Issue: Wild Lands
Partner: Wild Earth Guardians
The Gila Wilderness is the world’s first designated wilderness area. It is the heart of what is known as the 10-million-acre Greater Gila Bioregion. It is a slightly enlarged version of the “Arizona/New Mexico Mountain Ecoregion” which is identified in the UN Biodiversity Report as “nature imperiled.” The bioregion is home to the world’s largest continuous ponderosa pine forest, totaling over 12 million acres. The continental divide and Continental Divide National Scenic Trail bisects the bioregion from north to south.
Most of the bioregion is United States Forest Service land owned by the Federal Government, but on the eastern edge there are over 100,000 acres of State Trust Land. State Trust Lands were granted to the states by the federal government to be held in trust by the states and monetized through disposal and leasing for the benefit of public institutions primarily schools. Today, most State Trust Lands are monetized through oil and gas leasing, tying our children's education funding to fossil fuel extraction.
The 100,000 acres are informally called “The Lueras” after their central mountain chain. Bounded on the south and west by the Continental Divide, they drain into a confined basin called “The Plains of San Augustin,” where the local community is currently fighting a speculative water mining project. The Lueras are home to Mexican wolves, elk, spotted owl, pronghorn, black bear, mountain lion, and dozens of other native species. A potential new type of land designation here could highlight the recreational and ecological values and prioritizes recreation over other revenue streams – similar to that of a state park.