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NMs Gila returns to the forefront for National Rivers Month / Public News Service

June is National Rivers Month, and New Mexicans who want the Gila and San Francisco rivers protected watched U.S. Senate talks this week on the MH “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 store in Silver City, at the entrance to the Gila Wilderness .

“You want to talk about healthy rivers, you want to talk about protecting one of the last free-flowing rivers, that’s fine,” he said. “It’s really good that it’s happening right now – because from so many different angles this river needs help.”

First introduced in 2020, the legislation would secure segments of the Gila River located primarily in the Gila Wilderness – the first US federally protected wilderness area – by designating nearly 450 miles as Wild and Scenic.

Pearson said saving the state’s rivers is a critical way to mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as protect the Aldo Leopold Wilderness for future generations.

“Someone thought it would be important for someone to go there and see it, exactly as it is, unchanged – the Gila runs through it,” he said. “And it deserves the same protection, because it could help keep the river enjoyable for people long after we’re gone.”

President Joe Biden will visit New Mexico later this week following several record wildfires. Pearson, a kayaker, said he would 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 makes it into the rivers,” he said. “And so for the last three springs when we’ve been there, we’ve been sitting, we’re waiting, ‘Oh, I wonder when that little window is going to open and we can get out on the Gila,’ and he doesn’t come ever. 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 report was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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