Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEWS RELEASE: May
NEW MEXICO NATIONAL FORESTS DESIGNATE 100 RIVERS AND STREAMS AS ELIGIBLE FOR WILD AND SCENIC RIVER STATUS
DESIGNATION IMPORTANT FIRST STEP TOWARDS FULFILLING 1999 SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
In response to a March 1999 settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Amigos Bravos, the Carson, Cibola, Gila, and Lincoln National Forests have identified over 100 river and stream segments as eligible for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic rivers system, as required by the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. CBD and Amigos Bravos brought suit against the Forest Service in 1997 when the agency had failed to make the eligibility determinations nearly 30 years after the law's enactment. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is intended to protect the last of America's free flowing rivers and is designed to protect scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or ecological river values.
The eligibility designations are largely concentrated on the Carson National Forest, which found approximately 80 river and stream segments worthy of consideration for wild and scenic river status. The Gila National Forest identified 10 as eligible, the Lincoln National Forest found 11, and the Cibola identified three. Among the rivers found to be eligible are the Rio Santa Barbara, Rio Tusas, and Rio Vallecitos on the Carson National Forest, all forks of the Gila River, the Tularosa River, and Animas Creek on the Gila River, the Sacramento River and Rio Peñasco on the Lincoln National Forest, and the Canadian River on the Cibola National Forest (Kiowa National Grassland).
Eligibility is only the first step in the long process towards official Wild and Scenic river status, a designation that ultimately requires Congressional approval. "We are pleased that the Forest Service is finally taking steps to live up to the vision of this important law," stated Brian Segee, forest watch coordinator with CBD. "Many of New Mexico's rivers and streams are nationally or regionally significant, and clearly deserve to be included in the Wild and Scenic system," concluded Segee.
In addition to eligibility findings, the 1999 settlement agreement also requires the Forest Service to protect rivers and streams until the final designation is made. "Providing interim protections for these rivers is extremely important," said Matt Bishop, an attorney representing the groups with the Western Environmental Law Center. "In order to preserve each river's eligible status, the Forest Service must protect these free-flowing rivers and streams from excessive livestock grazing and destructive logging and mining practices." Unfortunately, none of the National Forests have abided by this term of the settlement agreement.
Therefore, the groups intend to return to court to ensure that adequate protections are being provided for all eligible rivers and streams. "Eligibility findings are of little consequence unless these rivers and streams are given protection during the long journey to Congressional action," added Segee.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is the nation's most sweeping river protection law and is the only statute which absolutely prohibits dam construction. Since its passage in 1968, over 10,500 miles of river nationwide on over 150 river segments have been designated under the Act. The Rio Grande from the Colorado/New Mexico state line to Taos Junction Bridge, and the lower four miles of the Red River were among the ten original rivers designated in 1968. In addition, four designations have occurred in New Mexico: twelve miles of the Rio Grande downstream of the original designation, east fork of the Jemez, Rio Chama, and the Pecos River. "By protecting rivers, we protect the human and biotic communities that depend on them," said Brian Shields, Executive Director of Amigos Bravos. "Even if compliance with the spirit of the Act has come late, Amigos Bravos commends the Carson National Forest for a job well done."
The Center for Biological Diversity, formed in 1989, is a science-based environmental advocacy organization with more than 5,000 members which works on wildlife and habitat protection issues throughout Western North America.
Amigos Bravos, founded in 1988, is a statewide environmental and social justice organization with offices in Taos and Albuquerque. Amigos Bravos works to protect and restore the rivers of New Mexico and the communities that depend on them.
The Western Environmental Law Center is a public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the West. WELC represents activists, Indian tribes, local governments and citizen groups who seek to protect and restore the forests, rivers, grasslands, wildlife, and human communities of the West.