New Mexico Supreme Court rules in favor of public access to public waters

Decision upholds the public’s right to walk or ford creek beds that cross privately owned land

SANTA FE, NM – The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled again in favor of public access to public waters in a decision Thursday upholding the public’s right to walk or wade through creek beds that cross privately owned land.

The court’s opinion ruling follows its unanimous decision in March to strike down a regulation that allowed property owners to close access to creeks that flow through their properties. The New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, 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. That decision nullified the so-called No Navigability Rule and also nullified previously adopted closures on several New Mexico streams.

Today these groups celebrated the court’s latest ruling as a reaffirmation of a long-standing public right in New Mexico.

“The New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is pleased to see the final take on stream access in our state,” said Joel Gay, New Mexico BHA policy advisor and former president, “but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. for neither of them. fishermen or landowners. In 1945, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued much the same opinion: that all of our state’s waters are public property and may be used for fishing, boating, and other recreational activities, so long as the public does not trespass on private property to enter or get out of the water stream.

“New Mexicans have always had this right of access,” continued Gay, who lives in Albuquerque. “It is a shame that for decades the riverside landowners and the NMDGF have said otherwise. Our thanks to the Supreme Court for reminding everyone of that fact.”

“New Mexico’s rivers are unparalleled across the country,” said Hattie Johnson, director of Southern Rocky Mountain management for American Whitewater. “The state constitution and legal precedent have always provided access to rivers and streams for recreation and fishing since statehood. Today’s Supreme Court decision explicitly protects the long-standing rights provided by a thriving, growing and inclusive outdoor recreation community. We are very proud of our affiliated club, Adobe Whitewater, and the other petitioners in the case. These dedicated rowers, fishermen, and outdoorsmen have fought tirelessly to protect the inherent rights of New Mexicans.”

“Going forward, we need to assess existing statutes, rules and policies to see what applies and where new ones may be needed to create a workable system that protects public and private rights,” said John Crenshaw, chairman of the New York City board. MexicoWildlife. Federation. “The NMWF looks forward to engaging in that conversation with stakeholders across the spectrum of the issue and thanks the NM Supreme Court for the clarity of its decision.”

Review a timeline of access to New Mexico’s public waters.

The New Mexico Constitution, which is based in part on Spanish and Mexican laws derived from the state’s colonial era and differs from other state constitutions, declares that all waters belong to the public. The state Supreme Court detailed that right of access more than 70 years ago.

BHA President and CEO Land Tawney heralded the court’s ruling 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,” said Tawney. “This decision solidifies that we, the people, are owners and have the right to access our public waters. A big and sincere thank you to those people who stepped forward. Your courage and steadfastness give hope to others facing similar challenges in other states. Let’s go fishing!”

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for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.

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