New Mexico Hunters and Anglers Celebrate Access Win

News for Immediate Release
Nov. 22, 2019
Contact: Katie McKalip, 406-240-9262,
[email protected]

State game commission overturns unpopular rule
limiting public access to streams and waterways

ALBUQUERQUE – Sportsmen and women are commending a decision yesterday by the New Mexico Game Commission to support public access to the state’s streams and waterways.

The commission’s action on Thursday addresses a rule dating from 2017 that allows landowners to petition the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to have previously navigable streams bordering private property certified “non-navigable” and therefore closed to public access without the landowner’s consent. Following outspoken advocacy by a range of stakeholders, including hunters and anglers, the commissioners, with guidance from the State Attorney General Hector Balderas, agreed to amend or repeal the highly unpopular rule with final action expected in 2020. A majority of the commissioners made it clear Thursday that the rule passed by previous game commission is unenforceable in light of the AG’s finding. The commission’s decision follows a 90-day moratorium it issued in July on actions around the rule.

Since statehood in 1912, New Mexico sportsmen and women have had the constitutional right to fish, boat or otherwise recreate in any stream so long as they did not trespass across private land to get there. But past game commissions have ignored that right, even after the state attorney general in 2014 issued an opinion that all streams were public domain for recreational purposes. In late 2017, the commission adopted the rule that permitted declaring “navigable” waters as “non-navigable,” therefore allowing the adjacent landowner to prohibit public access to the stream. The first round of applications was approved in 2018.

The New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and other conservation groups applauded the commission’s decision.

“This week our state game commission took an unprecedented step on behalf of New Mexico hunters, anglers and other public land users by starting to roll back stream access regulations that our attorney general deemed unconstitutional,” said New Mexico BHA Chair Joel Gay, who lives in Albuquerque. “This represents a tremendous victory in reestablishing the public’s right to access public waters, an ongoing battle across the West.

“New Mexico hunters and anglers should thank Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for appointing a forward-looking commission that’s dedicated to transparency and upholding public land rights and our state constitution,” Gay continued. “This was a joint effort between the New Mexico Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and other sportsmen’s groups, thousands of sportsmen and women who made their voices heard, and a variety of industry partners who support our growing outdoor recreation economy. We thank the commissioners for recognizing the previous regulation was flawed and taking action to restore public access to New Mexico streams.”

“The American Fly Fishing Trade Association applauds the New Mexico Game Commission for its decision to reconsider the rule restricting stream access in the state,” said AFFTA President Ben Bulis. “It is important not only to sportsmen and women but also to an industry that relies on access to clean and healthy waters.”

New Mexico Game Commissioner Jeremy Vesbach stressed the importance of balancing public access with respect for property rights.

“As we move forward to honor the access rights of people fishing or boating,” stated Vesbach, “it’s also extremely important for us to work with all sides and find those areas of common agreement like habitat improvement work and enforcement to protect private property rights.”

“The commission’s decision to revisit the unfavorable stream access rule is a huge win for outdoor recreationists in the Land of Enchantment,” concluded Rob Parkins, BHA public waters access coordinator. “All too often the constitutional rights of sportsmen and women are ignored in favor of special interests. The support from the attorney general, commission, governor and the entire New Mexico congressional delegation proves that our voices are heard – and that together we can restore and increase our access to public waterways.”

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the voice
for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.

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