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NM House votes 32-31 to approve stream access bill

A measure aimed at allowing New Mexico landowners to restrict anglers’ access to streams that run through their property cleared the House by the narrowest of margins tonight.

The House voted 32-31 in favor of the legislation, Senate Bill 226, sending it to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk for final consideration.

The legislation was prompted by a 2014 opinion by then-Attorney General King that said New Mexico law does not expressly prohibit fishermen from wading and fishing in all streams, as long as they don’t trespass on adjacent public lands.

Critics of the bill said during tonight’s debate it would restrict public access and could turn quality fishing waters into commodities.

“Basically, this bill privatizes access to public streams,” said Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Espanola.

But backers of the measure said it would merely put into law current regulations of the Department of Game and Fish that require people to get owners’ permission to wade or walk on private property. The bill is supported by a coalition of ranchers, farmers, lodge owners and fishing guides.

“We are not trying to deny access to public waters,” said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell.

River access laws vary by state, with some states — like Montana — allowing the public to use all rivers and streams for recreational purposes up to the normal high-water mark.

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