The Gila National Forest is home to the world’s first designated wilderness: the Gila Wilderness. Our local Hispanic/Chicano community has a culture, heritage, and way of life that is tied to the river and forest, where generations of families have gone to hunt, fish, hike, and spend time together.
The Gila is a natural gem and an economic driver for the area. This diverse ecosystem and our local businesses have flourished thanks to responsible conservation efforts.
Generations of Hispanic families have used the land and water of the Gila to build thriving communities. Now, the Forest Service is developing a new forest management plan and making decisions about the future of the Gila. Its decisions could affect opportunities to use and enjoy these lands, as well as how important forest lands and resources will be managed for future generations.
Learn more about the threats facing Nuestro Gila and ways you can get involved in protecting this one-of-a-kind resource.
What are Public Lands
New Mexico is home to over 23 million acres of public lands that include places like the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks and the Gila National Forest. Public lands are a place for us to enjoy nature and reconnect with our traditions. The lakes and rivers on our public lands also provide drinking water for our communities. These lands and their resources are managed by federal agencies like the Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management on behalf of all people residing in the United States.
Public lands provide Hispanic families with irreplaceable memories in the outdoors, provide schools and communities with rich educational opportunities, and provide sportsmen and women millions of acres to hunt and fish.
The term “public lands” has different meanings to different people. For Indigenous Peoples, both public and private lands across the United States were and continue to be ancestral homelands, migration routes, ceremonial grounds, and hunting and harvesting places of great significance. Because of this, Indigenous communities remain deeply connected to and reliant on these places even though their ancestors were forcibly removed from them.
What is Wilderness
Wilderness belongs to us.
Wilderness is the highest level of protection for our public lands, preserving the best parts of New Mexico. Wilderness safeguards against private developments, like logging and mining, that limit our access to the outdoors. In the wilderness, we are welcome to hike, hunt, camp, fish, ride horseback, canoe, and enjoy the beauty of nature, like our families have for generations. Motorized and mechanized vehicles are not allowed in designated wilderness. Only Congress can designate wilderness, but the Forest Service can recommend areas to Congress that qualify for and deserve wilderness protection.
Wilderness designations protect our access, conserve precious water resources, filter our air, and strengthen local economies.
The Gila is home to three wilderness areas: the Gila Wilderness, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness and the Blue Range Wilderness. While the Gila Wilderness has been protected for nearly a century, other surrounding forest lands remain unprotected and are worthy of protection.
Learn more about our community-driven plan to protect Nuestro Gila for future generations.
What are Wild and Scenic Rivers
While Wilderness designation preserves access to our land, Wild and Scenic River designation is the highest level of protection for our rivers. The Gila River is the last major undammed river in New Mexico and remains largely unprotected. In 2019, it was named #1 on the list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. Like Wilderness, Wild and Scenic River designation protects the health of our water and ensures that future generations of New Mexicans and tourists are able to access and enjoy the Gila River as we do today. As with Wilderness, only Congress can designate Wild and Scenic Rivers, but the Forest Service is required to identify rivers that are eligible for such protection.
In 2020, New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich and former Senator Tom Udall introduced the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act during the 116th Congress. Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass and must be reintroduced in the 117th Congress. This legislation would designate about 450 miles of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers, as well as major tributaries, as Wild and Scenic.
What are Special Management Areas
Special Management Areas provide a very high level of protection for our forests with fewer conditions for use than Wilderness Areas. These areas are designated by Congress or the Forest Service to ensure the preservation of cultural, historic, and natural sites as well as for the fish and wildlife that inhabit them for the benefit of present and future generations. Each Special Management Area comes with a specific set of rules on how it is managed. Extractive industries such as logging and oil and gas drilling are not permitted in Special Management Areas. Existing uses that are not allowed in Wilderness Areas, including mountain biking, motorized use on designated roads and trails, and the use of chainsaws are permitted in Special Management Areas.