Idaho Falls businessman Doyle Beck treasures Gem Lake Harbor as if it's his own private Idaho.

But the water within it, and the fish occupying that water, belongs to the people of Idaho, according to a 2006 opinion from the Idaho Attorney General's Office.

The attorney general's opinion states that Gem Lake Harbor is, by definition, a navigable waterway and therefore public.

Beck disagrees and continues efforts to keep others from enjoying the public-owned water by filing civil trespassing lawsuits. He owns the land adjacent to Gem Lake Harbor and the land beneath the water.

The latest such effort began Jan. 25 when, according to an investigation completed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Brandon Harkness of Idaho Falls went to Gem Lake Harbor for an evening of ice fishing.

The investigation report states that Harkness walked from the public boat ramp across ice to reach his fishing spot and "(at) no point did Mr. Harkness step on the solid ground above the high water mark that belongs to Doyle Beck."

The trespassing complaint was the second filed by Beck in four years. The first was dismissed with prejudice -- meaning if new evidence is brought forward the case could be reopened.

Beck's ongoing effort to keep sportsmen off public waterways is what Fish and Game officials believe amounts to interference with hunting, fishing or wildlife control -- a misdemeanor crime.

The law -- Idaho Code 36-1510 (d) -- originally was written in 1987 and later amended. It states, "No person shall: ... Harass, intimidate or threaten by any means including, but not limited to, personal or written contact, or via telephone, e-mail or website, any person who is or was engaged in the lawful taking or control of fish or wildlife."

Anyone found guilty of the crime would face a punishment of up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Fish and Game officials want Beck charged with the crime. The investigation was turned over to the Bonneville County Prosecutor's Office.

But Prosecutor Bruce Pickett elected not to charge Beck.

Pickett said that in order to charge someone with interference of lawful fishing, he first would have to prove the civil case against Harkness is frivolous.

"In my mind, the allegation is that (Beck) has harassed (Harkness) by suing him," Pickett said. "In order for him to prove that, we would have to prove it's a frivolous lawsuit. I don't know that it is."

If a judge declares the civil case is frivolous, Pickett said, the prosecution then could re-examine the case if Fish and Game officials brought it back to them.

The decision not to charge Beck came Feb. 28 after Bonneville County Deputy Prosecutor John Dewey met with Fish and Game officials.

"At this point, it doesn't appear there was criminal action," Pickett said.

A Post Register public records request secured a copy of Fish and Game's investigation report, which is dated Feb. 8.

The report describes Beck confronting Harkness. It states that Beck approached Harkness and asked him whether he knew he was trespassing.

Harkness told Beck he was not trespassing, the report said.

In a handwritten, signed witness statement, Harkness wrote, "I waited for any law enforcement to show up (after the confrontation), which never occurred so I left so as to not have any more problems. I was fishing within my rights with a valid 2013 fishing license."

Six days after the confrontation, BRP Inc. -- a company owned by Beck -- filed suit against Harkness for civil trespassing. The lawsuit asks for $50 to be paid for trespassing and $1,000 to be paid in attorney's fees.

Attorneys have agreed the water is legal for sportsmen to use, as long as they don't set foot on Beck's land.

"It's clear that it's public property," Pickett said.

Doug Petersen, regional conservation officer for the Upper Snake Region of Fish and Game, said his officer believed Beck's actions met the definition of interference with hunting, fishing or wildlife control.

The department started its investigation after learning of the lawsuit against Harkness, Petersen said.

The investigation report does not include any statements from Beck, and Fish and Game did not speak with him.

When contacted, Beck declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Harkness also declined to comment on his lawsuit while it is pending.

Petersen said his department plans to leave open the investigation into Beck's actions.

The 2009 lawsuit filed by Beck is nearly identical to the pending case. That lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice by Magistrate Judge L. Mark Riddoch.

Pickett said the statute of limitations on interfering with lawful fishing is one year, so if Fish and Game officials were to re-submit the case after the conclusion of the civil suit, his office could re-evaluate.

"This is in no way a dead issue for Fish and Game," Petersen said.

Pickett said he's never prosecuted anyone for interference with hunting, fishing or wildlife control.

Petersen said such charges are rare, but he has heard of a few cases in Idaho.

"It's unfortunate (Beck) is doing this to law-abiding sportsmen," Petersen said. "It is a public waterway."

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