Grant County’s 2024 Tribute to Gila Wilderness Recognizes Visionary Conservation Action

Grant County’s 2024 Tribute to Gila Wilderness Recognizes Visionary Conservation Action

Achieving Lasting Gila River Protections Represents Next Bold Conservation Opportunity in the Region

February 8, 2024

Media Contact:
Luke Koenig, New Mexico Wild,, 443-676-3200

Silver City, NM – New Mexico Wild celebrates the proclamation adopted today by the Grant County Board of Commissioners to declare 2024 as the “Year of Celebration for the Gila Wilderness,” honoring the centennial anniversary of America’s first Wilderness. The designation of the Gila Wilderness by the Forest Service in 1924 created the concept of Wilderness preservation in the United States and paved the way for the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. In 2024, Wilderness designation remains the most robust and durable tool for protecting federal public lands in the United States.

The proclamation rightfully highlights the need for ongoing stewardship of the Gila Wilderness and the opportunity for collaboration, co-management, and co-stewardship among federal agencies, local governments, and Tribal Nations to ensure the permanent protection of this precious natural and cultural landscape. New Mexico Wild acknowledges and appreciates the conservation organizations and individuals who helped to develop and pass this proclamation.

The proclamation acknowledging the visionary action to establish the Gila Wilderness in 1924 merits reflection on the future of conservation in the Gila region. Namely, in addition to a need for ongoing efforts to protect the Gila Wilderness, the passage of the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act, which would permanently protect the Gila River and its tributaries, is the next logical, bold step in conservation within the Gila region. Introduced in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives in March 2023 by U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján along with U.S. Representatives Gabe Vasquez, Teresa Leger Fernández, and Melanie Stansbury, this legislation would designate approximately 446 miles of the Gila River, the San Francisco River, and their tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers. As we celebrate the decision made a century ago to establish the Gila Wilderness, the year 2024 presents an opportune moment for this next groundbreaking conservation action to unfold.

The designation of the Gila River, San Francisco River, and other Greater Gila area rivers and streams as Wild and Scenic will not only enhance protections within the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wildernesses, but also safeguard nationally and internationally significant fisheries, wildlife, botanical, cultural and historic, scenic, geologic, and recreational values. Wild and Scenic designation would also ensure the preservation of water quality and ecosystem services for downstream communities, protect climate adaptation processes, and bolster the outdoor recreation economy in southwestern New Mexico.

“We stand on the shoulders of conservation visionaries of the past,” said Luke Koenig, New Mexico Wild Gila Grassroots Organizer. “We are grateful for the dedication of our Congressional champions, including Senators Heinrich and Luján and Representatives Vasquez, Leger Fernández, and Stansbury, for their work in carrying this important mantle forward to permanently protect the Gila River. As we look back on a century of wilderness, we once again in the Gila region have a unique opportunity to lead the conservation world by example.”

As Grant County embarks on a year of celebration and reflection, New Mexico Wild reaffirms its commitment to preserving the natural beauty and ecological integrity of the Gila River for the enjoyment of generations to come.