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New Mexico's Gila and Mimbres Rivers

In the Southwest, rivers shape our lives. They guide the locations of our cities, agriculture and recreation.

The Gila, Mimbres and San Francisco Rivers in southwestern New Mexico nourished the early Mogollon and Mimbres Indians. Later, they supported the Apaches, Spanish homesteaders, explorers, trappers, pioneers and, finally, modern-day ranchers and farmers. These rivers also shape the lives of a wide array of plants and animals that are dependent on them for their water, nutrition, shelter and defense.

Many of these plant and animal species are threatened with extinction because of a variety of historic and current human-induced modifications of the landscape. Key species such as beaver have been sharply reduced through trapping. Floodplain forests have been eliminated or highly modified by farming and livestock grazing. Non-native species that compete or prey on native plants and animals have been introduced and water has been diverted for human consumption and industrial uses, sometimes to the point of completely drying the river.

Despite these transgressions, the biodiversity of the Gila and Mimbres rivers is surprisingly intact. That is why they are our top priority among all of the New Mexico Chapter's projects.

Standing high atop a mountain in the rugged Black Range, it is easy to pick out the thin green lines that represent rivers and floodplains. The rivers' ability to retain a fairly natural flood regime has been, perhaps, their saving grace. There are no major dams, and the attempts to channelize the river have been thwarted by the awesome power of the seasonal floods. These floods are very important to create a new generation of vegetation in the floodplain and to create the habitat mosaic of runs, riffles and pools in the rivers.

The New Mexico Chapter is working to protect and enhance the biodiversity of the imperiled Gila and Mimbres rivers partly through strategic land acquisition and partly through assisting other land managers who share a common vision of healthy, diverse and productive rivers. In the last year, we have protected more than 7,000 acres along these two rivers, while continuing to work with local residents and government agencies to identify common conservation objectives.

To be successful in these long-term projects, we'll need to be as attentive and respectful of the social, economic and political landscape as we are of the ecological landscape. The same is true for the Conservancy's work around the globe. As we continue to grow, our respect for people, communities and cultures is constantly deepened, as is our ongoing commitment to collaboration while achieving lasting results.

Part of this collaboration connects back to New Mexico: the successful principles that Patrick McCarthy, Director of Conservation Programs in New Mexico and the first McGreevy International Conservation Fellow winner, used to help New Mexico rivers are being applied to the Zambezi River in Africa. The Conservancy’s Africa Program is using some of the same tools that helped the Mimbres and Gila rivers to help protect the fourth largest river in Africa.


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