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The Role of Federal Conservation Policy in Ecosystem Service Protections in New Mexico’s Gila River Watershed

Authors: Sarah Smith*, Northern Arizona University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: river conservation policy, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, adaptive management, climate change, ecosystem services, Gila River watershed
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


New Mexico’s Gila River is the last major Southwestern river network with a largely unaltered hydrograph. Despite several layers of conservation policies bestowed upon the greater Gila region, the riverine ecosystem is vulnerable to development that could exacerbate effects of a changing climate. The river network, however, is eligible for additional protections under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA). If implemented, the WSRA would restrict future damming or diversions on designated river reaches and would seek to improve water quality and specific Outstandingly Remarkable Values, or ecosystem services, recognized within the management plan. Moreover, if a Comprehensive River Management Plan allows for adaptive management of resources affected by climate change, the WSRA could serve as a climate adaptation policy for the watershed. By triangulating survey and semi-structured interviews data with a comparative policy analysis and literature review on ecosystem services present in the river network, this paper identifies how a WSRA designation could act as a climate adaptation policy to protect ecosystem services. Survey and interviews conducted with Gila River stakeholders indicate that the majority of respondents welcome WSRA designation and feel it would provide necessary protections in the face of development and climate threats to the river system. This research aims to inform decision-making for river conservation policy within the watershed and greater national Wild and Scenic River System.

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