ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court is scheduled Tuesday to hear arguments in a case over whether the public has a right to fish or float on streams and other waterways that flow through private property.

While the debate over stream access has been ongoing across the West for years, the New Mexico court could provide more clarity once it rules on a pending petition filed by a coalition of anglers, rafters and conservationists.

The group contends the public has the constitutional right to fish, boat or use any stream for recreation so long as they do not trespass across private land to get there. In a court filing, the group points to similar conclusions reached over the years by courts in Montana, Oregon and Utah.


Story continues below:


The New Mexico Game Commission, which oversees wildlife conservation and hunting and fishing regulations, voted last August against several landowners who sought to restrict access to streams and rivers crossing their property. An attorney for the property owners said after the decision that his clients’ rights were being violated.

Advocates of private property rights have warned that if waterways are opened up, property values will decline and there will be less interest by owners to invest in conserving tracts of land along streams. Some fishing outfitters and guides have said their businesses will be adversely affected.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and others have been outspoken against limiting access to what they say are public waters.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection, has been careful to walk the line on the stream access issue. Some critics say that’s because of political campaign contributions by wealthy landowners.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, has said the statute that led to the fight predates Lujan Grisham’s administration and that it will be up to the court to decide its fate.