June 22, 2020
A guest column by Candy Luhrsen in the May 22 issue of the Daily Press misrepresented legislation introduced recently by Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to designate nearly 450 miles of the Gila and San Francisco rivers as Wild and Scenic, and the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act upon which the legislation is based.
Ms. Luhrsen raises the possibility of the federal government regulating private lands adjacent to designated wild and scenic river segments — something that is flatly illegal. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act explicitly forbids the federal government from making any changes to existing private property rights without the consent of the property owner. The only two river segments that directly touch private lands in the legislation introduced by Udall and Heinrich were included at the request of the property owners. Plus, Udall and Heinrich specifically included language in the legislation ensuring grazing rights will not be affected, so Ms. Luhrsen has no reason to fear that ranchers and farmers will be “kicked off” the designated river segments.
Ms. Luhrsen also asserts that the designations would prohibit all commerce on the designated rivers and tributaries. However, the only construction and water projects that are prohibited under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act are those that would “invade the area or unreasonably diminish the scenic, recreational, and fish and wildlife values” of the designated segment. In fact, many Wild and Scenic segments throughout the United States exist immediately below similar construction projects, including segments below El Vado Dam on the Rio Chama here in New Mexico. Finally, while Ms. Luhrsen points out that some of the segments proposed for protection lie within an existing wilderness area, this is far from uncommon. Congress often designates Wild and Scenic segments within wilderness areas, national parks and other federally designated public lands, because the Wild and Scenic system has its own unique set of protections and management requirements.
There is a reason private property owners, faith leaders, tribes, outdoor enthusiasts, civic organizations and more than 150 small businesses in Grant County support Udall’s and Heinrich’s M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act. The legislation was carefully crafted, with the input of hundreds of local citizens, to protect the Gila River, ensure that traditional uses of the proposed river segments continue and maintain existing water and property rights. For that, our senators should be commended.
(s)Alicia Edwards, Grant County Commissioner District 3 Silver City
This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Silver City Daily Press.