This year, Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society (SNMAS) celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding in Silver City as the first National Audubon Society chapter in the state. Audubon Chapters emerge throughout the nation for a variety of reasons, but SNMAS was born out of an activist energy focused on the imminent threat of a dam on the Gila River – a free flowing tributary of the Colorado River. SNMAS President Terry Timme shares a bit from the chapter’s origin story and how the Gila River moves their conservation work forward today:
“Several residents of Silver City who had a deep love affair with the river and the bird life it supported saw that they could more effectively fight for protection of the river as a part of the Audubon Society. One of those people was Marian Zimmerman, a founding member of SWNMAS. Marian was a consummate birder and botanist. She and her husband, Dale, have been a guiding light for conservation of the Gila River for decades. Upon her death in 2011, Dale established the Zimmerman Wildlife Conservation Endowment through Audubon New Mexico (ANM) to honor his love for his wife and the Gila River.
The Chapter continued to engage in Gila River conservation over the decades as more dams and diversions were proposed. Today, the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) passed by Congress in 2004 is the most pressing threat that SNMAS members hope to tackle. The AWSA provides $66 million in funds to meet water supply needs in Southwestern New Mexico. The Act also authorized separate construction funding for diversions on the Gila and San Francisco Rivers that could remove up to 14,000 acre-feet of water per year. SWNMAS, as well as Audubon New Mexico, have been actively encouraging the use of the appropriated taxpayer funds to meet multiple water needs in the four counties that make up Southwest New Mexico by funding non-diversion alternative projects that would provide water security into the future for the region. Supplying water for people through thoughtful water alternatives keeps water for wildlife flowing.
SNMAS’ foundation was built on protecting the Gila River and a deep love for community. A more recent love story echoes that of Marian and her husband Dale. Sara Boyett, former President and current program chair, and Terry Timme, Program chair, discovered that they had a strong passion for the Gila River and each other. After years of working together to help the chapter protect the Gila River, they were married in 2016. They remix a popular verse by saying, “what Audubon has brought together, let no one put asunder.” While continuing to be actively engaged in the struggle to find sensible solutions and common ground for all sides in the AWSA process and enjoy birding along the river that brought them together.”
In New Mexico, water is love, life, livelihood, and according to recent survey’s from Colorado College, one of the first things on everyone’s minds. In state, rivers fuel a $9.9 billion outdoor recreation economy. More reason to protect one of New Mexico’s last free flowing rivers, the Gila, when almost two-thirds of all rivers in New Mexico are altered by diversions and development. New Mexicans love of their land and water runs deep. Seventy-eight percent of New Mexicans think the presence of public lands and our lifestyle of outdoor recreation is superior to over other parts of the country. In fact, New Mexican’s are as concerned with inadequate water supplies, low levels of water in rivers, and pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams as they are with unemployment. It is no wonder so many love stories occur on the river when it is clear that New Mexican’s spend so much time thinking about and spending time on our rivers.
The next time you find yourself sitting riverside in the heat of New Mexico’s signature summer mornings take the time to reflect on connections, memories, and relationships the river has inspired in your life. The power of those experiences will fuel Audubon’s mission to protect and conserve the threatened rives of the west now and into the future.