The decision affirms the public’s right to enter and wade in the beds of rivers and streams that cross private lands in New Mexico.
From Backcountry Hunters & Anglers:
SANTA FE, NM – The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled again in support of public access to public waters in a decision Thursday that affirms the public’s right to wade or wade in streambeds crossing private lands private.
The court’s opinion decision follows its unanimous decision in March to strike down a regulation that allowed landowners to close off access to streams that flow through their properties. The New Mexico Chapter of Hunters & Anglers Backcountry, along with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and the Adobe Whitewater Club of New Mexico, filed a lawsuit in 2020 asking the court to strike down the regulation as unconstitutional. This decision overturned the so-called Non-Navigability Rule and also reversed previously approved closures in some New Mexico streams.
Today, these groups celebrated the court’s latest decision as a reaffirmation of a longstanding public right in New Mexico.
“The New Mexico Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is pleased to see the final opinion on stream access in our state,” said Joel Gay, New Mexico BHA policy advisor and past president, “but it should come as no surprise to . or fishermen or landowners. In 1945, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued much the same opinion – that all waters in our state are owned by the public and may be used for fishing, boating and other recreation provided the public does not trespass on private property to enter or exit the stream.
“New Mexicans have always had this right of access,” continued Gay, who lives in Albuquerque. “It’s a shame that for decades the riverside landowners and the NMDGF said otherwise. We thank the Supreme Court for reminding everyone of this fact.”
“New Mexico’s rivers are unmatched nationwide,” said Hattie Johnson, Southern Rockies director of stewardship for American Whitewater. “The state constitution and legal precedent have always provided access to rivers and streams for recreation and fishing since the state. The Supreme Court’s decision today explicitly protects those long-standing rights that ensure a thriving, growing and inclusive outdoor recreation community. We are so proud of our affiliate club, Adobe Whitewater, and the other applicants in this case. These dedicated paddlers, fishermen and outdoorsmen have fought tirelessly to protect the inherent rights of New Mexicans.”
“Going forward, we must evaluate existing statutes, rules and policies to see what is applicable and where new ones may be needed to create a workable system that protects public and private rights,” said John Crenshaw, president of board of New Mexico. Wildlife Federation. “NMWF looks forward to engaging in that conversation with stakeholders across the spectrum of the issue and is grateful to the NM Supreme Court for the clarity of its decision.”
Review a New Mexico public water access timeline.
New Mexico’s constitution, which is based in part on Spanish and Mexican law stemming from the state’s colonial era and differs from other state constitutions, declares that all waters belong to the public. The state Supreme Court established this right of access more than 70 years ago.
BHA President and CEO Land Tawney hailed the court’s decision as a victory for New Mexico — and a victory for public access.
“This is a great day for New Mexicans from all walks of life,” Tawney said. “This decision confirms that we the people own and have the right to access our public waters. A big and heartfelt thank you goes out to those individuals who stepped up. Your courage and resilience give hope to others who are facing similar challenges in other states. Let’s go fishing!”