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Gila Wild and Scenic River Bill Reintroduced and Gaining Speed (NM) 

Posted: 11/03/2021
By: Kestrel Kunz

Today, Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján reintroduced the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act. The Act, officially reintroduced on November 2, is poised to protect over 440 miles of free-flowing rivers and streams in the Gila and San Francisco watersheds in New Mexico. Please take a moment to thank the Senators for their hard work and dedicated to protect the Gila River! 


Amidst continued drought in the larger Colorado River Basin, this Act makes a significant step toward permanent protections for New Mexico’s last free-flowing watershed. “Some of the clearest and most visible signs of the climate crisis in New Mexico and across the West are evident in the rapidly diminishing flows on the Colorado River and its shrinking reservoirs. In the face of this, our effort to protect one of the few remaining wild and natural stretches of water in the greater Colorado River watershed could not be more urgent,” Heinrich said.


This win comes after years of hard work and dedication from local stakeholders and has monumentous grassroots support. Our partners at the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and other local stakeholders meticulously documented the free-flowing attributes and Outstandingly Remarkable Values on hundreds of river miles to inform this legislation and a coalition of recreationists, conservationists, landowners, and numerous others worked for years to build grassroots support that has culminated in this legislation. 


If passed, the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries would receive permanent protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act - the strongest protection a river can receive. While the Gila legislation gives flexibility to existing uses and landowners, the free-flowing nature and outstanding values on these rivers and streams would be protected now and for future generations to enjoy. The mainstem Gila and San Francisco Rivers offer some of the most remote and wild paddling opportunities in New Mexico and have been explored and loved by paddlers for decades. 


​​The Senators have acknowledged these high quality recreation opportunities amongst the numerous other benefits that would come from designation. “I’m proud to be reintroducing the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act alongside Senator Luján to provide the Gila and San Francisco watersheds with our nation’s highest form of protection and stewardship. Wild and Scenic River designation will support enhanced water quality, economic development, increased recreation opportunities, and healthy populations of fish and wildlife,” Heinrich said.


The legislation is named after a local river conservationist and author that dedicated much of his life to protecting the Gila River. M.H. Salmon, known as Dutch, was a paddler, fisherman, and homesteader living in Silver City, NM. Salmon authored 10 books about the Gila Wilderness, including Gila Descending, which chronicles his 200 mile canoe descent of the Gila River from the headwaters in New Mexico to Arizona. M.H. “Dutch” Salmon passed away last year at the age of 73 and the Senators have truly honored his legacy by dedicating the Act to Dutch and his efforts to protect the Gila. 


The success of this campaign wouldn’t be possible without the support of our local partners that have championed this effort and our dedicated members. Over the past couple years, thousands of paddlers and river lovers have voiced their support for protection of the Gila watershed by writing directly to our legislators, signing petitions, and sharing personal stories of the Gila. Your voices have been heard and securing permanent protection for the Gila and its tributaries is nearing the finish line. While the reintroduction of this bill comes as a great win, there is still lots of work to ensure that the legislation is passed through Congress. We will be working to get this across the finish line - for good! Success of this legislation depends on all of us to stay engaged as the bill moves through Congress. Please thank the Senators for their efforts and ask them to keep pushing legislation through Congress. 


Photo Credit: Norm Guame

Kestrel Kunz

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