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WildEarth Guardians has been working with community members in and around Mogollon, New Mexico to support their fight against ongoing exploratory drilling by Canadian mining company Summa Silver Corporation.

In response to community demands, Summa will be holding a meeting on Wednesday, June 29 at 9 am at the Purple Onion Cafe in Mogollon. Two additional meetings are proposed for Glenwood and Alma, with dates to be determined. So stay tuned.

Summa’s proposed mining activities extend beyond the historic Mogollon mining district, reaching deeper into the Gila National Forest and Greater Gila landscape.

In addition to negative impacts on clean water, clean air, and local quality of life, Summa’s proposed mining activities would have an extremely adverse effect on the habitat of threatened Mexican spotted owls, which are heard ritually by local residents during the spring and summer months. Other wildlife that frequent the ridges and drainages of the Mogollon area include endangered Mexican gray wolf, mountain lion, bobcat, black bear, fox, coyote, elk, deer, and coatimundi.

We are encouraging everyone concerned for the future of the Gila Wilderness and its surrounding forests to attend the meeting and voice your opposition to mining in the Greater Gila.

Whether or not you can attend the meeting on June 29, please sign this petition demanding greater protections for the Greater Gila, which will be delivered to the CEO of Summa at the community meeting.

WildEarth Guardians and the community members of Mogollon are grateful for your support! Click here to read a letter from community members asking for your support.

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I once looked at a map showing the United States at night. Lights lit up the coasts and our massive cities across the hinterlands. Though my eyes were attracted to the energy of the lights, they eventually settled on the blank spots on the map.

One of those large, blank spots was the Greater Gila of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, which is home to some of the last, best, wild—but still largely unprotected—public lands in the continental United States.

It’s also home to the Gila Wilderness—America’s first designated wilderness.

We celebrate the Greater Gila on this day because 98 years ago, on June 3, 1924, the U.S. Forest Service did something quite remarkable. Based on ancient and emerging wisdom at the time, it chose to exercise restraint and allow wild country to be wild.

We chose to celebrate the Gila and its looming centennial by creating an anthology of essays that capture why the Greater Gila is so loved and so deserving of even stronger protection. First & Wildest: The Gila Wilderness at 100 has been a great collaboration between Guardians, Torrey House Press, our editor Elizabeth Hightower Allen, and the many inspired writers who love the Gila.

I encourage you to order a copy of the book right here. And as a bonus, Torrey House Press is generously donating 20% of all book sales to WildEarth Guardians through June 10. Just use promo code “WILD” at checkout. Need more inspiration? Watch this film trailer that captures the spirit of the book.

If the Greater Gila is to endure, and life as we know it is to survive the compounding climate and biodiversity crises, we must continue to think boldly, celebrate wildly, and collaborate deeply.

If you love the Greater Gila—or want to fall in love with the Greater Gila for the first time—please buy the book and then join Guardians’ campaign to protect all that we love.

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I’ll be honest: this is meant to be a note wishing the Gila Wilderness a happy 98th birthday today, June 3.

But I’m finding it hard to muster a celebratory mood. Of course I love the Gila. Of course I want to commemorate all that this place stands for—an emblem of wildness, a landscape with a sacred Indigenous heritage, the home of our only population of lobos, and the inspiration for a new land ethic that fundamentally changed who and what we perceived public lands to be almost 100 years ago.

But the Gila is on fire. In fact, it feels like half the state of New Mexico is on fire. The human-caused Black Fire, currently 262,000 acres and the third-largest fire in New Mexico history, continues to burn in both the Aldo Leopold and Gila Wilderness areas, fueled by exceptionally dry conditions perpetuated by the megadrought that has been bearing down on the American West for decades, by bad grazing management, and by climate collapse. The human-caused Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon Complex Fire just set the new state record for size at over 316,000 acres. There’s no rain in the forecast. The winds continue to whip. Many national forests in the state are closed. And the best we can do is hunker down with our air filters and fire maps and solemnly say to one another, “Pray for rain!”

Here at Guardians, one of the requisite qualifications for incoming staff is that they foster a “healthy sense of rage.” Rage at the inadequacy of national laws and policies that are meant to protect the lands, water, wildlife, and climate that we all depend upon for our health and ability to survive and thrive. Rage at the political quagmire that is preventing us from making the radical changes necessary to face the threats of climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse. Rage at agency allegiance to extractive industries that continue to exploit and devastate public lands and waters and pollute our air. Rage at the Herculean (at times Sisyphean) effort it seems to take to hold governments accountable for protecting the most vulnerable of our human and more-than-human communities. And on this, the 98th birthday of what one community member called “the clean air and water factory of our nation,” the Gila Wilderness, my instinct is to rage, rage against the machine.

But wait. Before we join the conflagrations of the moment, ignited by our rage, consider this. A few weeks ago, First & Wildest: The Gila Wilderness at 100, an anthology of essays published by Torrey House Press, edited by Elizabeth Hightower Allen, hit bookstores around the West. To celebrate the Gila’s birthday, Torrey House Press will donate 20% of all First & Wildest purchases through June 10 to WildEarth Guardians, just use coupon code “WILD” at check out. Hear from the book’s contributors why they love the Gila:

 

We’ve helped organize a few events to launch the book. And its reception has been exceptional. At each event, a torrent of love has poured forth from contributors and attendees alike. It has been a cooling balm for my spirit to witness the power of shared love of place, to hear so many speak to the way a landscape can give us a sense of purpose, a prevailing peace, a belonging that feels like the only grounding force in so much social, political, global, and ecological loss. That’s not to say there’s not a simmering sense of outrage at the threats faced by this beloved wilderness. But through the process of compiling the words that fill the pages of the book and launching them into the world to see what work they’ll do, we’re renewed with a hope that love can prevail. That our shared connections to the land will be the threads that weave the net that ultimately protects it for us and for the next generation of humans and Chiricahua leopard frogs and Mogollon death camas and wild, howling lobos.

So with that, we’ll say, “Happy Birthday, Gila.” We love you and the love you inspire. Your centennial isn’t far away now, and we pledge to continue to mobilize our adoration in service of the big, bold vision of protection that you deserve.

P.S. If you’re looking for more ways to celebrate—and learn about—the Gila, we teamed up with some of our exceptional partners at the Center for Western Priorities, Advocates for the West, and the New Mexico Wildlife Federation to talk about the Gila’s 98th birthday, First & Wildest, and other conservation-related topics.

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The U.S. Air Force wants to modify 10 Military Operations Areas (MOAs) that stretch across southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico. We can’t let this military expansion despoil some of America’s wildest country.

The proposal would authorize low-level fighter jet maneuvers and supersonic flights that cause sonic booms above rural and Tribal communities, some of the Southwest’s most fragile sky-island ecosystems, and beloved wilderness areas and national monuments.

The Air Force also wants to permit dropping of flares at lower altitudes, increasing the risk of human-caused wildfires across landscapes already experiencing severe drought. Additionally, the proposal would allow release of aluminum-coated silica “chaff” over public lands, polluting the environment.

Guardians needs your help to stop these proposed actions before fighter jet condensation trails hit the skies. Public comments are being accepted through June 3. You can submit your comments here.

Use these talking points below as a guide for writing your comments. But to make the biggest impact, please use your own voice to convey that the proposed action to optimize ten existing MOAs by the Air Force lacks sufficiently detailed information and as such the Air Force must explain how they will do the following:

  • Evaluate the impacts of extreme noise from low-level and supersonic training on communities (including potential for damage to structures), outdoor recreation economies, livestock, and wildlife (including threatened and endangered species).
  • Assess the wildfire risk from the use of flares at lower elevations and potential military aircraft crashes, develop mitigation measures to reduce the risks, develop realistic plans for fighting a flare-induced or crash-induced fire, and express how public safety will be ensured.
  • Fully assess contamination of air, land, and water from aircraft emissions and release of chaff and flares.
  • Evaluate the environmental justice impacts of this proposal on communities of color and low-income communities, including the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache Tribes, Tohono O’odham Nation, and Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Furthermore, consultation with these Tribes must occur.
  • Provide an analysis of the cumulative impacts of these airspace modifications to communities and wildlife and a plan for how impacts will be mitigated.

This proposal would impact dozens of rural communities, four Tribes, and millions of acres of public lands that sustain ecosystems, water quality, wildlife, and public recreation. So please click here to submit your comments and oppose the Air Force’s plans to despoil the quiet and wildness that you hold dear.

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It’s time to celebrate the launch of First & Wildest: The Gila Wilderness at 100, our incredible anthology created in collaboration with Torrey House Press and Elizabeth Hightower Allen. Please join us for any or all of these events!

April 27, 5 pm MDT: Virtual Book Launch—Join WildEarth Guardians, Torrey House Press, Elizabeth Hightower Allen, Senator Martin Heinrich, author Pam Houston, and others for a spirited discussion of what inspired the book, followed by readings and Q&A. Register for the Zoom event here.

April 29, 5 pm MDT: Silver City, NM—In-Person Book Launch at Power & Light Press. Local contributing authors JJ Amaworo Wilson, Martha Cooper, Sharman Apt Russell, and others will offer readings, with opening and closing remarks from local conservationists Allyson Siwik of the Gila Resources Information Project and Donna Stevens of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance.

May 12, 5 pm MDT: Santa Fe, NM—In-Person Book Launch at Garcia Street Books. Join Guardians’ Greater Gila team staff; contributing authors Pam Houston, Priyanka Kumar, Renata Golden, and poet Eve West Bessier; and Torrey House publisher Kirsten Johanna Allen to chat about what inspired us to make and write for the book. Readings and Q&A to follow.

Future events in Arizona, Las Cruces, and El Paso to come. Stay tuned for details! For more information, contact me at lbarnett@wildearthguardians.org or 970-406-2125.

Can’t wait to see you at these events! ¡Viva the Gila!

P.S. We’ll have books for sale from local bookstores at all the in-person events, or you can pre-order your own copy here. To watch an inspirational film trailer celebrating this book, click here.

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WildEarth Guardians is helping to share the many voices of the Greater Gila Bioregion of New Mexico and Arizona as a way to celebrate the people, places, and wild things of this iconic national landscape—and America’s first wilderness area. Threats continue to put pressure on the resources and people of the region and I’m regularly in the field to learn about and share these stories. Here are some of my updates:

Trip 1: Interviews for the anthology book trailer

In case you haven’t heard, WildEarth Guardians—with the unrivaled support and guidance of Torrey House Press and editor Elizabeth Allen—will be releasing First & Wildest: The Gila Wilderness at 100, an anthology celebrating the centennial of the Gila Wilderness. The book will be published on May 17, 2022 and I encourage you to pre-order your own copy here.

In preparation for the book launch, I took to the road with a small film crew in mid-February to shoot a short promotion trailer. We wanted to interview as many contributors as possible to ask: Why the Gila? Why now?

I’m not well-versed in the careful art of interviewing. And given the exceptional list of authors, poets, politicians, photographers, and conservation experts who contributed to the anthology, to admit intimidation would be an understatement. But here’s the thing. It’s a lesson I learn again and again but am always grateful for the resounding refrain: people long to share their love of place, in this case, their deep and vibrant love of the Gila.

We conducted 15 interviews in seven days, most of them in person. And each time I sat down face-to-face with a fellow lover of this land, at first mention of the Gila their eyes would light up and stories would pour forth of wild (mis)adventures, once-in-a-lifetime bird sightings, barefoot children playing in the river, favorite vistas, epic elk hunts, and on and on. It’s instantaneous, this connection to place. Evoked through so much time and lived experience, through the way landscapes like the Gila penetrate our very being and stick to us, live in us, in ways unique to the great wild world. And it’s why, when asked to help celebrate and protect it, the answer is, unequivocally, yes.

Trip 2: Documentary of Mogollon mining threat

The tiny community of Mogollon, New Mexico is nestled deep in the foothills of the Mogollon Mountains, just a mile or so north of the Gila Wilderness boundary, and accessed by one of the most treacherously winding, narrow roads I’ve ever navigated. Founded in the late 19th century, the town underwent the usual boom-bust cycle of many early mining towns, eventually vacating most of its residents and slowly converting the local economy to tourism and the arts. The current full-time population hovers around 15, with retirees who relish the peace and quiet, a handful of artists, a restaurant, a museum, and one old hotel, called the Silver Creek Inn, run by Stanley King and Kathy Knapp.

Filming the pie lady of Pie Town. Photo by Leia Barnett.

I met Stanley and Kathy through friends of friends of Catron County residents I’d connected with via somewhat random outreach and word-of-mouth. Soon after our introduction, they filled me in on the developing threat of a mining resurgence, as new mining exploration was taking place within a half mile of town on a few acres of private land. The residents were vehemently opposing this.

It’s difficult to capture just what exactly is so compelling about this little town and its small collection of inhabitants who are fighting so valiantly to protect the place they love. At its core, I think it represents what it means to be in community, to consider yourself not only part of a gathering of humans, but part of an ecology of trees and owls and wolves and streams and sky. To take this membership seriously is to value the safety of that larger community as much as the safety of yourself and those you love. It’s a recognition that the things we depend upon most basically—clean air and clean water—are not guaranteed. And it therefore becomes our responsibility to ensure the systems and protections are in place to guard those necessities, namely, intact, resilient ecosystems.

And so we made a film about the guardians of Mogollon. The characters are exceptional, the storyline full of plot twists, colorful toques, 40-year-long restoration projects, blackberry pies made by the pie lady of Pie Town, and real-life rotary phones. We can’t wait to share it with you. Stay tuned.

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The Arizona Legislature is considering a resolution that would pull the state backward in the fight to conserve at least 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030—in spite of the fact that 92 percent of Arizonans say it’s important for the state to “preserve and protect its rivers, natural areas and wildlife.”

We cannot allow a few loud voices in the state legislature to undermine the long-term health and well-being of wild places for their own self-interest. If you live in Arizona, please speak up today to defend 30×30 in Arizona by urging your legislators to oppose HCR 2024.

Arizona’s unique ecosystems are already feeling the impacts of increasing temperatures and intense drought. If passed, this resolution would make it more difficult for state and local environmental groups to advance conservation efforts on the ground—compromising the future of conservation in Arizona.

Stand up for what you love about Arizona. If you call the Grand Canyon State home, please write your state legislators and ask them to oppose HCR 2024.

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How does a person, a group, a state, a nation, a planet even, celebrate a place? How do we sing Happy Birthday in a language the land might understand? How do we collect all the stories, emotions, connections, and deep histories that reside within a landscape, and project them back into the world resounding with clarity and truth for which that place stands?

These were some of the questions that stalked me as the idea of putting together an anthology for the Gila Wilderness’s 100th birthday first circulated through Guardians’ office corridors. It seemed a massive and magnificent undertaking. And one fraught with unanswerable questions. Fortunately, hearts and minds already exist in this world who have wrestled with these kinds of questions for far longer than I. And more importantly, they have developed processes and relationships and understandings in service of celebrating the land and the people who love it.

And so, with the guidance, wisdom, and close tutelage of publisher Torrey House Press, and editor Elizabeth Hightower Allen, we are gearing up for the release of First & Wildest: The Gila Wilderness at 100, to be launched on May 17, 2022. The list of contributors is wider, wilder, and more diverse than we ever could have hoped for. (As a teaser, Senator Martin Heinrich, best-selling author Pam Houston, and Nuevomexicana wildlife biologist Leeanna Torres, just to name a few.) And the stories of and praise for the land are so complete and sincere as only the Gila could inspire.

But don’t just take my word for it. Foreword Reviews just published the first official book review. Give it a read and make sure to pre-order your own copy. And stay tuned for more announcements about book launch events in the coming months!

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Speak up for Wolves: Sign the Petition!

The Mexican gray wolf, or lobo, is one of the most endangered carnivores in the world. After lobos were nearly wiped out, reintroduction began in 1998 in remote areas of New Mexico and Arizona. Since then, recovery has been slow and turbulent. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided that the only wild population of Mexican gray wolves in the U.S. was not essential to the recovery of Mexican gray wolves as a species. Guardians and our allies sued, and in 2018, a U.S. district judge told USFWS to go back to the drawing board to write a new management rule for the lobo. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently seeking comments on that new Mexican wolf management rule. This is our last chance to make sure the agency gets recovery right, so please submit your comment!

Tweet for Lobos!

We’ve assembled eight ready-to-go tweets, complete with inspiring images and a link to the petition. All you have to do is “grab-n-go” to help raise awareness and make a big difference in the defense of the lobos! P.S. These work great on Facebook, too!

Tweet #1
#Wolves keep the Gila wild! Celebrate the 97th anniversary of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico by urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Gila’s most iconic resident—the critically endangered Mexican #wolf: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos #KeepItWild #StopExtinction

 

Tweet #2

Lobos are essential! Mexican gray #wolves are critical ecosystem influencers in the desert Southwest. They keep prey populations healthy and in balance, protect riparian and aquatic resources, and indicate the health of entire ecosystems. Take action: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #3

Humans are the largest obstacle to recovering Mexican #wolves. Along with illegal trapping, poaching and vehicular mortalities, politically motivated ‘recovery’ plans have put lobos in a precarious position. Take action to help get #wolf recovery right: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #4

Real recovery for Mexican #wolves would include three distinct, but connected populations. Along with lobos‘ current range in the Greater Gila Bioregion, the Grand Canyon area and the Southern Rockies are identified as prime habitat. Help make it happen: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #5

Mexican #wolves in the wild are, on average, as related as brothers and sisters. Though lobos numbers are slowly increasing, the greatest indicator of a successful #wolf recovery effort is the genetic health of the wild population. Support real recovery: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #6

To truly recover Mexican gray #wolves a new management rule should be based on the best available science and prioritize enhancing the genetic diversity of the wild lobo population. Raise your voice to make sure Mexican #wolf recovery is done right: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #7

Did you know that the Mexican gray wolf, or lobo, is the most endangered gray #wolf in North America and one of the most endangered carnivores in the world? Tell the @USFWS we need a new management rule that will actually recover Mexican #wolves: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Tweet #8

Almost a century after Aldo Leopold shot a Mexican #wolf in the Gila, only 186 of these wolves exist in the wild. The fierce green fire he saw in the wolf’s eyes still flickers in the #wolves who roam the Greater Gila today. Help support full recovery: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

 

Amplify YOUR Voice for Wolves: Write a Letter to the Editor

Letters to the editor (LTE) are a great way to share your perspective and encourage others to speak up for lobos. It’s easy, fast, and effective—all you have to do is write your short perspective on why wolves deserve more protections and why the southwest needs more wolves. Be sure to mention that U.S. Fish and Wildlife is taking public comments on wolf management right now and comments can be submitted here: https://guardiansaction.org/lobos

You can submit your letter to your local outlet, or if you are not from the region, submit it to a statewide outlet. Here are direct links to submission forms, note that different papers have different word count limits.

New Mexico

Arizona

LTE Talking Points: Here are key elements of a new lobo management rule that will help truly recover and restore Mexican wolves to their historic range. Please use these talking points as a guideline for drafting your individual LTE, but what’s most important is that your voice and your reason for wanting lobo recovery come through. So, please speak in your own words, but make sure to emphasis the fact that a new Mexican wolf management rule must:

Rescue Mexican wolves from a genetic bottleneck

  • A real genetic rescue entails releasing adult wolf pairs with pups until the wild population of lobos demonstrates adequate genetic diversity improvements. Releasing a set, limited number of wolves into the wild is not a real genetic objective—very few wolves who reach breeding age actually contribute their genes to the wild population.

Allow lobos to roam throughout their historic range

  • Preventing wolves from crossing arbitrary political boundaries like Interstate 40 is unacceptable. In order to truly recover, Mexican wolves need access to suitable habitat in the southern Rockies and the Grand Canyon region.

Designate lobos as “essential”

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the only wild population of Mexican wolves in the U.S. as “non-essential” to the recovery of the species in the wild. Designating this population as “essential” is common sense and crucial to recovery.

Reduce wolf-livestock conflict

  • Wolves are native carnivores highly adapted to the desert southwest. They should not bear the burden of livestock-wildlife conflict when non-native cows are grazing on public lands without protection.

When commenting on his impending inaugural expedition to space, Sir Richard Branson hinted at an exciting upcoming announcement regarding giving more people a chance to become astronauts because, as he put it, “…space does belong to us all.” It’s mid-July here in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, just a few hundred miles north of Branson’s launch site. And even though the blessed monsoon season seems to be upon us, providing the indispensable afternoon rain showers that prevent much of this great state of New Mexico from spontaneously combusting in the scorching aridness of our summer months, we’re still carrying the heaviness of “extraordinary drought” conditions; a term bestowed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on much of the American West.

I am reflecting on all this recent space pioneering, particularly as statements of opposition to such so-called “elitist space travel” have been perched upon the lips of so many politicians, from county commissioners to state senators to congresspeople roaming the halls of Capitol Hill. And meanwhile the big oil machine grinds on, frontline communities continue to suffer the brunt of the consequences, and landscapes like the Greater Gila whither under the duress of the twin crises. I often return to that ironically poignant bumper sticker, “Where are we going and why am I in this handbasket?”

For anyone paying attention to the current catastrophic state here on Earth, it is nearly impossible to fathom why an individual would choose to pursue such a grandiose venture, at so great a cost, both economically and environmentally, and why a government would allow such hubristic endeavors in the first place. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. We are attempting to provide hospice care to a planet in peril, species peeling off her surface nearly daily, drought and fire wreaking havoc on entire regions across the globe. And this is only the beginning.

And so I cringe, not only at the grossly misdirected enthusiasm for the cold, dark, lifeless bleakness of humanity’s Next Frontier, but also at Branson’s declaration that space belongs to us all. Particularly as he uttered it just a county over from where the Greater Gila, that landscape for which I advocate, waits in peril as the megadrought continues to suck away her life force. It is this attitude of dominion and proprietorship that was largely used to justify the rapacious human appetites of the last few thousand years. This planet does not belong to one species alone. Nor does the solar system through which we perilously careen. We are mere specks, blips on the horizon of a universal unfolding that we will never fully comprehend.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to my job as a conservationist, trying to persuade the world that places like the Greater Gila Bioregion are worthy of their own survival. Because they are. And as much as I wish their intrinsic value was as obvious to others as it is to me, I persevere because, in the more-than-human realm, there are no frontiers to be tamed. Life exists as a momentary unfolding, a tale of death and birth and sometimes violence. The sky spreads itself into the arches and valleys of the Mogollon Mountains and the Black Range. A wolf howls. A cow elk barks. A collared lizard scurries behind a Pebbled Pixie Cup lichen-covered rock. These are the places we need. The places we belong to. Space can wait. Let’s turn ourselves towards all that we have to lose here on Planet Earth.

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