Conservation groups have added an interactive story map to their toolkit as they continue to push for permanent protections for the Great Bend of the Gila in Southwestern Arizona.
While the Great Bend of the Gila has important cultural and historical value to native tribes, Skylar Begay – director of Tribal Collaboration in Outreach and Advocacy for Archaeology Southwest – said the interactive map aims to also highlight how multiple stakeholders connect and use the land.
Begay said groups like his want to see not only more conservation, but to promote responsible and respectful recreation – so future generations will be able to enjoy what he calls a place of “diverse histories and heritages.”
“The main purpose is really to amplify a wide range of voices who want to have this area protected,” said Begay. “We strived hard to include indigenous voices, because this is a cultural landscape – there are 13 tribes who have connections to the Great Bend of the Gila.”
Begay said current threats to the Great Bend include population growth and greater use, the potential sale of public land to developers, vandalism and theft of cultural resources, and the impacts of drought driven by climate change.
Begay said one concern is significant impacts from off-road vehicles, whose drivers may not be aware of the cultural resources they’re jeopardizing.
He added that since the Great Bend of the Gila is Bureau of Land Management land, it could be designated either as a national conservation area or a national monument – which is what the coalition is hoping for.
Begay said two national historic trails are already part of the landscape.
“The Butterfield Overland Mail Route was just designated as a national historic trail, it runs through this area,” said Begay. “And then there is the Juan Batista de Anza National Historic Trail that runs through this area. That is pretty rare – you don’t see that in very many places.”
He added that the Great Bend of the Gila is also home to diverse populations of plants and animals.
Threatened or endangered species that call the area home include the Lesser Long Nose Bat, Desert Big Horn Sheep, the Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope and the Acuna Cactus.
An Enduring yet Fragile Ancestral Landscape… multimedia story the Respect Great Bend Coalition 2023
Respect Great Bend website the Respect Great Bend Coalition 2023
Tribal leaders, community members demonstrate the natural and cultural significance of the Great Bend of the Gila the Respect Great Bend Coalition 2/24/23
This story was written by Alex Gonzalez, a producer at the Public News Service, where this story first appeared.