in support of public waters access in a September 2022 New York Times feature story (Does This Fisherman Have the Right to Be in a Billionaire’s Backyard?”)
“In the United States, people have access to the water, land and wildlife,” said Land Tawney, BHA President and CEO. “That is unique in the world. People need to step up and defend what is rightfully theirs.” Thank you, Don, for defending our public waters access rights in Colorado! Wildlands and wildlife need many more like you.
For additional/related information see:
-BHA’s Public Waters Access campaign.
-Seek Outside Podcast Ep. 99: Why Are Colorado’s Water Laws So Confusing with Colorado BHA Co-Chair Don Holmstrom.
-Ben Ryder Howe. “Does This Fisherman Have the Right to Be in a Billionaire’s Backyard?” The New York Times: 9/1/22.
-Travis Hall. “How One 80-Year Old Angler Might Change Colorado Stream Access Forever.” MeatEater: 3/29/22.
-“Stream Access Case In Colorado Will Move Forward.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 1/28/22.
-Upcoming Colorado BHA Events: https://www.backcountryhunters.org/co_upcoming_events
-Check out the BHA Take Action Center to stay engaged on legislation in your area.
-Colorado BHA Habitat Watch Volunteer (HWV) program information.
-All Things Colorado BHA: https://www.backcountryhunters.org/colorado
-Gift a BHA membership.
Don Holmstrom went to college at Stanford University and Law School at the University of Colorado. He worked for a French oil company for 19 years and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board for 16 years as Director of the Western Regional Office. He has a legal background in occupational safety and health, environmental law, toxic tort and administrative law. Don lives in Boulder, Colorado.
 Land Tawney, BHA President and CEO. “Why We Punch Above Our Weight.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 9/9/22.
 Ben Ryder Howe. “Does This Fisherman Have the Right to Be in a Billionaire’s Backyard?: A fight along Colorado’s waterways pits an alliance of white-water rafters and amateur anglers against some of the nation’s wealthiest landowners, bruising the image of a sportsman’s paradise.” The New York Times: 9/1/22.