The Gila river in New Mexico and Arizona once supported an impressive ecosystem characterized by diversity of fauna and flora. Now, like many western arid land rivers, it no longer completes its course to its junction with the more famous Colorado. Gregory McNamee, the author of the well-researched and well-documented GILA: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF AN AMERICAN RIVER, provides not only the prehistory and history of the river and its people, but also offers a plan for the deserved resurrection of the once free-flowing stream.
The Gila serves as a classic example of environmental destruction. The sensitive geology, hydrology, and ecology of the region made the Gila well suited to low-impact Native American hunting and farming practices. The ecological imperialism of the Spanish and Anglo settlers quickly brought about a decline in both the native human population and in the environmental stability of the region. European plants and animals damaged the area, especially the integrity of the soil, faster than the early settlers could. Anglo technological development, primarily damming, finished off the river as a sustainable environment. Nature tends to have its revenge, however; the author, influenced as much by the eco-anarchist writer Edward Abbey as by the more philosophical conservationist Aldo Leopold, watched gleefully as the floods of 1992 and 1993 restored the river to its former length. As the detritus of development was washed downstream toward Mexico, McNamee pondered the possibility of restoring the river to its former state. The text concludes with a reasonable and eloquent plea for undamming the river and implementing a sustainable plan for regional development.