Heart of the Gila: Off-Year Symposium Report

Approximately 50 people gathered from June 8-11, 2016 at Western New Mexico University, Silver City, NM, for the ASLE off-year symposium “The Heart of the Gila: Wilderness and Water in the West.” Silver City is located in southwestern New Mexico at 6,000 feet elevation, and it is the gateway to the Gila National Wilderness Area, the United States’ first wilderness area.

WNMUpic1A letter to participants from the WMNU president spoke to the issues at hand: “Water is the most crucial element of life. How we treat this precious resource has ramifications on a greater scale than all the other environmental concerns combined. It waters our trees that provide the air we breathe. It quenches our thirst and sustains our existence. Yet, we continue to take it for granted. As you explore our surrounding area and marvel at the Gila Wilderness, use the lens of water to understand what is happening not only here, but throughout the world.”

The conference featured an impressive contingent of keynote speakers:

  • Sharman Apt Russell is an award-winning nature and science writer who lives in the Gila Valley of southwestern New Mexico; she recently won the John Burroughs Medal for Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World.
  • Dave Foreman has worked as a wilderness conservationist since 1971, and is now the Executive Director and Senior Fellow of The Rewilding Institute, a conservation “think tank” advancing ideas of continental conservation.
  • Priscilla Solis Ybarra is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of North Texas, specializing in Chicana/o Literature and Theory as well as Environmental Literature and Ecocriticism. Her book Writing the Goodlife: Mexican American Literature and the Environment, came out this year.
  • Dr. Ofelia Zepeda is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and is a Regents’ Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship for her work in American Indian language education, maintenance and recovery.
  • David Gessner is the author of nine books, including the just-relased All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West.
  • Philip Connors is the author of two books: All the Wrong Places and Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout.

Other activities included a Film Screening of Wrenched, a documentary about Edward Abbey and his legacy, a banquet featuring music by Mariachi Raices de America, and various field trips into the Gila wilderness for hiking, birding, and horseback riding.

Gila Conference Program (PDF)