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National Rivers Month hearing should lead to Wild and Scenic protection for our Gila River

By Alicia Edwards, Guest Contributor | Silver City Daily Press
July 1, 2022

Last month, in the heart of National Rivers Month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act, S. 3129.

As someone with a travel bug, I have visited many of our nation’s beautiful public lands during my travels to all 50 states, as well as public lands on five continents. And I have learned that there is no place on this planet that has made the kind of commitment that the United States has to preserve and protect public lands. Places like our extraordinary Lower San Francisco River Canyon, Sapillo Creek, Whitewater Creek and the Catwalk National Recreational Trail contain some of the most outstandingly remarkable scenery, geology, wildlife and cultural resources I have ever seen. Simply put, the Gila River watershed is truly one of the most ecologically unique systems in the entire United States, and all of these river segments would be permanently protected if S. 3129 were passed out of Congress and signed into law.

This legislation was first introduced by Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich in May 2020, after rigorous public outreach in the surrounding communities starting years before. Subsequently, Sen. Heinrich and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan reintroduced this legislation this past November.

The Gila River and its watershed, including the San Francisco River, originate in America’s fi rst wilderness area — the Gila Wilderness. These rivers, the wilderness and its numerous streams and creeks are national treasures that we are fortunate to have the opportunity to share with others. This bill seeks to permanently protect just a fraction of the most outstanding rivers in the great state of New Mexico as Wild and Scenic rivers. Importantly, it will ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy this incredible natural gift far into the foreseeable future.

In the American West, one of the ways we measure our wealth is in water, so while southwest New Mexico may not be dominated by wealth in a monetary sense, we are the heirs of an incredible fortune by way of this free-flowing gem. It is our inheritance and our legacy, and we carry the honor and the burden of protecting the river and its traditional uses.

For New Mexicans, these rivers are where we connect with family and friends, where we escape the summer heat in the cool, clear water and where we raise our families. Preserving our ability to hunt and fish, swim and paddle, ranch and farm, and hike and horseback ride is vital for our way of life.

Additionally, the tourism industry in New Mexico is the second largest industry in our state. In 2019, visitors to New Mexico spent $7.4 billion, which in turn generated more than 96,000 jobs. Towns like Silver City, the first gateway community to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, rely on protected lands and rivers to draw visitors and to support and grow local businesses. Research shows that additional safeguards such as Wild and Scenic river designations increase media and traveler attention, which in turn promotes a region as a desirable travel destination. As a Grant County commissioner, I represent a broad and diverse constituency that firmly believes protecting our free-flowing rivers is not just an important ideal, but a civic responsibility and imperative to maintaining and enhancing our quality of life. This includes the Grant County Commission, Silver City and other local municipalities; the All-Pueblo Council of Governors — which represents all 20 pueblos in New Mexico and the Fort Sill Apache Tribe; numerous sportsmen and women organizations; small business owners; veterans groups; faith leaders and congregations; and civic groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens.

For so many reasons, not the least of which is that we have experienced an unprecedented wildfire season brought on by a rapidly warming climate, I encourage Congress to follow Sen. Heinrich’s and Sen. Lujan’s lead and pass this locally crafted and supported bill.

Alicia Edwards is a Grant County commissioner representing District 3, and serves as chair of the Gila Regional Medical Center Governing Board. She lives in Silver City.

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

Most Recent News
National Rivers Month hearing should lead to Wild and Scenic protection for our Gila River – Alicia Edwards, Silver City Daily Press | July 1, 2022
Protecting the Gila River is the Right Thing to Do – Lori Gooday Ware, Sante Fe New Mexican | January 16, 2022
Support Grows For Wild & Scenic Designation To Protect Gila River – Senator Martin Heinrich, Silver City Daily Press | October 13, 2021
River confab aims to ‘reengage’ community – Silver City Daily Press | October 12, 2021
Gila River remains a wild and free powerful resource – Kat Jacaruso, Las Cruces Sun-News | September 19, 2021
Group pitches deal on Gila Wild and Scenic segments – Silver City Daily Press | April 12, 2021
Let’s push for Wild and Scenic Gila – Grant County Commission Chairman Chris Ponce, Silver City Daily Press | March 1, 2021
Preserving the Gila River: Conservatives turn over a new leaf – Zorine Bhappu Shirley, Washington Times | January 18, 2021
Not “the Usual Pie in the Sky” | Study: Outdoor economy poised to grow with Wild and Scenic designation – Silver City Daily Press | November 27, 2020
Why I support a Wild and Scenic Gila River – NM Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard, Silver City Daily Press, November 24, 2020
Clean, protected waters will help New Mexico recover – Axie Navas, Santa Fe New Mexican | November 21, 2020
Study finds wild Gila and San Francisco rivers greatly contribute to local economy  – Silver City Daily Press, November 24, 2020
Support is broad for Wild & Scenic – Harris Klein, Silver City Daily Press, November 6, 2020
Clock is ticking in fight for Gila River – Brett Myrick, Albuquerque Journal, October 18, 2020
Celebrate the Gila River during this year’s wilderness anniversary – Larry McDaniel, Silver City Daily Press, September 11, 2020
New StoryMap Highlights Proposed Protections in Wild Gila River Bill – Wild Gila River Coalition Press Release, August 10, 2020
Our wild lands and rivers are some of the best places for us to invest – Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, Las Cruces Sun-News, July 13, 2020
Wild and Scenic designation was right call by Udall, Heinrich – Mayor Martin Chavez, Albuquerque Journal, July 13, 2020
City of Bayard celebrating Wild and Scenic bill – Mayor Chon Fierro, Silver City Daily Press, July 13, 2020
Celebrate the Gila for Nat’l. Rivers Month – Rep. Rudy Martinez, Silver City Daily Press, June 22, 2020
Wild and Scenic column got it wrong – Grant County Commissioner Alicia Edwards, Silver City Daily Press, June 22, 2020
Wild and Scenic designation will benefit Silver City – Silver City Town Councilor Guadalupe Cano, Silver City Daily Press, May 20, 2020
Conservationist supports Gila bill – Ray Trejo, Silver City Daily Press, May 19, 2020
Wild and Scenic a benefit to all – Holley Hudgins, Silver City Daily Press, May 15, 2020
Udall, Heinrich introduce Gila ‘Wild and Scenic’ bill – Silver City Daily Press, May 13, 2020
Wild and Scenic designation offers area a munch-needed win – Cissy McAndrew, Silver City Daily Press, May 13, 2020
Legislation Introduced to Protect NM’s Gila, San Francisco Rivers – Public News Service, May 13, 2020
New Mexico’s U.S. senators propose Gila River protections – Santa Fe New Mexican, May 12, 2020
Udall, Heinrich introduce bill to protect Gila River – Albuquerque Journal, May 12, 2020
New Mexico senators unveil legislation to designate Gila River as ‘wild and scenic’ – Silver City Sun-News (via AP), May 12, 2020
The Gila is the backbone of our community – let’s keep it strong – County Commissioner Harry Browne, Silver City Daily Press, March 11, 2020
The Rio Chama proves value of Wild and Scenic designations – Mike Neas, Silver City Daily Press, March 4, 2020
Wild and Scenic a boon to business – Diana Ingalls Leyba, Silver City Daily Press, February 11, 2020
New Mexico deserves a Wild and Scenic Gila River – Howie Morales, Las Cruces Sun-News, February 9, 2020
Gila River’s Middle Box Home to Rare Species, Experiences – Silver City Independent, December 26, 2019
Some Wild and Scenic river facts – Larry McDaniel, Silver City Daily Press, November 6, 2019
Governor, protect our Gila River – Diana Ingalls Leyba, Silver City Daily Press, October 2, 2019
Outdoor rec and the governor – Shelby Hallmark, Silver City Daily Press, October 2, 2019
Wild and Scenic vote was an informed one – Tim Matthes, Silver City Daily Press, October 2, 2019
A win for the state’s last wild river – New Mexico Political Report, September 19, 2019
Credit due to Commissioner Ponce – County Commissioner Harry Browne, Silver City Daily Press, September 17, 2019
County votes to support Wild and Scenic Gila River – Silver City Daily Press, September 13, 2019
Grant County Votes to Support a Wild and Scenic Gila River – KRWG, September 13, 2019
Grant County Votes to Support a Wild and Scenic Gila River – Coalition Press Release, September 12, 2019
Time to support Wild & Scenic designation – Rocky Mondello, Silver City Daily Press, September 11, 2019
Wild and Scenic move a win-win – Kim McCreery, Silver City Daily Press, September 10, 2019
A perspective from over the hill – Randy Gray, Silver City Daily Press, September 6, 2019
Support Wild & Scenic designation – State Representative Rudy Martinez, Silver City Daily Press, September 6, 2019
Gila unites family, community – Vyncent Bourne, Silver City Daily Press, August 23, 2019
Keep Gila River wild and scenic – Jeff Arterburn and David Carmichael, Las Cruces Sun-News, July 28, 2019
Latino Conservation Week aims to get locals outside, speaking up – Silver City Daily, July 22, 2019
New Mexico Celebrates Latino Conservation Week – Public News Service, July 15, 2019
Gila gives life to the Mimbres Valley – Daniel G. Salais, Silver City Daily Press, June 18, 2019
Let’s preserve the Gila as Wild and Scenic – John Harned, Silver City Daily Press, June 5, 2019
Luchan por la preservación del Río Gila – Telemundo 48 El Paso, May 21, 2019
Gila River makes communities whole – Mayor Chon Fierro, Silver City Daily Press, May 15, 2019
New Mexico filmmaker screens ‘Hearts of the Gila’ during one-night only event – KRQE, May 2, 2019
Riding a river of grief – Albuquerque Journal, April 30, 2019
Regional screenings of upcoming film to include updates on Gila River Wild and Scenic proposal – KRWG, April 19, 2019
‘Hearts on the Gila’ focuses on mothers of children who died in Silver City plane crash – Silver City Sun-News, April 18, 2019
A wild Gila River, for the present and the future – Town Councilor Guadalupe Cano, Desert Exposure, April 1, 2019
Gila needs Wild and Scenic status – Chris Schlabach, Silver City Daily Press and Independent, March 16, 2019