-- Last Updated: Apr-23-13 3:22 PM EST --
I would favor private citizens being allowed to remove any obstruction to navigation by cutting the parts in the waterway, whether its roots were still on private property or not, but I don't see not being able to as such a big deal. Just quickly portage around it (which you would have the right to do in this situation, so what if an ill-informed landowner calls the cops, youll be long gone by then and would prevail in court anyway), it'll be quicker than cutting through it, then report it to the local fish and wildlife service or local river authority or flood control district. They are going to have an interest in removing any potential logjams that could lead to flooding, and they have the authority to remove it.
If it is on a public water body that you use regularly, and for some reason the local authority never gets around to removing it, send the landowner a polite and friendly (but certified) letter telling him that you want to inform him of the tree that is blocking the publicly navigable waterway running through his land. Ask him nicely if he could please remove it. Your tone should be as though you assume he had no idea the tree had fallen, and you're sure had he known he would have already removed it. Offer to help him out, maybe even to split the costs of a tree removal service with him. If he doesn't comply send him two or three more certified letters first stressing the flood risk the tree poses to him, the safety risk it poses to water users, how it necessitates walking on his land which is your legal right in this case but something you would rather not do if you could help it, and then later stressing his duty to remove the tree. Once you have this paper trail indicating he is aware of the obstruction to navigation but has refused to do anything about it, file a purpresture complaint with the proper authorities.
For help in figuring out who the landowner is, using topo maps and county property maps together are very useful, and then using the county appraisal district website to get contact information.
I don't think this is a matter of "gray areas" in the laws, but merely having the patience to avail yourself of the law by following the proper procedures.
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