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We Need your Help to Protect Paddlers’ Access to New Mexico Rivers and Streams

Posted: 07/07/2020
by Kestrel Kunz

The New Mexico constitution gives us legal right to paddle all New Mexico rivers and streams. The Constitution states "[t]he unappropriated water of every natural stream, perennial or torrential, within the State of New Mexico, is hereby declared to belong to the public…"

The State Game Commission acted far beyond its authority when it promulgated a Rule in 2017 authorizing state-sanctioned closure of public access to "non-navigable public water." Rivers once promoted by the New Mexico State Parks Division in their publication "New Mexico Whitewater - A Guide to River Trips" are now being blocked by private landowners with barricades, cables and No Trespassing signs. This includes upper Chama and Pecos river segments. Privatizers have filed additional applications that would close several other river segments in New Mexico, and their lawyers are threatening an "immense wave" of constitutional "litigation" in the event that "any action by the Court, the Legislature, the Department, or the Commission… restrict[s] landowners' rights to prevent the public from using their streambeds underlying public waters." A recent HuffPost article authored by Cassidy Randall tells the full story very well. 

American Whitewater has been working with our local partners in New Mexico to ensure that this new Rule is rescinded. In April 2020, American Whitewater Affiliate Club and partner, the Adobe Whitewater Club, joined New Mexico Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to petition the New Mexico Supreme Court to uphold the constitutional rights of the people to access our public waters, even where they cross private lands. If upheld, the petition will restore equal access to the outdoors and benefit local communities, traditional land users and help to preserve the rich and diverse culture that defines New Mexico.

We are optimistic, but expect a prolonged battle to protect public access to our rivers and streams. Once this constitutional right is upheld, we intend to work toward the removal of dangerous barricades and obstacles on these rivers.

We need your support to win this battle. If you're in a position to contribute, doing so will help us with legal expenses for our partners and outreach. Donations can be made here or by check payable to American Whitewater, P.O. Box 1540, Cullowhee, NC 28723. Please include "NM River Access" in the comment section of the online form or as a note on your check.  

Now more than ever we need to continue our policy and practice of being good stewards of the rivers we traverse. Please leave no trace, help us spread the word, and clean up after others. 

Kestrel Kunz