March 1 | Silver City Daily Press
I have been proud to support a community-driven effort to permanently protect our beloved Gila River through federal legislation for the past few years, along with my fellow county commissioners, Harry Browne, Alicia Edwards and Javier Salas.
The M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act would designate just under 450 miles of the Gila and San Francisco rivers as Wild and Scenic — the nation’s highest form of protection for rivers. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System gives Congress the ability to protect the nation’s most “outstandingly remarkable” rivers in their free-flowing condition. Now-retired Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich first introduced this bill in May of last year. It’s great to hear that New Mexico’s newest U.S. senator, Ben Ray Luján, intends to join Sen. Heinrich in reintroducing the legislation during this Congress.
The legislation is backed by a majority of Grant County residents, including private property owners, small businesses, faith leaders, tribes, local governments, outdoor enthusiasts and many others. This effort has been a great example of a diverse collection of community members coming together to advocate for the common good. When Commissioner Edwards asked how many of the approximately 100 community members attending a September 2019 commission meeting had shown up to support our resolution backing the federal legislation, nearly every person in the room raised their hand.
It is my hope that Sens. Heinrich and Luján will continue doing everything they can to push the Wild and Scenic bill across the finish line. We know that outdoor recreation is a powerful economic driver in New Mexico, particularly in communities like Silver City that are gateways to places like the Gila Wilderness and the Gila River. Ensuring that the Gila region remains a popular tourist destination is especially critical given how much our small businesses have been struggling during this pandemic.
The public health crisis has also reminded us how important the outdoors is for our mental health and physical well-being. Given that many of our favorite activities have been put on hold for safety reasons, visiting the Gila and San Francisco rivers to hunt, fish, hike and engage in other traditional uses has been a welcome distraction for many in our communities who are struggling right now.
There are so many good reasons to designate the Gila and San Francisco rivers as Wild and Scenic, and that’s why so many Grant County residents are united in this effort. I thank Sens. Heinrich and Luján for their continued leadership on this issue, and look forward to the day when their hard work is rewarded with a new Wild and Scenic Gila River for Grant County residents and all New Mexicans to enjoy.
(s)Chris Ponce, Grant County Commission chairman Silver City
This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Silver City Daily Press.