New Mexico

Conservation: Gila National Forest

Mason Cummings, TWS

Keeping the Gila wild

New Mexico’s Gila National Forest is a treasure of the Southwest. It is home to an uncommon diversity of plants and animals and host to many outdoor recreation activities, including hiking and horseback riding. To keep the Gila healthy and intact for future generations, we are working to permanently protect more of its forest lands and other special places and make sure they are managed responsibly. 

Our vision for the Gila includes expanded protection for the Gila Wilderness—the world’s first federally protected wilderness area, originally designated in 1924—and surrounding wildlands and waterways.

Why this place matters

The Gila National Forest contains popular outdoor recreation spots and critical habitat for species like the Mexican spotted owl and western yellow-billed cuckoo.

The Gila River
is New Mexico’s last major undammed river.
Untrammeled wildlands
Over 1 million acres of the Gila are so wild that they qualify for permanent wilderness protection.

The threat

Wilderness and rivers in the Gila National Forest require protection, as do popular outdoor recreation spots and critical habitat for species like the Mexican spotted owl and western yellow-billed cuckoo. Climate change and development threaten to fragment public lands and waters in the forest and elsewhere in the region, making this need even more urgent. 

Wilderness designation is the highest level of public lands protection, safeguarding against development and activities like mining and logging. It also helps protect sources of clean water and guarantees access for recreation like hiking, hunting and fishing. Wild and scenic river protection, similarly, preserves free-flowing waterways like the Gila River by defending them from dams and development.

To preserve the Gila, we’re identifying the most ecologically valuable places in the forest, working with local communities to advocate for the designation of wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers and other protective designations through Congress, and advising the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies on the best ways to manage the Gila National Forest.

What we're doing

  1. Standing with local citizens

    We follow the lead of Grant County’s majority Hispanic community, which has historically been marginalized in discussions about how to manage public lands, and work toward conservation solutions that protect the Gila.

  2. Bringing science to the table

    We conduct scientific research to identifying and evaluate the ecological values of the Gila National Forest and make official recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service about the best plans to protect the land and waters.

  3. Influencing decision makers

    We advocate for the expansion of the Gila Wilderness and the protection of new wilderness areas in the Gila National Forest as well as the inclusion of key waterways in the National Wild and Scenic River System.