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Heinrich, Luján Introduce Wild & Scenic Legislation To Protect Gila River

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) introduced legislation to designate portions of the Gila River, its watershed and other rivers in the Gila National Forest as Wild and Scenic Rivers. The legislation will be a boon to New Mexico’s outdoor economy, while protecting an irreplaceable natural resource for future generations of New Mexicans.

Senators Heinrich and Luján held a press call today announcing the legislation. A recording of their remarks can be found HERE.

The Greater Gila watershed comprises the largest remaining network of naturally freeflowing river segments in the Southwestern United States. Senators Heinrich and Luján are introducing this legislation to protect portions of the Gila River, some of its tributaries, and other nearby rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Gila is treasured by New Mexicans because it supports exceptional experiences for families to cherish, spectacular scenery and wildlife habitat, abundant cultural resources, the integrity of an important water source, and many traditional uses. Designating portions of the Gila River and its watershed as Wild and Scenic Rivers will protect one of the nation’s most iconic and treasured rivers, as well as the immense recreational and agricultural economies that rely on it.

“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 the one of the few remaining wild and natural stretches of water in the greater Colorado River watershed could not be more urgent,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud to be reintroducing the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act alongside Senator Lujan 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.”

“With such a unique impact across New Mexico, it’s critical that the Gila River is protected and has the federal support needed to combat the threats of the climate crisis. That’s why I’m proud to join Senator Heinrich in introducing the Wild and Scenic River Act to protect the Gila River by designating portions of the Gila and its watershed as a National Wild and Scenic River,” said Luján. 

A webpage with a summary of the legislation, maps detailing protection areas and frequently asked questions is available HERE. A PDF of the bill can be found HERE. 

Support for this legislation from local community leaders, sportsmen and women, business leaders and local residents can be found HERE. 

Congress passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, creating the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Act preserves designated free-flowing rivers or river segments for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. Congress passed the Act at the height of the modern dam-building era to ensure that the construction of new dams was balanced with the protection of select river segments that possess nationally significant values. This landmark law is the highest form of protection for rivers in the United States. Congress has amended the original legislation to include additional river segments and how the new segments should be managed. In their legislation, Senators Heinrich and Luján are similarly tailoring management of the proposed river segments to the needs of the Gila region in such a way as protect the traditional river values and uses while also permanently protecting the free-flowing nature of these river segments. 

Senator Heinrich originally introduced the legislation with former-U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) in 2020.