Gila River makes communities whole

By Chon Fierro, Mayor of Bayard, New Mexico
May 15, 2019 | Silver City Daily Press

Bayard, like its neighboring communities, is fundamentally linked to the headwaters of the Gila River, which originate in the nation’s first designated wilderness area. For centuries, the river has helped sustain the people living in the region, and today it provides countless families with both sustenance and opportunities to spend time together while hunting, fishing, or just enjoying nature.

We are doing what we can at the local level to ensure the Gila continues to provide for our community for generations to come. In January, the city of Bayard unanimously passed a resolution affirming our community’s support of federal legislation to protect portions of the Gila River, the San Francisco River, and their tributaries through Wild and Scenic River designation.

A Wild and Scenic River designation would provide these rivers with the highest level of protection and ensure that future residents of Bayard and other communities in the region can continue to experience our traditional uses and values such as hunting, fishing, floating, camping, and exploring the river.

These protections would also conserve and enhance an already strong outdoor economy in the region. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation accounts for over $9 billion in consumer spending and directly employs nearly 100,000 New Mexicans.

Local businesses in Bayard and the surrounding area are included in these statistics, and would directly benefit from the increased tourism a Wild and Scenic River designation would spur. It is well known that healthy public lands with quality fishing, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and other forms of recreation are major factors in attracting visitors, new businesses, families, jobs, and retirees to Grant and Catron counties. Passing legislation that would ensure that these activities will continue is a smart investment.

Just think — the last free-flowing river in New Mexico permanently protected for the sake of recreation, biodiversity, and traditional uses. This is something that we owe our children and grandchildren.

By unanimously passing a resolution in support of a Wild and Scenic River designation for the Gila River, the city of Bayard has demonstrated a commitment to permanently protect the river. The residents of Bayard recognize that the Gila River and its headwaters have outstanding cultural and natural value and we want the chance to pass the traditional uses of the river down to future generations.

We now call on our leaders in Congress to take it a step further by introducing legislation that would establish Wild and Scenic River designation for the Gila River, San Francisco River, and their main tributaries.

Now is the time to protect these rivers and to preserve our traditional uses and values for residents and future generations to come.

Chon Fierro is the mayor of Bayard.

This guest column originally appeared in the Silver City Daily Press.