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.
- 15,000 Volunteer Hours. (on the ground conducting wilderness and wild & scenic rivers inventory)
- 200 Volunteers engaged
- 620,000 Acres Inventoried
- 762 River miles surveyed of the Gila River, San Francisco River and their tributaries for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system.
- 1,000+ Miles hiked in the Gila National Forest
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
“The question of whether or not to support the maintenance and expansion of wilderness baffles me. In my ears it sounds like this: Would you be in support of having a home that feeds your mind, body, and spirit? The only answer is yes. Our lives depend on it.”
~Catalina Claussen, teacher at Aldo Leopold Charter School
“I support protecting the Gila Wilderness because I want to able to say I helped save the Earth. I think everyone should want to say that and I want to open the door for people to say that!” ~Charlee E., 9th grade at Aldo Leopold Charter School
“I support protecting the Gila Wilderness because the natural environment of the Gila provides a refuge for residents, a peaceful sanctuary, and it is essential to the ecosystems of southwest New Mexico. I support protecting the Gila River from damming and diversion because there are more efficient alternatives to provide water for the Southwest, it would ruin the ecosystem, it would destroy the last free flowing river in New Mexico, and it would change the Gila Wilderness forever. I feel like all of the Gila should be protected from industry, and it should be protected from human impact.”
~Olivia M., 10th grade at Aldo Leopold Charter School
“Southwestern New Mexico contains some of the last genuinely wild places in the lower 48 states. For a thousand reasons, we must preserve the precious few wild natural areas in our country. The plants and animals who live in the Gila Wilderness allotments have as much right to live and to thrive undisturbed as do we humans. They depend on us for their survival and I believe we are obliged to follow the dictum of “live and let live,” particularly since we have already done the opposite in over 90 percent of our country.
Expert analysis has shown that protecting the Gila River from damming and diversion would not be cost-effective in terms of water stored and diverted, and would also permanently and negatively alter a fragile, life-affirming, and dynamic ecological treasure. The projects being considered are truly billion-dollar boondoggles that would enrich the few at the expense of many. The treasures that would be destroyed are priceless.
I believe expanding Gila wilderness areas and formally designating the Gila as a Wild and Scenic River are solemn duties to present and future generations, not only for the benefit of humans but for all other living things. We are at a critical point in the history of these resources inasmuch as they are under direct, powerful threats to their integrity and preservation. Therefore, it is our responsibility to counter these threats effectively, with the force of laws that will be upheld in perpetuity.”
~Richard Mahler, author, editor, publisher, and photographer
“The Gila River and Wilderness are the heartbeat to my business, and the replenishment of my soul. I go out for a hike almost every day, and have for nearly 10 years, and rarely do I run into other people. Those moments with my spouse and dogs, interacting with nature, give me calm and perspective on the hectic life I live back in my restaurant.”
~Rob Connoley, Owner of the Curious Kumquat in Silver City