While you read Audubon’s timely and comprehensive report, Water and Birds in the Arid West, you may notice that the Gila River is in focus. The report details how the Gila’s riparian ecosystem is critically important habitat for the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and that you will find a high abundance of Southwestern Willow-flycatchers catching insects mid-air above free-flowing waters. Flycatcher nesting habitat, both large and small, abounds along the Gila River, a tributary of the Colorado River, in the multi-aged riparian forest and floodplain wetlands located within the three Audubon Important Bird Areas in New Mexico. It is the Gila River’s naturally occurring variable flows ―the high, mid-size and base flows ―that create and sustain the structure, the composition, and health of the forest.
The Gila Wilderness is one of the most ecologically diverse wilderness complexes in North America, containing one of the largest free-flowing (undammed) headwaters watersheds left and one of the largest expanses of Ancient Forest (unlogged) south of the Boreal Forest. As a result, the Gila Wilderness harbors some of the greatest breeding bird diversity and density in the United States and, with climate change, may provide key habitat for tropical species as ranges expand northward.
The Water and Birds in the Arid West report was published in July 2017. Before it, Audubon and its partners like Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society – a chapter who was founded 50 years ago to fight a dam that was proposed on the Gila, and other environmental and community groups had boots on the ground fighting for the protection of the Gila River. As we individually settle down to breathe, gather, and eat with family and friends over the upcoming holiday, Audubon would like reflect on the wonderful partnerships we are grateful to have. These cross-organizational collaborations ensure that the Gila River is always being watched over and keep us energized enough to keep going. Thank you for supporting the Gila and thank you for working with Audubon through the years.
No one said conservation was easy, we are all cautiously watching the calendar creep forward to 2019, when the environmental review of the diversion plan under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is due. At the same time, we are cheering forward the scientists and water policy experts as they assess diversion alternatives and work to publish a report that may slow the momentum of this water grab. It is unclear what the future holds, but we are hopeful and luckily to not be in this battle alone.
The Audubon family is central to our conservation impact from national and state offices, to chapters, nature centers, wildlife sanctuaries, and one million members and supporters. It is what makes us local everywhere with a wingspan to effect change in local, state and national arenas. And it is this time of year, when we look back and take stock of our hands-on conservation actions to implement balanced solutions to protect and raise flows in our western rivers, that we are grateful for the significant hours that chapter volunteers and supporters dedicate to protect the places and the birds we love.