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SOUTHWESTERN WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS

In the arid Southwest, free-flowing rivers are especially essential to the preservation of native fish and other endangered species that depend on water to survive. Three-quarters of Arizona's 36 native fish species are now imperiled, and across the West, every species of trout has suffered considerable population declines and most occupy less than 10 percent of their historical range. Yet despite the Southwest’s dizzying number of critical waterways, Utah has no wild and scenic rivers, Arizona has two, Colorado has only one, and New Mexico’s Gila Headwaters rivers remain unprotected.

To safeguard clean water and intact habitat for Southwest species, the Center has worked hard for more than a decade to help fulfill the potential of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in the region. In New Mexico, we won a legal agreement in 2002 with the Carson, Cibola, Lincoln, and Gila national forests to protect more than 800 miles of streams. The four forests inventoried all rivers within their boundaries to determine which were eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and then amended their land-management plans to protect the rivers from pollution, dams, water diversions, and logging. Among the protected rivers were the Rio Tusas, Rio Vallecitos, Rio Pueblo, Rio Chama, and the Red River on the Carson, the Gila, Tularosa, and Negrito rivers on the Cibola; and Sacramento River and Rio Peñasco on the Lincoln.

In Arizona, the Center has helped preserve more than 750 miles of 57 waterways on the state’s six national forests, including portions of the Black River, Tonto Creek, Sabino Creek, the Blue River, and Fossil Creek. The Forest Service identified these rivers and streams as potential wild and scenic waterways in 1993, but failed to consider their protection in management decisions until 10 years later, when the Center won a lawsuit forcing the agency to ensure that the rivers are safeguarded from destructive projects until a final wild and scenic designation occurs. In 2009, Fossil Creek joined the Verde River as an Arizona wild and scenic waterway.

Kern River photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Roger Howard