Struggle for access to stream shakes New Mexico commission again

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has fired another member of a state panel that oversees wildlife conservation and hunting and fishing regulations as he a dispute arises over public access to streams and rivers that cross private property.

Jeremy Vesbach was among members of the State Gambling Commission who voted last year to deny several landowners permits that would have restricted access to waterways that crossed their property. He said in an interview that he believed his impeachment just one year into his tenure was rooted in the fight against flows.

Vesbach noted that U.S. Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and others have spoken out openly against limiting access to what they say is public waters.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for re-election, has been careful to publicly respect the issue. Some critics say this is due to contributions to political campaigns by wealthy landowners.

“New Mexicans hate when money just dictates what happens,” Vesbach said. “It’s in court, but there are more decisions to be made and she can always step in on the right side of that and I hope she will.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions sent on Wednesday about Vesbach’s sacking and the governor’s position on the issue.

Her administration said in 2020 that it believed there was a way to strike a balance “that ensures both athletic and women’s access while protecting private property rights.”

There was another board reshuffle in 2019 when Lujan Grisham ousted then board chair Joanna Prukop. She had clashed with the governor when she and other commissioners voted to reconsider a contested rule limiting access to the creek.

The New Mexico Supreme Court is expected to consider in March a petition by a coalition of anglers, rafters and conservationists who argue that the public has the constitutional right to fish, boating or fishing. ” use any watercourse for recreational purposes as long as it has not entered private areas of land to get there.

Following the committee’s vote in August against restricting access, an attorney for the owners said his clients’ rights were being violated.

Private property rights advocates have warned that if the waterways were opened, property values ​​would decrease and owners would be less interested in investing in conserving tracts of land along the waterways. Some outfitters and fishing guides have said their businesses will be affected.

Aside from the issue of access to the creek, Vesbach said the state Department of Hunting and Fishing is facing a staffing crisis and its conservation officers and biologists need to be paid more for s ‘make sure they do not leave for other jobs. He noted that the officer shortage comes at a time of increasing needs as more people venture onto New Mexico’s public lands.

A recent report to the Game Commission showed the department was short of 22 field officers.

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