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Most NM Voters Want Gila, San Francisco Rivers Protected

More than 50% of New Mexico residents in a new poll strongly agree that the U.S. Congress should permanently protect the Gila River as Wild and Scenic. (
More than 50% of New Mexico residents in a new poll strongly agree that the U.S. Congress should permanently protect the Gila River as Wild and Scenic. (
February 19, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A poll out this week shows that New Mexico voters by a significant margin support "Wild and Scenic" designations for the Gila and San Francisco rivers and their tributaries.

Commissioned by the Southwest Green Chamber of Commerce, the poll shows 65% of voters in the four counties surrounding the rivers and 76% of voters statewide support protecting the waterways.

Guadalupe Cano, a member of the city council in Silver City, said the designated protection would help sustain local and rural economies that depend on such traditions as grazing, ranching, hunting and fishing.

"The lifeblood of our community is the forest and river; that's the one thing that connects every single person in the community," she said. "This is the one thing that crosses generations, it crosses different socioeconomic groups, different ethnicities, everything."

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., have committed to introducing legislation that would safeguard roughly 450 miles of both rivers and their tributaries as Wild and Scenic. Local municipalities and governments on the Gila and San Francisco also have pledged their support for preserving the waterways.

New Mexico's Gila area became the world's first wilderness when it received the designation in 1924. The Wild and Scenic designation would go farther because it specifically protects the free-flowing nature of rivers, something the Wilderness Act and other designations cannot do. Cano said it also would protect people's experience of the river.

"Some people, they come to New Mexico because they're looking for solitude," she said, "and then there's some people who were raised on the river and so, that's something they do every year as a tradition with their family. Being able to go the river and have those moments with your family is really important, and family is really important in this state."

Annually, outdoor recreation generates nearly $10 billion in consumer spending in New Mexico, including $3 billion in wages and salaries. Outdoor recreation also employs nearly 100,000 people in the state.

The poll, conducted in late 2019, included interviews with almost 400 state voters and is online at


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

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM