Commentary: The Grant County Commission today passed a resolution to support federal legislation that would protect portions of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries as wild and scenic. The vote comes after a groundswell of support from Tribes, sportsmen, veterans, small business owners, faith and civic organizations, local municipalities and governments, and outdoor recreation and conservation organizations. Local community expressed their appreciation for the commission’s support of this important designation.
The resolution of support states, in part, “Now, therefore be it resolved, that the Grant County Board of Commissioners supports the introduction of legislation to protect the Gila River through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.”
The community-driven proposal would designate roughly 436 miles of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries as wild and scenic. To date, only .01% of the 108,104 miles of rivers in New Mexico are designated as wild and scenic. However, its significance should not be minimized: the rivers and tributaries compose one of the largest undammed watersheds left in the Lower 48.
“It is important that we call for the protection of the Gila River because we have been going there to fish, hunt, and picnic with our families for many years and we want to continue to do so while securing it for future generations,” said Chon S. Fierro, the City of Bayard’s Mayor.
Designating the rivers and tributaries as wild and scenic will sustain the local, rural economies that depend upon time-tested traditions like grazing, ranching, and hunting and fishing. It will also enhance those economies through increased outdoor recreation activities like rafting and paddling, horseback riding and wildlife watching, and hiking and camping. Outdoor recreation is big business in New Mexico: Every year it generates nearly $10 billion in consumer spending, roughly $3 billion in wages and salaries, $623 million in state and local tax revenues, and directly employs 99,000 people.
“The Gila River is a powerful economic driver,” added Chris Schlabach, a small business owner. “Our store, Gila Hike and Bike, relies heavily on visitors to the Gila purchasing gear for their adventures or spending time in our community.”
Grazing and ranching would continue surrounding the segments designated as wild and scenic. Additionally, development on or roads to private land would not be impacted. Hunting and fishing access would not only be ensured, but the designation would safeguard critical habitat needed to sustain land and water wildlife populations.
Jason Amaro, a sportsman in Grant County said, “Sportsmen and sportswomen have long understood the value of the Gila River, not only because it is a place where we find peace in the world, but also a place where if we work hard, we can find a meal or two. Let’s work together to permanently protect our wild and scenic rivers in the Gila.”
A diverse coalition is now calling on Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to introduce legislation to designate portions of the Gila and San Francisco and their tributaries as wild and scenic. With the impacts of climate change affecting New Mexico, community members are urging the New Mexico Senators to act quickly so future generations can always experience and wild and scenic Gila River.