New Mexicans Travel to D.C. to Advocate for Protections for the Gila River
Small business owners, Tribal Leaders, land owners, and others urge Senators Heinrich and Luján and Representative Vasquez to reintroduce Wild Gila River bill
WASHINGTON (March 7, 2023) – A delegation of local elected officials, Tribal leaders, sportsmen, small business owners, and community leaders are in Washington, D.C. this week to ask Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and Representative Gabe Vasquez to reintroduce the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act, which would protect the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries as Wild and Scenic.
The community-driven proposal would secure the future of segments of the Gila River located primarily in the Gila Wilderness – America’s first Wilderness – by designating nearly 450 miles of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers as Wild and Scenic under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, ensuring traditional and current use of the waterways, while protecting critical wildlife habitat and growing New Mexico’s sustainable outdoor recreation economy.
“Reintroducing the M.H. Dutch Salmon Wild and Scenic River legislation is a vital step forward in safeguarding our way of life here in Grant County,” said Grant County Commissioner Alicia Edwards. “Protecting the world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and reminding all of us that preserving wild places for future generations is a worthy endeavor.”
The bill has been introduced three times and passed out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, but the local community has been advocating for the protection of these waterways for nearly a decade. When first introduced, Senator Martin Heinrich and former Senator Tom Udall and their staff hosted numerous roundtable discussions, negotiated with landowners and public land users to ensure their interests were taken into account, conducted a lengthy and comprehensive public comment period, and incorporated the ideas and hopes of the community into the legislation.
Jon Harned from Mimbres added, “I am flying to our nation’s capital to show my support for protecting the wild Gila River for future generations. I hope Senators Heinrich and Luján and Representative Vasquez reintroduce a bill soon to preserve this amazing, free-flowing river.”
Grazing operations would continue on lands surrounding the segments designated as Wild and Scenic. Additionally, development on roads to private land would not be impacted. Hunting and fishing access would not only be ensured, but the designation would safeguard critical habitat needed to sustain land and water wildlife populations.
“We believe it is vitally important that we protect these critical watersheds and rivers that have been very meaningful to our people for centuries,” said Fort Sill Apache Chairwoman Lori Gooday Ware. “Designating these rivers as Wild and Scenic will protect them for future generations and allow those who come after us to reconnect to those who came before us.”
Designating the rivers and tributaries as Wild and Scenic will contribute to durable and diversified local, rural economies that depend upon time-tested traditions like grazing, ranching, hunting, and fishing. It will also enhance those economies through increased outdoor recreation activities like rafting and paddling, horseback riding, wildlife watching, and hiking and camping. Outdoor recreation is big business in New Mexico: Every year it generates nearly $10 billion in consumer spending, roughly $3 billion in wages and salaries, $623 million in state and local tax revenues, and directly employs 99,000 people.