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Legislation Introduced to Protect NM's Gila, San Francisco Rivers

New Mexico's Gila and San Francisco rivers and their tributaries make up one of the largest undammed watersheds in the lower 48 states. (circleofblue.org)
New Mexico's Gila and San Francisco rivers and their tributaries make up one of the largest undammed watersheds in the lower 48 states. (circleofblue.org)
May 13, 2020

SILVER CITY, N.M. -- Many Americans have been drawn to nature during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the significance of a bill introduced in Congress to protect two of New Mexico's rivers.

The Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act would protect portions of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries in the southwest corner of the state.

In Grant County, which includes Silver City, gateway to the Gila National Forest, county commissioner Alicia Edwards said there's broad support for the community-driven legislation.

"Outdoor recreation is a big part of our vision for the future," she said. "We need to diversify our economy, and outdoor recreation is how we plan to do that."

New Mexico's state budget largely is dependent on oil and gas revenues, although many residents want the economy to benefit from more rafting, hiking and camping. Outdoor recreation already generates nearly $10 billion in consumer spending in the state, including $3 billion in wages and salaries.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., is named for the late Maynard H. "Dutch" Salmon, a well-known New Mexico outdoor conservationist, writer and publisher who fished the Gila. Silver City veterinarian and sportsman Larry McDaniel often joined him on the river.

"It's a unique place," McDaniel said, "and having a river system like the Gila and the San Francisco in this arid part of the Southwest -- this free-flowing river system -- makes it all the more unique. There's no place like it."

McDaniel says he hitchhiked to the Gila from St. Louis almost 50 years ago while still in college. He says future generations, including his grandson, deserve to experience its profound effect.

"I look forward to being able to teach him to fish, and so that's another reason why it's important to me to preserve and protect this habitat is for future generations," he said, "not just my own but everybody's."

The bill would designate more than 440 miles of the Gila and San Francisco as Wild and Scenic, in an area home to a wide range of big game species.

The legislation is online at congress.gov.

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

Disclosure: The Pew Charitable Trusts - Environmental Group contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Climate Change/Air Quality, Consumer Issues, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Health Issues, Public Lands/Wilderness and Salmon Recovery. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM