SILVER CITY, NM, Nov. 21, 2022 – Gila National Forest officials recently received a report from New Mexico Environment Department of a trespass on the Gila National Forest. A private landowner adjacent to Black Canyon Creek has diverted the stream into a new channel and constructed a large dike. The forest is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to require the landowner to return the stream to its natural channel and restore damage done to the Gila National Forest.
“The Clean Water Act requires agencies and landowners to consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before undertaking any construction affecting waters of the United States,” said Camille Howes, Gila National Forest Supervisor. “The disturbance that’s been caused to soil, water, and wildlife habitat on the Gila National Forest is extensive, and the landowner who caused this damage is being held accountable to restore it.”
A bulldozer was used to excavate approximately 350 yards of floodplain into a straight new stream channel lined on the north end with a large berm.
The new diversion originates on forest lands approximately 200 feet upstream of private land and returns to its original channel approximately 100 feet downstream of private land. The natural channel’s location provides for diverse riparian and aquatic habitats. Its winding, snake-like form and riparian gallery help slow the flow of water, reducing the effects of flooding. Placing the stream in a straightened channel devoid of vegetation and coarse woody debris has the opposite effect, speeding the flow of water and increasing erosional forces.
The extremely sensitive land and water resources of the Gila National Forest are easily damaged. Black Canyon Creek is tributary to the Gila River and is home to several federally threatened and endangered species including Gila trout, Chiricahua leopard frog, narrow-headed garter snake, and Mexican spotted owl. Cultural resources are also common. As a result, this trespass violates not only national forest regulations under the Code of Federal Regulations, but also the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and if cultural sites were damaged, the National Historic Preservation Act.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has sent a letter directing the landowner to divert Black Canyon Creek back into its original channel within 45 days. In addition, Gila National Forest staff will work with its partner agencies to determine additional restorative actions necessary to return the public lands and the stream channel to their original condition.