Legal to cut trees blocking a river

any disagreement…the Bois Brule does get some things cut…but it is done with the DNR’s ok…thus my saying to check with the authorities. I had been given the right to cut some …years ago and I know the canoe/kayak rental in Brule has an understanding with the power that are. So we are on the same page. There is no UN-regulated rivers left in the lower 48. We land owners have yards that constitute woods and rivers and only wish that respect be given and don’t trash our yards…even though people from the city believe that a yard is only about 100 feet wide…mine is 90 acres and some of my neighbors yards are 270 or 360 acres.

Best Wishes


Part of the USFS working agreement
that has opened the Chattooga Headwaters to paddling is that paddlers will portage wood that blocks rapids and not try to cut it out. This is a concession both to the fish and to the fishing community which tends to oppose our presence there. If a logjam totally corked a rapid so that it could not be portaged (I know a few that could be so blocked), I am sure the USFS would agree to limited clearing.

On the other hand, I was walking and wading along Mountaintown Creek (USFS land), and found the channel repeatedly interrupted by pieces of wood attached to the creek bottom with rebar. So we shouldn’t remove wood, but fisherman can staple it to the stream bottom. Seems strange.

So, this brings up the question:
If a tree falls across a “Navigable” River blocking the entire river, is that still a “Navigable” river ?

Jack L

Federal Admiralty Law

– Last Updated: Nov-16-14 9:11 AM EST –

Have you folks considered the possible impact of Federal Admiralty Law? So far everyone is talking about the application of state law.

Lawyers spend years and millions sorting out whether an incident on a "navigable" waterway is controlled by state law or admiralty law. There is an entire body of law on the definition of "navigable" waterway.

Maybe we should all chip in and hire staff counsel to answer these legal questions that come up from time to time.


There are regional differences, but I get the strong feeling that many people here are afraid to make the right decision without written notice.

Federal versus State

– Last Updated: Nov-16-14 6:32 PM EST –

I just checked the list of Federally designated navigable waterways in Wisconsin, and the number of waterways on that list is miniscule in comparison to the number that are considered public and navigable under Wisconsin law. It appears that the Federal list only includes waterways on which extremely large vessels (much larger than paddle craft at least) can operate. Using that logic, there's no chance that the rivers in question would fall under Federal law.

Maybe you were joking, but if not, try it yourself for some other state. I bet you will find that small waterways subject to being completely blocked by fallen timber don't make the Federal list.

Not reading carefully for true meaning
What these folks are actually saying is that “the right decision” is to get permission to before cutting trees which do not belong to you. Your earlier post implies that you think it’s a simple, correct decision to clear obstacles from a river if it’s “navigable”, but I’d love for you to provide an example of this actually being legal. I don’t believe that you can (maybe in Texas). I just looked through a long list of Wisconsin laws regarding navigable waterways, and so far, I can’t find any indication that navigable waterways are designated as such for any reason other than to guarantee that landowners alongside those streams cannot prevent the public from using them for boating. Further, it is specifically stated that on many streams designated as navigable and public, portaging over natural obstacles will in fact be necessary when traveling by boat. No mention is ever made of clearing a path, so it appears that cutting of trees in the water can not be done with the backing of any law which trumps those regarding the ownership of property. You are correct that there will be regional differences, but I think it’s wishful thinking to assume that “the right decision” will naturally be backed up by laws regarding navigability. Check it for yourself before implying that this is so.

In this case, “the right decision” isn’t clearing a path. Furthermore, “providing written notice” that you intend to do so won’t put your actions within the law, anymore than doing so would make any other illegal action you were proposing become acceptable. On the other hand, “getting permission” WILL put your actions within the law.

river is a river bed owned by the Public. A shoreline landowner owns land above the river bed.

Therefore, if a tree blocks your passage down the legally listed and declared navigable river then you may cut it.

That’s it.

You may go now.

If the river was declared navigable in 1875 then it would continue listing as navigable…the State ain’t gonna give up holding your river cause who knows what evil schemes you could have ? Such as dumping mine water into the water ?

So go ahead and chop your leg off.

There’s a beaut on the Wenatchee over a sluice out of a pool above the dam. Huge stump blocks passage unless you roll thru it.

Everyone take note
The great know it all has spoken !


Admirality law
"I just checked the list of Federally designated navigable waterways in Wisconsin,…"

If only it were so simple! I was joking - but it isn’t completely off the wall. The law in this area is massive and the question of whether federal law governs depends on the context in which the issue arises.

My real point though is this - no one has a clue what the answer is. The only way to get a real answer unfortunately is to cut the trees, get sued, and see who wins.