The New Mexico panel takes up the issue of stream entry

by: SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press

Posted: 06/18/2021 / 8:19 AM MDTUpdated: 6/18/2021 / 1:02 PM MDT

Boaters navigate the shallow Rio Grande that flows through Rio Rancho, New Mexico, on Monday, August 31, 2020. New Mexico and other southwestern states are grappling with arid conditions and warmer temperatures this summer. (AP Photo / Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – The debate over whether the public has the right to fish or swim in streams and other waterways that flow through private property has permeated many western states for decades and reached New Mexico a boiling point.

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The state wildlife commission, which oversees the New Mexico wildlife management agency and sets hunting and fishing rules for the state, was due on Friday to take in requests from landowners trying to prevent the public from entering their streams without permission by certifying the waterways as not navigable.

It is at the Commission’s discretion whether to accept or reject the requests or take other measures to resolve the requests. US Senator Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, is one of those who argue that public access should not be restricted whether or not a creek is classified as navigable. Many waterways in New Mexico and elsewhere in the Southwest are intermittent and depend on snow or storm discharge.

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It was also asked whether the Commission Chairperson has a conflict of interest in the case. Some critics say she should hold back from voting on the applications because of a family connection with a law firm representing the landowners.

Proponents of private property rights argue that the value of real estate will decline and private owners will have less interest in investing in preserving tracts of land along rivers when access opens in New Mexico. Some outfitters and guides say their business would also be affected.

The New Mexico Supreme Court was asked by a coalition of athletes and conservationists to comment on the dispute. Your petition is still pending. The laws governing public access vary widely in the West. In Montana, courts over the years have expanded the public’s right to use steamers that traverse private land. But access is prohibited in Colorado without landowner permission.

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