NM's Gila Returns to Forefront for National Rivers Month
Wednesday, June 8, 2022
June is National Rivers Month, and New Mexicans who want the Gila and San Francisco Rivers protected monitored U.S. Senate talks this week on the M.H. "Dutch" Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act.
Small-business owners, tribes, landowners and others have been working on the proposal for nearly a decade, said Martyn Pearson, who runs the Hike and Bike shop in Silver City, at the gateway to the Gila Wilderness.
"You want to talk about river health, you want to talk about protecting one of the last free-flowing rivers, this is good," he said. "This is really good that this is happening right now - because, from a lot of different angles, this river needs helping."
First introduced in 2020, the legislation would secure segments of the Gila River located primarily in the Gila Wilderness - America's first federally protected wilderness area - by designating nearly 450 miles as Wild and Scenic.
Pearson said safeguarding the state's rivers is a critical means of mitigating the effects of climate change, as well as protecting the Aldo Leopold Wilderness for future generations.
"Somebody thought that it would be important that somebody could go in there and see it, exactly how it is, unchanged - the Gila is running right through it," he said. "And it deserves that same protection, because it could help make sure that the river is enjoyable for people long after we're gone."
President Joe Biden will travel to New Mexico later this week in the wake of multiple record-breaking wildfires. Pearson, a kayaker, said he'll find the state in a tough spot right now.
"It's so dry, that when it snows, the snowmelt goes straight into the ground - very little of it makes it into the rivers," he said. "And so, for the last three springs when we're there, we're sitting around we're waiting, 'Oh, I wonder when that short window is going to open and we can get out onto the Gila,' and it never comes. And that has a pretty big impact on fishing."
A 2020 report said water-related activities contribute at least $427 million to the state's annual economy.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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