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Access Denied: New Mexico Gives Public-Water Wading Fisherman the Boot

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Access Denied: New Mexico Gives Public-Water Wading Fisherman the Boot

“Passing laws to remove rights is the essence of anti-democracy,” he said. “You may or may not care about stream access. But you have to care about the precedent of the statehouse removing your rights. If we don’t stand up together, we’re going to lose our incredible heritage in a single generation.”

In case you missed it, in April 2014 outgoing New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued an official opinion that “…a private landowner cannot prevent persons from fishing in a public stream that flows across the landowner’s property…”.

He cited as evidence a 1945 Supreme Court case, State Game Commission v. Red River Valley Company, in which the high court decided, “The small streams of the state are fishing streams to which the public have a right to resort so long as they do not trespass on the private property along the banks.”

Repeated attempts to overturn the ruling, noted Attorney General King, had all failed. In fact, the justices later added emphasis; “The sovereign power itself, therefore, cannot, consistently with the principles of the law of nature and the constitution of a well ordered society, make a true and absolute grant of the waters of the State divesting all the citizens of a common right. It would be a grievance, which never could be long borne by a free people.”

Rank-and-file anglers celebrated the AG’s opinion statewide. For generations they’d been excluded from touching bottom anywhere a river crosses private property. They assumed that such an unequivocal stance by the state’s highest court ensured the restoration of their wading rights.

But the New Mexico Game Commission–a seven-member committee of gubernatorial appointees–responded with conspicuous silence and continued enforcement of the unconstitutional status quo.

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