August 7, 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Farmington, NM – Today, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office appeared before the Interim Committee for Water and Natural Resources and confirmed that it is actively investigating allegations that several landowners continue to block access to rivers and streams in defiance of state law. The Office also notified members of the committee that it is prepared to take formal action to guarantee that all New Mexicans can access public waters for fishing and recreation.
“The New Mexico Supreme Court recently affirmed the constitutional right of every citizen to access public waters for recreational purposes and put private landowners on notice that they are not entitled to exclude others from those waters by fencing off New Mexico’s rivers and streams,” said Attorney General Raúl Torrez. “These waters belong to the people of this state and we stand ready to use every available tool to ensure public access to these natural resources.”
In 2022, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Article XVI, Section 2 of the state constitution guarantees a public easement for anglers and others who wish to enjoy public waters passing over private land. While the Court reaffirmed the prohibition against crossing private land to access a river or stream, it also held that the public could walk or wade on the stream bed for recreational purposes. In reaching this conclusion the Court also invalidated permits that the New Mexico Game Commission had issued to private landowners in violation of the state constitution.
Despite this ruling, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has received complaints from anglers and outside advocacy groups that landowners continue to block access to publicly owned rivers and streams. Photographic evidence also appears to show that some of the fences consist of barbed wire at or below the water line, constituting a clear public safety hazard for anglers and others accessing public waters.
The Office intends to conclude its investigation within the next several weeks and will give landowners the opportunity to voluntarily remove or modify the barriers to allow for public access, before any formal action is taken.