- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A guild of New Mexico recreation businesses on Friday hit back at Montana Gov. Steve Bullock for an opinion piece he submitted to the Albuquerque Journal that condemned a state law and encouraged New Mexicans to move to Montana.

In a rebuttal from the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides also published in the Journal, Executive Director Kerrie Romero defended a water law the New Mexico Legislature passed in April.

“To many people in Montana, it may seem odd that the guided fishing industry in New Mexico would be such a staunch advocate for needing landowner permission to access waters on private land, but, again, New Mexico is not Montana,” Romero wrote.

The law requires hunters, trappers, fishers, campers, boaters and tourists to receive written permission to walk or wade into public water via private property. It was a departmental rule for more than 30 years before a lawsuit required the legislature to take up the issue. It passed the New Mexico Senate 32-7 and scraped by in the House on a vote of 32-31.

Bullock denounced the state’s decision in his Aug. 12 opinion and said the law confused anglers in New Mexico. He trumpeted Montana’s constitutional guarantee that all streams and rivers are open to the public for recreation without question, even when they flow through private land.

“Please consider this an invitation to come visit or move your business here,” Bullock wrote.

Romero was taken aback by that statement and said the organization’s members, representing about three-quarters of outfitters in New Mexico, were irritated.

Bullock spokesman Mike Wessler said in a statement Friday that the governor saw New Mexico’s new law as an opportunity to tout Montana’s stream access “to anglers who were looking for other areas that are more friendly to anglers.” He added, “The more sportsmen and women who discover Montana and bring their families here to hunt, fish, camp, and support Main Street Montana businesses, the better,” Wessler said.

Romero said New Mexico is aching for water resources while Montana is not, and Bullock shouldn’t compare the two states’ water laws. It doesn’t make sense to provide public access to dry ditches on private property just because they are technically considered a waterway, she said.

“Allowing unfettered access to 10 percent of New Mexico’s waterways when 70 percent is already accessible to the public would not be beneficial to the resource,” Romero wrote.

It was the second out-of-state op-ed Bullock has submitted since taking office, Wessler said. The first urged Florida to support a measure to expand Medicaid coverage. It ran in The Miami Herald in June with the headline “If Montana can expand healthcare, Florida can, too.”

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