Governor Bullock Announces New Access to Big Hole River in Honor of Public Lands Advocate Tony Schoonen

Former Governors
  • September 25 2020

MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock, joined by family and friends of the late Tony Schoonen, today announced new access and the renaming of another fishing access site on the Big Hole River in honor of the public lands advocate. 

“The list of contributions Tony made over a career dedicated to the public interest is far too great to enumerate. From block management, to Habitat Montana, to issues spanning access to state trust lands and forest service planning – virtually every major conservation and public lands management policy benefited from Tony’s dedicated, sometimes relentless, and always resolute, pursuit,” said Governor Bullock.

Before his passing, Tony Schoonen envisioned a full boat launch and parking area at the Mallon’s Access Site on the Big Hole River. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and the Montana Department of Transportation codified the access rights at the site and completed a walk-in access with a plaque to commemorate Tony’s legacy – paving the way for future additions to access at the site.

Additionally, Governor Bullock announced that the Notch Bottom Fishing Access Site, under FWP, is officially renamed to the Tony Schoonen Fishing Access Site. In the mid-1960s, Tony spearheaded efforts to prevent the building of a dam at Notch Bottom. Today, the 150-mile-long Big Hole remains among the few free-flowing wild trout rivers in the United States.

“Tony was a giant in my book,” said FWP director Martha Williams. “He stood up for what he believed in and never let up. He taught me much about public access and I looked to him as a mentor in my early career. His legacy is seen also in the passion he fostered in so many others who now work to conserve the Montana way of life.”

Tony Schoonen dedicated decades to fighting for access to public lands in Montana. Notably, Tony formed the Montana Stream Access Coalition, which challenged access rights on the Dearborn River that were ultimately decided by the Montana Supreme Court in 1984. Later the Court strengthened its earlier ruling in another case brought by the coalition by specifying that any navigable stream can be used up to the high-water mark without regard to ownership of the surrounding lands.

As an assistant attorney general, Governor Bullock defended Montana’s stream access laws in federal court against William Perry Pendley, who at the time was with the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

“Less any Montanan forget what our Montana values really mean—those core principles of equity and responsibility to one another and our state’s lands, wildlife and waters, of public education, public participation and public lands—look no further than the life of Tony Schoonen: Teacher. Advocate. Sportsman,” said Governor Bullock.

Governor Bullock’s full remarks as prepared for delivery: