NM Game Commission Rejects 5 Non-Navigable Stream Certifications

The State Game Commission stood up for everyday New Mexico anglers, boaters and others today and rejected attempts to shut down public access to five stretches of New Mexico streams.

Meeting Thursday in Santa Fe, the commission voted overwhelmingly to reject landowner efforts to permanently close portions of the Chama, Pecos and several smaller streams in southeast New Mexico to the public. NM BHA Chairman Charles Tripp hailed the votes, saying, “The Game Commission showed real backbone today, standing up to those who want to keep the public out of waters that belong to all of us. We owe them our thanks!”

The votes today are not the final word on public stream access, however. The New Mexico Supreme Court still has not issued a decision on whether the regulations limiting stream access are constitutional. It is unclear when they will issue an opinion.

Vice-chairman Jeremy Vesbach led the effort to reject each application for a “non-navigability certificate” as they came up one by one. On each, he moved to reject the application on three grounds: prohibiting public stream access violates the state Constitution; the applicant failed to prove that the stream in question was non-navigable at statehood; and that landowners who put barriers such as barbed or concertina wire across streams threaten real harm to the public.

When it came to vote, Vesbach was joined by all three members in attendance – Roberta Salazar Henry, Tirzio Lopez and Jimmy Bates. Chairwoman Sharon Salazar Hickey voted each time to abstain.

The landowners whose applications were voted down could appeal to state District Court. The issue could be moot if the state Supreme Court rules on the lawsuit filed in March 2020 by NM BHA, New Mexico Wildlife Federation and Adobe Whitewater Club, which argued that the regulations to prohibit public access to New Mexico streams are unconstitutional. There is no indication yet when that decision might come.

Click here for more information on the history of this issue. 

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