A wild Gila River, for the present and the future

By Guadalupe Cano, Silver City Town Councilor, District 4
May 1, 2019 | Desert Exposure

Silver City and other communities in Grant County are defined by the people who reside in them. Our diverse populations value the traditions of those who came before us while always keeping an eye pointed to the future. Our shared commitment to honoring our roots, combined with our drive to grow and improve, is what makes the people of this region so special.

A piece of federal legislation is being considered that would capture this balance beautifully. Wild and Scenic designations create permanent protections for free-flowing rivers that exceed a carefully-defined threshold of remarkable qualities. Our Congressional leaders are being encouraged by a growing number of members of our community to move forward with legislation that would add certain segments of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers to the nation’s Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

As southern New Mexico’s only remaining free-flowing river – parts of which flow through the world’s first protected wilderness area – the Gila certainly qualifies for inclusion in this federal conservation program. The proposed Wild and Scenic designations would preserve the traditional uses of the Gila River that Grant County residents treasure, including fishing, hunting, hiking, picnicking, camping, and rafting, just to name a few. These are the activities that bring people in our communities together and draw us back home whenever we are away.

At the same time, Wild and Scenic designations would be aligned with the vision of our residents. The protected segments would remain accessible to recreationists and New Mexico’s families for all generations that will come after us. As a municipal elected official, it is of the highest concern that I think about what is currently happening in my communities, while thinking ahead about how my decisions will impact our next generations. This is where Wild and Scenic legislation strikes a perfect balance for our community. It will allow us to preserve our traditions while preparing us for the future simultaneously.

People in Silver City are constantly sharing with me their favorite stories about their trips through the Gila Wilderness and their experiences on the river. Some of my own most beloved childhood memories are of spending time on the river, fly-fishing with my late father. Many of my constituents own businesses that specifically cater to those who visit our community to engage in outdoor activities on the river and are dependent on the river enduring into the future so they can continue to make a good living.

As our community continues the discussion on the importance of outdoor economics, one thing is very clear. We must do all that we can to preserve the incredible resource that has drawn so many of us to this part of the country in the first place.  As other areas are continuously being developed, the conversation is often centered around what we can do to make sure that the Gila River and the forest in general are protected. We now have an opportunity to speak out as a community and support the passing of this federal legislation. Doing so will remind the nation how important and valued our natural resources are to all of us.

The thought of permanently protecting the river and its tributaries has been embraced with open arms by the vast majority of the people who call this region home. In a time when there are so many things that divide us, it is the Gila River that brings us together time and again.

That is why I am urging our leaders in Congress to act now and introduce Wild and Scenic legislation. This action is crucial for the people who live in Grant County, and for the thousands of people who choose to visit our communities every year.   Our actions today are not just for us. They are also for the generations to come that will cherish their time on the river as much as we do today. We have a responsibility to help preserve the river for all those who will come after us.

Most importantly, we have a responsibility to the river itself.

Guadalupe Cano is a Silver City Town Councilor. This guest column originally appeared in Desert Exposure on May 1, 2019.