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NM's Grant County Delegation Urges More Protection for Gila River

Since 1924, a federal wilderness designation has prohibited motorized vehicles, buildings, logging or mining in New Mexico's Gila Wilderness. (nmwildlife.org)
Since 1924, a federal wilderness designation has prohibited motorized vehicles, buildings, logging or mining in New Mexico's Gila Wilderness. (nmwildlife.org)
October 30, 2019

SILVER CITY, N.M. – Ninety-five years ago, the Gila area in southwest New Mexico received the first-ever wilderness designation. Now a coalition wants to make sure additional protections extend to the Gila River.

A delegation of New Mexico residents is in Washington, D.C., today to ask the state's U.S. senators – Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats – to champion a bill for "Wild and Scenic" designation to protect the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries.

Harry Browne is a commissioner in Grant County, where the Gila is located, who described the support for the Wild and Scenic designation as very broad.

"We've got old hippies, we've got business people, townsfolk and rural folk, hunters and hikers," Browne said. "All of these sectors of our community want to see the Gila River protected for future generations."

The delegation meeting with the senators includes local elected officials and representatives of Native American tribes, sportsmen's groups and small business owners.

Grant County has already passed its own resolution to support Wild and Scenic designation, which only Congress can decide. It would not affect existing grazing and ranching operations in the area.

The Gila Wilderness is a national forest considered by many to be one of America's best-kept secrets, but it's also famous for solitude and night skies unblemished by light pollution.

Jamie Crockett is the co-owner of Gila Backcountry Services and takes visitors on guided camping trips. She noted the Gila is one of the largest watersheds without a dam in the lower 48 states.

"As a community, we see the Wild and Scenic designation as a way that we can add an additional protection, to the water in the river and its traditional uses," Crockett added.

Annually, outdoor recreation generates nearly $10 billion in consumer spending in New Mexico, including $3 billion in wages and salaries.


Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM