WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Gabe Vasquez (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 M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act will be a boon to New Mexico’s outdoor economy, while protecting an irreplaceable natural resource for future generations of New Mexicans. U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) and Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) are original cosponsors.
The Greater Gila watershed comprises the largest remaining network of naturally free-flowing river segments in the Southwestern United States. Senator Heinrich and Representative Vasquez 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, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m proud to be reintroducing the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act 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.”
“We cannot miss out on the once-in-a lifetime opportunity to protect the iconic Gila River and its tributaries, home to the nation’s first designated Wilderness,” said Vasquez. “There are few remaining landscapes and wild rivers like the Gila, and it’s imperative that we protect them for future generations. The Gila is deserving of Wild & Scenic designation, as so many New Mexicans have worked to protect this special place for the incredible values the river holds, including the endemic Gila Trout. Following on the conservation legacy of the late M.H. Dutch Salmon, I am proud to introduce this legislation and to work with my colleagues to get it passed in Congress.”
“With incredible sights, views, and wildlife, the Gila River remains a vital environmental and cultural resource that must be protected,” said Luján. “I’m proud to join Senator Heinrich and Representative Vasquez to continue our efforts to designate portions of the Gila and its watershed as a National Wild and Scenic River to protect this irreplaceable land for generations to come."
“In New Mexico, the Gila Rivers, its watershed, and other rivers in the Gila National Forest are a treasure and source of pride for New Mexicans. We are blessed with these magnificent resources and as stewards of these lands it is our duty to protect them for future generations,” said Leger Fernández. “The Gila gives life as it stretches across the desert. Our ancestors recognized the power and beauty of the river; this bill will protect the Gila so that we can inspire our children and grandchildren to be one with these lands. That they can learn, play, grow healthy, and be humbled through all it has to offer. Our waters are life, Agua es vida.”
“I am proud to cosponsor this bill to protect our last free-flowing river in New Mexico—the Gila River. The Gila is an iconic river that crosses ancient and sacred landscapes, sustains communities in southwestern New Mexico, and provides habitat for fourteen native fish and five endangered species,” said Stansbury, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “As a water resources professional who has fought to protect New Mexico’s waters throughout my entire career, I am proud to cosponsor this bill to designate the Gila as a Wild and Scenic River and protect these waters which are so vital to New Mexico’s culture, heritage, and ecosystems.”
Senator Heinrich originally introduced the legislation with former-U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) in 2020. The Senate version passed out the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2022. The legislation is named after Maynard Hubbard "Dutch" Salmon from Silver City, New Mexico. Salmon was a nature writer, longtime advocate for the Gila River, and co-founder of the Gila Conservation Coalition.
The legislation has received support from local community leaders, sportsmen and women, and business leaders.