Gila River Festival: Senator Martin Heinrich on importance of Gila River to outdoor recreation economy

United States Senate

Senator Martin Heinrich

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September 22, 2018

Dear Friends:

The Upper Gila is the last wild river in the American Southwest. Its unique natural hydrology and gallery riparian forests are home to a high diversity of plants and animals, and its spectacular watershed has shaped human culture since time immemorial. It is a gem - the last of its kind - and a river very dear to me and many New Mexicans.

Beyond its beauty and its ecosystem value, the Gila left in its natural state is an important economic resource. From a recent Senate Joint Economic Committee report evaluating rural community economies, we learned that outdoor recreation has helped many rural counties recover and overcome the 2008 depression. More than four million Americans work in the outdoor recreation industry - and that rural areas like Silver City are major players in this industry. Moreover, from lodging and gas to food and drinks - people traveling to enjoy the Gila and its tributaries contribute directly to the local economy. This is yet another reason to treasure and protect the Gila and its tributaries.

Therefore, it is hard to imagine a diversion project on the Gila River or its tributaries that is not destructive to other economic and ecosystem values. We owe New Mexico's taxpayers cost effective, science-based solutions if we are to manage our limited water supplies in this era of drought, climate change, and constrained budgets. I encourage the public and all stakeholders to stay engaged on this issue, share your thoughts and concerns with my office, and submit comments through the formal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process evaluating the proposed diversion project.

It was Aldo Leopold who fought to protect the land from which the headwaters of the Gila River originate - land that eventually became the Gila Wilderness, our nation's first wilderness area. Inspired by this landscape and its legacy, I have been talking with many fellow New Mexicans about ways the Gila River should be permanently protected for generations to come.

The Gila River Festival highlights why this river is important to local communities, outdoor enthusiasts, sportsmen, tribes, farmers, and tourists alike. Thank you to the Gila Conservation Coalition and sponsors for making the environment and culture of the Gila accessible and for striving every day to build the local economy around the Gila's resources in ways that preserve its essential nature.

Please accept my best wishes for a wonderful evening, and do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of assistance. I look forward to enjoying the river with you for many decades to come.

Sincerely,

Senator Martin Heinrich

United State Senator

Allyson Siwik