New Mexico Wild is celebrating legislation reintroduced by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján to protect the Gila, San Francisco and East Fork of the Mimbres Rivers under the Wild and Scenic Act. The M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act designates approximately 446 miles of river segments as Wild, Scenic or Recreational, permanently protecting these rivers in their free-flowing conditions. The legislation was first introduced in May 2020 by Heinrich and former Sen. Tom Udall.
“There is no greater gift we could leave our grandchildren than the permanent protection of New Mexico’s last free-flowing river, whose headwaters start in the birthplace of America’s first designated Wilderness,” said New Mexico Wild Executive Director Mark Allison. “This bill honors the original vision of Aldo Leopold and river champions like the late Dutch Salmon, without whose efforts this river we love would have been greatly diminished. The legislation also aims to preserve sites held sacred to communities that have called the Gila region home for centuries. The pandemic of the past two years has underscored for New Mexicans how irreplaceable our natural and cultural heritage is. We thank Senators Heinrich and Luján for their leadership and for this gift of hope for the future.”
The legislation introduced by Sens. Heinrich and Luján to add nearly 450 miles of the Gila, San Francisco, and East Fork of the Mimbres Rivers to the nation’s Wild and Scenic Rivers System has broad, grassroots support of Pueblos and Tribes, faith leaders, private property owners, local governments, civic organizations, sportsmen, conservation groups, and more than 150 small businesses in Grant County and surrounding communities. Additionally, polling has found that more than 76% of voters across New Mexico are supportive of legislation to protect these rivers through Wild and Scenic designations.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which provides the framework for the protections outlined in today’s legislation, was passed by Congress in 1968 to provide federal protections for the nation’s free-flowing rivers that possess “Outstandingly Remarkable Values.” The Act ensures water quality is maintained and, where possible, enhanced; restricts activities that would harm a river segment’s special values for which it was specifically designated; and prohibits the construction of new federally-licensed dams and other water development projects that could impact designated segments.
The Gila River is New Mexico’s last remaining free-flowing river. It is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering opportunities to fish, hunt, hike, kayak, camp, picnic, view wildlife and more. The popularity of these segments is an important economic driver for the communities in southwestern New Mexico, as many businesses in the region rely on revenue from outside visitors traveling through communities like Silver City to access entry points to the Gila and San Francisco Rivers. Data released last year by the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division found that the state’s outdoor economy is an important and growing sector, accounting for $1.2 billion in income and more than 33,500 jobs in the state annually.