Keeping the Gila Wild and Free
Together, these efforts represent two main objectives: 1) Comprehensive Wilderness defense and restoration of the Gila - “Keep the Gila Wild” and 2) Comprehensive wilderness protection.
Our ongoing activities focus on the most immediate and significant threat of diverting the country’s first wilderness river and the last free flowing one in New Mexico and one related component of our larger vision of increasing permanent protections in the greater Gila region, namely securing Wild and Scenic status for the Gila River.
The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 has been called the “sister of the Wilderness Act” and we believe it is an important tool to a comprehensive conservation approach that would include the protection of the larger watersheds and surrounding lands with wilderness characteristics.
Beginning in summer 2013, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance began conducting citizen-based wilderness inventories throughout the Gila National Forest. We estimate there are more than one million acres of public lands eligible for wilderness designation or other protective measures in the Gila region.
Our goal is the permanent protection of these areas through the creation and expansion of Wilderness in the Gila region, together with designating the Gila River and other eligible streams as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Threats to these core roadless areas include:
• River diversions
• Off-road vehicles
• Illegal user-created roads
• Mining claims
• Illegal grazing
What we have done so far
Core to our work in the Gila are more than 50 citizen scientists who are hiking and inventorying the forest. They have:
• Inventoried more than 250,000 acres
• Hiked more than 500 miles in the Gila National Forest
• Surveyed 100 miles of the Gila River and its tributaries for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system
As a part of our inventory efforts we have focused our documentation on naturalness of areas, opportunities for solitude and primitive forms of recreation, and to what degree these areas appear primarily influenced by the forces of nature. We also document human impacts and infrastructure, as well as the condition of certain U.S. Forest Service (USFS) roads that may be eligible for decommissioning.
Moving forward: Our inventory data will be used as a part of the upcoming Gila National Forest Land Use Plan Revision, scheduled to start in the spring of 2015—an opportunity for the public to influence and propose best management practices for the forest for the next 20-plus years.
Only an act of Congress can designate river segments as Wild and Scenic. However, the USFS planning process provides us an opportunity to submit data and advocate that the agency recommended river segments be designated Wild and Scenic.
“We speak a lot about the benefit to humans in the preservation of wilderness. Let us speak for all the wild creatures, waters, and foliage today. As we know humans are not the only species on Earth.
The Gila River originating in America’s first designated wilderness area deserves to stay wild and free as nature intended. I adamantly oppose a pipeline diversion project on the Gila River. We can all work together to gain National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Gila River.”
~Brett Myrick, veteran