Recognizing the Special Values of the Gila Headwaters and Calling for Its Permanent Protection as Wild and Scenic
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes. (Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968)
- The scenery found throughout the West Fork of the Gila River – Proposed Wild & Scenic River is spellbinding. Heading upriver from the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, the canyon is broad with grassy banks, blooming flowers in open meadows and ponderosa pine scattered here and there. Shortly thereafter, near where the Big Bear Canyon Trail ascends to the north, the canyon walls begin to slowly creep in, almost enveloping the river corridor in a claustrophobic atmosphere of winding spires, sheer bluff walls amid soaring ridgelines dotted with ponderosa pine, and pinon-juniper woodland.
- The Gila River is the finest natural river in New Mexico; the upper basin of the Gila River is the largest relatively intact river system south of the Greater Yellowstone; and the Gila headwaters, including the San Francisco river, compose the largest network of natural streams in the Southwest; Lastly the Gila is home to one of the largest undammed headwater watersheds left in temperate North America
Historical & Cultural
- The Gila Headwaters have outstanding historical significance, inseparable from our natural and cultural heritage as New Mexicans and Americans, including the Mogollon civilization dating to 9,500 B.C.; the home of the Apaches; Mountain Men; Buffalo Soldiers; and the birthplace of Wilderness Areas.
- Also, the access to and use of large tracts of healthy, viable, intact ecosystems and public lands are essential to the perpetuation of traditional New Mexico land uses such as hunting and fishing
- The outdoor recreation economy in New Mexico generates nine billion nine hundred million in consumer spending annually ($9,900,000,000), two billion eight hundred million in wages and salaries ($2,800,000,000), six hundred and twenty-three million in state and local tax revenues ($623,000,000), and directly employs ninety-nine thousand people (99,000);
- The healthy public lands with quality fishing, hiking, kayaking, rafting and other recreational resources are major factors in attracting new businesses, jobs, and retirees to Grant and Catron counties and New Mexico that might otherwise locate elsewhere
- Fourteen native fishes live in the basin, including four – the desert sucker, spike dace, Gila trout and Apache trout – that occur nowhere else in the world!
- The Gila Headwaters are critical habitat for federally listed endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, northern Mexican garter snake, narrow-headed garter snake and the Chiricahua leopard frog
- The Gila harbors some of the greatest non-coastal breeding bird diversity and density in the United States
- The Gila Headwaters are the keystone for connectivity between the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Madre from Alaska to Mexico
- The headwaters of the Gila River are in the world’s first protected Wilderness; and the Gila headwaters is one of the largest wilderness complexes in the Americas south of the boreal forest and north of the Amazon rainforest; the Gila headwaters is the most ecologically diverse wilderness complex in North America
- The geology on the West Fork of the Gila River – Proposed Wild & Scenic River is a utopian splendor of compacted volcanic material formed into gnarly spires, elaborate hoodos, pocket caves and polished-smooth slabs of Gila conglomerate, ascending over 800 feet high. The rhyolite rock walls appear as though they were once stained-glass cathedral windows, now stone-weathered into a tapestry of the geological past. Up and down the river canyon, a broken barricade of weather-carved rocks and beehive formations jumble with the surrounding landscape. Tier upon tier of ridges and vertical volcanic columns rise above as the twisting river makes its way below.
- The volcanic activity that created what is now known as the Gila Wilderness is the combination of at least four major mega- calderas, which were active over a span of time between 35 million and 20 million years ago.
- The constant eruptions, followed by millennia of weather, pressure, erosion and time, are what today makes the geology along the West Fork of the Gila River so outstandingly remarkable
- Of the approximately 108,014 miles of rivers in New Mexico, a scant 124.3 miles of them are designated as Wild & Scenic—or approximately 1/10th of 1% of the state’s river miles.