During National Rivers Month, Legislation to Protect the Gila and San Francisco Rivers Takes Important Step Forward

Small business owners, Tribes, land owners and others have been working on community proposal for nearly a decade

Contact: Nathan Newcomer; nathan@nmwild.org; (505) 250-4225

Media Photos and B-Roll Available Here

Silver City, N.M. (June 7, 2022) – A diverse coalition of local residents in southwest New Mexico is today thanking the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining for holding a hearing on the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act (S. 3129).  

The community-driven proposal would secure the future of segments of the Gila River located primarily in the Gila Wilderness – America’s first Wilderness – by designating nearly 450 miles of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers as Wild and Scenic under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, ensuring traditional and current use of the waterways, while protecting critical wildlife habitat and growing New Mexico’s sustainable outdoor recreation economy.

Fort Sill Apache Chairwoman Lori Gooday Ware said, “The lands surrounding the Gila and San Francisco are a reminder of who we are and how far we have come. Today, many of us still participate in the traditional uses of the land and the rivers that have been passed down for centuries, and so much of our culture and traditions are intertwined with our lands and waters, and the Gila and San Francisco Rivers are no different.  I hope Congress acts to protect the beauty and biodiversity of the Gila and San Francisco rivers.”

The bill was reintroduced in November, 2021 by Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and was first introduced in May, 2020 by Senator Heinrich and former Senator Tom Udall, but the local community has been advocating for the protection of these waterways for nearly a decade.  

“Latino families in Grant County have grown up visiting and spending time along the Gila and San Francisco Rivers,” said Frances Vasquez from The League of United Latin American Citizens’ (LULAC) Silver City Council.  “When our communities are lifted up through sustainable jobs and healthier environments, we all win. I am hopeful that my grandkids and their grandkids will be able to experience and benefit from these rivers just as my family has for  generations.”

Safeguarding America’s waterways has been identified as a critical means of mitigating against the impacts of climate change, including drought and wildfires. Across the country, rivers like the Rio Grande and Colorado are experiencing some of the lowest water levels in decades. Protecting the Gila and San Francisco Rivers by maintaining their free-flowing nature and the characteristics that make them special as Wild and Scenic is an important tool to help protect this critical watershed in southwestern New Mexico. 

“It is fitting that the Senate is moving this important bill during National Rivers Month, as residents throughout southwestern New Mexico depend on these rivers for their livelihoods. For generations, my family has honored the time-tested tradition of spending time in our great outdoors and harvesting our meals. Protecting the Gila and San Francisco Rivers will help us pass these traditions down to our children and grandchildren,” added Ray Trejo, a hunter and angler from Deming. 

At a time when New Mexicans are experiencing real economic hardships, designating the rivers and tributaries as Wild and Scenic will help local rural economies that depend on these waters for feeding their families, good jobs, and hunting and fishing.

If passed, this legislation will also enhance and protect the state’s growing outdoor economy through opportunities for activities like rafting and paddling, horseback riding and wildlife watching, and hiking and camping.  In fact, a 2020 report found that water-related activities contribute at least $427 million to the state’s economy and support at least 3,900 jobs annually. This important economic sector is a complement to –and not in competition with – the legacy economic drivers in the state such as cattle growing and mining. 

Craig Wentz from the Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce added, “Permanently protecting the Gila River would be good for business. People are choosing to move to places like Grant County to be closer to nature. Whether it is for the scenic view, the afternoon strolls on your favorite trail, or a weekend fishing adventure, new residents are keeping the Gateway to the Gila open  for business.” 

New Mexicans are calling on Congress to pass this legislation this year.


The Wild Gila River coalition is dedicated to preserving portions of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries as Wild and Scenic for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. The coalition includes Tribes, hunters and anglers, veterans, small business owners, faith and civic organizations, local municipalities and governments, and outdoor recreation and conservation organizations. http://wildgilariver.org/